Late last year, Calvin Watson learned that he would not be riding with Australian under 23 development program, Jayco-AIS in Europe for a second successive year. He was understandably shattered, particularly after a fourth overall at the Giro del Friuli and a number of top 10 results. On Sunday, Watson got one back at his detractors, by claiming the overall victory at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
"I came here really wanting to chase a result and prepare for the nationals," Watson told reporters following his win. "I was fuelled by a bit of anger and disappointment being left out of the national program so, I'm happy that I can show them that I'm a real force in Australian cycling."
It was Victorian Institute of Sport head coach Dave Sanders who urged Watson not to dwell on his situation and channel his frustration into the bike. Sanders was struggling to hold back his emotions following his charge's win having guided him since the age of 15.
"This is the big one. It doesn't get any bigger in this country," Sanders said. "Cal's had a couple of setbacks and whatever and he's showed his stuff.
"Put it this way: this is how you demonstrate your ability. In every athlete's life, particularly in cycling, everyone has setbacks, everyone gets let down. Everyone. The Gerrans, all of them... And you've got to come out fighting. You go and get off your backside and do it. That's what he's done. I said to him, 'don't get down in the dumps about this, just get off your backside and do it.'”
The all-rounder Watson in fact had double reason to celebrate, taking the win on his 20th birthday.
Watson laid the foundations for his victory on Friday in the searing heat wave and high winds which affected the peloton en route from Sunbury to Bendigo on Stage 1. He missed out on the stage win there, coming second in a sprint to the finish line in the velodrome to Aaron Donnelly (Huon - Genesys) but it was Donnelly who had had to do all the chasing with Watson out the front of the race in a breakaway and on the attack the majority of the day.
With the general classification largely unchanged after Stage 2, it was left to Watson and his abilities on Sunday's final stage to Arthurs Seat, with just one other rider challenging for the overall title, New Zealander Josh Atkins (Gray's Online New Zealand National Team). Sanders was not alone in the belief that since Watson had something of advantage thanks to the fact that he grew up locally in Frankston and used Arthurs Seat for training on a regular basis.
"It's never over until it's over," said Watson who was riding his first Sun Tour. "When we started climbing Arthurs Seat and I looked back and Josh was out of sight; that was when I really knew I had to suffer those last few kilometres to make it happen.
"I climb this climb twice a week," he continued. "This is my backyard and I couldn't ask for a better place to train because this is what it's all about. I knew the climb back to front. I knew where I could ease off and where I would have to dig deep and every corner and that really played into our hands."
While Watson openly admitted he was the underdog against Atkins, a noted climber, Sanders used the following anecdote to dispel such a theory.
"We took him to the junior Worlds a few years ago," he recalled. "He totally committed to the team. He led out the sprint up the hill, a kilometre out leading Jay McCarthy out who ended up running second and he still ran sixth – uphill, blew them all off the wheel."
After Watson races the Cycling Australia Road National Championships next week, he will head to Italy with compatriot Pat Lane to race for amateur outfit, Team Hoppla.
"We're looking forward to a new pathway and a new beginning and stepping out of our comfort zone and really seeing what we can do in Italy," he said.