The first day of the new year wasn't kind to Caleb Ewan, as he crashed on the first stage of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic. Things improved on January 3, with a final-day victory, while January 4 was better again, with a second straight Australian national criterium title.
The 22-year-old Orica-Scott rider bested Scott Sunderland of IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness and Brenton Jones of JLT Condor on the uphill drag in Ballarat with time to celebrate and confirm his status as Australia's premier fast man.
"Coming back here, I can't remember how many times I have raced on this course before, but I have done well from getting a lead-out and also from coming behind," Ewan said of his victory, which adds to his 2016 triumph and 2015 U23 victory.
"I think when I got boxed off the wheel in the last corner I didn’t panic too much. If I didn’t have the confidence, I might have panicked and waited too late for my sprint. I knew I had to go straight away when I came out of the corner to get to the front, and I did that and that obviously comes with confidence."
Ewan had Mitch Docker and Damien Howson for company but, as the only WorldTour riders with teammates in the race, the trio showed their class to be a level above that of top Australian Continental team IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness. The newly merged squad controlled the race and were well placed for the final corner.
However, the 165cm and 61kg Ewan, versus the taller and heavier Sunderland on an uphill finish, used his confidence and experience to finish it off with aplomb.
"For him coming here with such a strong team, he hasn’t done many races with a top team like that but I knew he would be hard to beat if he was in a good position,” Ewan said of Sunderland. "I am going to back myself in a race like this, especially with an uphill finish. I feel pretty confidence against a bigger guy like that when we are racing uphill."
After riding with the Orica team as a stagiaire in 2014, then spending the next two years as neo-pro, Ewan is a fully fledged professional at just 22 in 2017. Explaining his new-found confidence at the start of the new year, Ewan said he doesn't feel like he's "getting any faster" with age but simply better at conserving his energy.
"My max power for the last few years has stayed the same, but like I was saying before, you get through the races easier. I am a bit more mature in the way I ride, and getting through those longer races is a bit easier for me," he said.
"If I can get to the end of the sprint, I can put out more power. When I first turned pro, I was going into those sprints completely exhausted, but now I am putting out some pretty good power at the end of some long races and hopefully that gets better as I get older. Over the past few years I have learnt a lot in how they play out, and obviously I am getting stronger as well, so hopefully I can top my last few years this year."
Ewan will next be aiming to conserve his energy and add a debut green and gold national road race champion's jersey to his growing palmares on Sunday.
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