In sport, rivalries can often drive athletes to push themselves above and beyond their known capabilities. Cycling is no different with sprinters often case in point.
For Brenton Jones, Caleb Ewan has been a thorn in his side across the Australian summer of cycling since both started making the annual pilgrimage to Ballarat in early January. Perennially challenging the Mitchelton-Scott rider, Jones is yet to get one over Ewan but has arguably become a better rider due to their battles.
Inking a deal with French Pro Continental squad Delko Marseille Provence KTM for 2018, Jones' season programme is set to include his most WorldTour races to date. While Ewan continued his winning run in Wednesday night's Australian national road criterium for a third straight victory, a fourth career medal in the event for Jones confirmed his preparations are on track for bigger goals in the months to come.
"It is a long year with many road races and I am looking forward to going head to head with him again," Jones said of Ewan. "I have a lot of respect for him and it was a great win by him. I am happy with third. I am feeling good and I really want to peak for my first few races with my new team Delko. I have a lot of plans on the cards for a busy first three months of the season. It is a great start and I am really honoured to be racing on home soil in Australia for them to let me and allow me to come home of Christmas and New Year to race. I think I am showing them some form and I am ready to go back and have a strong lead out for the season."
Jones wasn't just racing for own result in Ballarat. The 26-year-old was the only rider in the bunch with a black arm on in remembrance of teammate and friend Jason Lowndes, who was killed in a training ride accident in his hometown of Bendigo.
"It is tough when that is your job, your life and you just love riding your bike," said an emotional Jones of 23-year-old Lowndes. "Sometimes you have to look over shoulder and make sure you are safe on the road. There are a lot of other sports that you are out on a court or in a field but riding a bike, you are in the hands of others. It is a dangerous sport."
Motivated by the move back into the Pro Continental ranks and memory of Lowndes, Jones added when he's medalled in Ballarat he has gone on to enjoy a successful season. Following Sunday's road race, Jones will link up with his new teammates later this month at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon. Jones is looking to add to his six career wins in the west African country before his European race programme and major goals.
"I am looking to having a ripper season with Delko. We have a pretty strong lead out team with a few guys who have been WorldTour in the past and they have a lot of experience and know how to deliver me," he said in reference to the likes of Javi Moreno, Mauro Finetto, and Gatis Smukulis. "I haven't done too much on my sprint so far so to finish third tonight, I am pretty happy with my sprint being a bit underdone before some of the biggest races coming up this season."
In 2017, Delko Marseille Provence KTM earned invites to the WorldTour races Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Critérium du Dauphiné and Bretagne Classic Ouest France. In 2018, Jones is hoping for a repeat of the high profile races and outside possibility of a wildcard entry to the Tour de France.
"The Tour de France would be amazing. To start the season off well and strongly with Delko, that is what our team boss Frédéric Rostaing really wants to do and I think with a few races earmarked like Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix, my ears are pricking up and I'll be quite excited when I see my name on the start list," he said.
With Ewan confirmed by Mitchelton-Scott as a member of the team's 2018 Tour de France team, the duo's rivalry could well be transferred onto the biggest stage of all.