In a season that he is targeting a debut Milan-San Remo appearance and a return to the Giro d'Italia, Caleb Ewan opened his 2017 account at the Williamstown race of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic to ensure he starts as favourite in the defence of his national criterium title Wednesday night in Ballarat.
The Orica-Scott rider crashed out of contention on stage 1 when he looked most likely to claim the win then went on the attack on stage 2 before taking the final day victory to ease the pressure ahead of the criterium and ensure back-to-back wins for his team after Michael Hepburn's Portarlington victory.
"Obviously coming into the last crit here, without a win yet, put a lot of pressure on this one, especially going into the national crit. It always helps a sprinter to have that confidence going into a big race. I'm super happy with how the team rode today. They were perfect," the 22-year-old said of his team after his 11th bay crits victory that elevated him into fourth place overall.
With his primary focus on European goals later in the season, Ewan added that missing a third straight overall win won't be keeping him up at night.
"It would have been nice to do it, but at the end of the day, this is a small stepping stone going into the bigger races in the new year, so I'm not all that disappointed," said Ewan.
U23 criterium champion in 2014, elite men's runner-up in 2015 and champion in 2016, Ewan is no stranger when it comes to collecting medals and jerseys on Sturt St. With "all bases covered" ahead of the nationals, Ewan is not only looking for success in the 44km event but also Sunday's road race where he has proved he can handle the the hilly course with silver in 2015. However, Ewan wouldn't be drawn into prognosticating despite the confidence boosting victory.
"It really comes down to conditions. My first year pro there I did well. Last year I did not do so well. And they were completely different conditions. I'm hoping for good conditions that suit me. My form is good. I'm feeling good, so hopefully I can have a crack then as well," he said in reference to the road race. "The wind conditions. If it's a tailwind up the climb, it's obviously a lot harder to sit on. If it's a headwind, you can sit on up the climb a lot easier and it makes an easier race."
Regardless of his results at the national championships, Ewan will head to the Tour Down Under and aim to match his two stage wins from 2016. He will then race the January 26 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race - Towards Zero Race Melbourne criterium, but not the WorldTour race in Geelong on January 29, before jetting off overseas.
"I'll do Tour Down Under and the Australian Day crit here in Melbourne and after that I'm done here in Australia. I head to Europe first and then to South Africa. I have Abu Dhabi in between. They're my first goals and hopefully I can get through those alright en route to San Remo," he said of his early-season racing schedule, adding the Giro is the most likely of the grand tours that he will start in 2017.
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