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When the criterium returns to Sturt Street, Ballarat, on Wednesday 7 January, for the 2015 Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships, the defending champion Steele von Hoff will be among the men to watch.
But von Hoff isn’t limiting his ambitions to the criterium in 2015. He has his eyes on the biggest prize of all. The road race.
As the reigning champion he’s had the privilege of riding in the green and gold jersey throughout the year in criteriums and wants more of the same in 2015.
“It has been fantastic,” von Hoff said. “I didn’t get to wear the jersey as much as I would have liked, but now that I’m back in Australia I’m definitely making the most of it. I’m trying to get it out there and show the colours.”
Von Hoff, despite being labeled a sprinter, has challenged in the road race in the past with his best result being third in 2013.
“I’d love to go all the way! I’ve always been close,” said von Hoff, who, in addition to his third place finish, was eighth in 2014 and sixth in 2012.
“My coach and a fair few people have been saying that I had one of the best rides last year.
“I tried hard, but I was outnumbered by the GreenEDGE guys because they had so many people in the race.
“They always had a backup plan, and they just pulled (Simon) Gerrans over the climb and won it.
“They had everything covered! So after the race I was sitting in the gutter, absolutely exhausted, but very happy with my performance.”
The GreenEDGE team has had its stocks depleted after a training crash ruled Simon Gerrans out, who would have been the number one man for the team.
But while von Hoff will have a little more freedom in the road race he will be heavily marked in the criterium.
“I’m more of a marked man, which kind of helps me because more people will be on my wheel,” said the 27-year-old who celebrated his birthday on New Years Eve.
“I won’t look at it any differently, I’ll just know that I have history there and try my hardest as always. Really, at the end of the day, it’s a race, the racing horns come out and you just do your best.”
Von Hoff, who will be racing for the British team NFTO, knows what to expect from his rivals.
“Shannon Johnson is racing really well at the moment,” he said. “He keeps on saying that this is his last year. But really, I reckon he will want the title, because he is a really fast sprinter.
“Also, there are other guys that will probably start, like Caleb (Ewan), depending on his requirements in the road race.
“And the guys from Drapac are racing really well also, while the guys from Avanti Racing always put on a good show and manage to get on the podium. So it’s going to be quite a tough race as usual.”
Von Hoff will begin his 2015 season at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic, which begins in Geelong on Friday, January 2.