Steele von Hoff has taken home the last two Australian national criterium titles but come 2016, it's the road race the ONE Pro Cycling rider is targeting on January 10. While von Hoff has hit his straps in January over the last few seasons with national titles and a Tour Down Under stage win, he is focused on succeeding Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) as the Australian national champion in just over a week's time.
Known for his characteristics as a sprinter, von Hoff's ambition for the green and gold jersey on the challenging Bunninyong course is far from unsound having finished third, eighth and ninth in his last three starts. However, he will need to the race to play to his strengths as he explained to Cyclingnews.
"I'll approach it like every other year as I've felt that if the race was raced slightly differently, I would have been in with a chance for the win. So hopefully I just have to wait until the race is raced the way I need it to be and I'll be in with a good shot at the jersey," said von Hoff who won't be able to call upon teammates Matt Goss and Glen O'Shea who are both skipping the race.
"I’ve won the bunch kick from the bunch that I've been in the last few years. Last year when there was a breakaway, Adam Hansen was in-between, and I was the best of the rest so all I need it to be is a 'bunchie' and my odds are a lot better. A few years ago there was a bunchie [behind solo winner Luke Durbridge, ed] and I was second after Michael Matthews so that's all the really needs to happen. Of course, it's very difficult on that course and when I say a bunchie, it will be about ten guys."
Von Hoff will start his season at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic from January 1-4, leaving him little chance to enjoy his 28th birthday on December 31, but will approach the four-day criterium series as a "warm up" and hit out in preparation for the 183.6km national road race.
"I am racing with the Avanti IsoWhey team so I am going to play it by ear and see what the director has to say. I am not really going to have any goals or ambitions right now as I am not sure what the plans are," he said of the races, adding that enjoys reuniting with the team that launched his professional cycling career. "It's great, I love to try and help out the team and try and support them whenever I can because they are the reason I am cycling. I wouldn't be where I am without them."
Von Hoff added that while he would never say no to a victory, the Bay Cycling Classic and national criterium race are all preliminary events in anticipation of the nationals.
"It would be a really good form indicator," he said of what a Bay Cycling Classic win would mean. "It would tell me where I am at but I am not expecting anything because there is that day break and that's where people recover and start to go well for the crit. It's something that I have been racing since I started cycling. I started off with the support race and managed to win the cup there so I'd like to win because I like to win bike races, but for me the national champs are my priority.
"The criterium is just another good hit out and a bit of fun because I love racing up and down the main street of Ballarat with all the crowds going wild," he said. "I'll always do it, I am not going to miss it, and if I can get the third win it would be absolutely fantastic but I'll have to see what happens."
The criterium victory coupled with his ninth place in the road race secured von Hoff a start at the Tour Down Under with the UniSA team in 2015, repaying the selectors with victory on stage 4. Replicating his performances and results 12-months on to secure a return to the Australian WorldTour race, and in the national jersey to boot, is a major objective for von Hoff.
"That's the goal," he said. "Hopefully I can be the first non-professional finisher and get selected for the Tour Down Under. It's the biggest race of the year that I'll be able to do but then you never know, we might get a bigger race over in Europe now that we are Pro-Conti but that depends on invites."
ONE Pro Cycling makes its Pro-Continental debut at the 2.2 New Zealand Cycle Classic, January 20-24, before heading across the Tasman for the 1.HC Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on January 30, and the 2.1 Jayco Herald Sun Tour from February 3-7. Should von Hoff miss selection for the Tour Down Under, he will nevertheless have two quality races on home soil to look forward to.
"It's fantastic having the team over here to race on home soil first up. It's going to be a great experience and I hope all the boys are going to enjoy it. We have a good team coming to those races so hopefully we can get some results as well.
"They are the races that I am training for, I've already done recon for some of the stages for Herald Sun Tour so I am looking forward to that as it's near Gippsland way which is towards my backyard near the bottom of Arthurs Seat which is where I train," he said of the climb which features in the race's queen stage which he animated in a breakaway this year.
While a winning start to the 2016 season with his new team is high on the agenda, for von Hoff finding a team that believes in him and in turn, he believes in is equally important.
"For me, I just hope that I have found a new home that I am really going to enjoy racing for and that we are going to work really well together and be successful together," he said. "The equipment that we have is second to none, so it's going to be a fantastic environment to work in next year and I am really looking forward to it."