A matter of months ago, a return to the Tour Down Under was a far off dream for Steele von Hoff. The 30-year-old won a stage with the UniSA-Australia wild card team in 2015 but missed the race last year for the first time since his 2012 debut.
In 2018, Von Hoff returns with the UniSA-Australia squad, but considering the circumstances of the team selection for the race, he chose his words carefully in explaining his pleasure at being back in Adelaide.
"For Chris Harper and Sam Crome, who had unbelievable rides at nationals, they really deserve to be on this team," Von Hoff told Cyclingnews of his trade teammates. "It is a bit of a tricky situation. Even though we are so excited to be here, we really don't want to be boasting about it. Really, it is an unfortunate circumstance that they are not here. I feel like I earned my spot with the ride at nationals, so I am going to try and make the most of it and make the boys proud."
A change in policy regarding the wild card team selection now rewards the top National Road Series (NRS) team with five places on the seven-rider team. However, a miscommunication regarding recent changes to the UCI regulation 2.1.005, "riders must have submitted accurate and up-to-date whereabouts information to an anti-doping organisation for a minimum period of 6 weeks" ruled out a number of riders from Bennelong-SwissWellness and opened the door for several others.
While empathising with his teammates, Von Hoff means business in Adelaide. After "a lot of hard yards that have been done over the last few years", Von Hoff is taking the opportunity with both hands. A WorldTour rider with Garmin-Sharp, the Victorian is looking at the race as a prime opportunity to remind the peloton of his top-end sprint speed
"Coming back here is an amazing honour. I didn't think I would get the chance to do again after missing out last year and having a rougher year on the bike," said Von Hoff, who rode with ONE Pro Cycling in 2016 and 2017. "Andrew Christie-Johnston really looks after his riders and it shows that four of us have been selected. For all the guys who are here, we are so privileged to get the chance and opportunity to race against the WorldTour teams."
Caleb Ewan has dominated the sprints in the last two editions of the race with six stage wins. Von Hoff sees the Mitchelton-Scott rider as the danger man, but not the only name to watch out at the pointy end.
"Andre Greipel doesn't mess around when he comes here. Of course, he will be in contention against Caleb," he said. "Peter Sagan, no doubt, will be fighting as well but Caleb is a very talented rider. It is going to be good to see the competition amongst them but hopefully, we'll be in the mix as well and try and to get that ochre jersey as well."
Von Hoff though is aiming for his own stage win to repay the faith shown in his ability by Christie-Johnston, taking up the DS reigns at UniSA-Australia, who has kept his cycling dream alive.
"In the latter stages of last year I didn't think it would be a possibility that I would be back to a WorldTour race like this again," he said. "If I manage to pull a result in a stage win, it would be fantastic and a great way to thank Andrew for chucking me a lifeline by letting me ride with Bennelong SwissWellness again."