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by Matt de Neef
January 4, 2017
Photography by John Veage/Cycling Australia
BALLARAT, Australia (CT) – Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) has claimed his second Australian criterium title in as many years, winning the bunch sprint in Ballarat this evening to earn another 12 months as national champion.
In a fiercely contested bunch kick in the centre of Ballarat, Ewan got the better of rivals Scott Sunderland (IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness) and Brenton Jones (Condor-JLT) after patiently biding his time in the bunch throughout the hour-long race.
Ewan had been out of position coming into the final corner but managed to navigate his way through traffic to take a popular win.
“To be honest I wasn’t exactly where I hoped I would be,” Ewan said of the course’s final turn onto Sturt St. “I got boxed off the wheel in the final corner and I started my sprint probably as soon as I came out of that corner and I had to get my way through the bunch.
“Luckily I got out at the end and could beat Scott.”
Ewan had come into the race as the rider to beat but didn’t enjoy the same team support he has in previous years. While Sunderland had nine of his IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness teammates for support, Ewan had just two — Mitch Docker and Damian Howson.
“It was always going to be hard coming with only two guys to help me,” Ewan said. “[But they were] probably the two strongest guys in the race, fortunately for me — they covered everything perfectly and all I had to do was sit there and relax.”
Ewan was involved in a short-lived breakaway attempt seven laps into the 40-lap race, but that escape didn’t last long. The same fate awaited most of the moves off the front in the opening stages until a group of nine formed on lap 14. Among the leaders was former Sky and Drapac rider Nathan Earle (UKYO) who went clear on his own after 16 laps and lead the race solo for 12 laps.
With Earle’s original group absorbed by the peloton, another group of eight chasers headed up the road in search of the Tasmanian. Travis Meyer, Mitch Docker (Orica-Scott), Sam Spokes, Jesse Featonby (Drapac-Pat’s Veg), Josh Taylor, Ben Hill, Cameron Ivory and Josh Crome (IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness) joined Earle at the head of affairs on lap 28 as the nine remaining IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness riders lined themselves out on the front of the bunch, controlling the tempo.
The nine leaders built a maximum advantage that nudged 30 seconds but there was a lack of cohesion in the group, with Crome and Docker among those sitting on, working towards a bunch sprint.
As planned, the race eventually came back together in the final lap before Ewan blazed to the front and held off his rivals in the long uphill drag to the finish line.
The win is Ewan’s second in two days, having won the final stage of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic in Williamstown yesterday. He will go into Sunday’s elite men’s road race as one of several options for the Orica-Scott outfit.
“I’ve done everything I know I can do to prepare for it so it kinda just has to play into my favour for me to do well,” Ewan said of the Nationals road race, in which his teammate and two-time former winner Simon Gerrans will start the favourite. “I’m confident I can do well if the conditions are right.”
Earlier in the evening Jessica Allen (Orica-Scott) won the women’s event a day after she too won the final stage of the Bay Crits in Williamstown. In the U23 men’s criterium, South Australia’s Alex Porter took victory from a breakaway group of five, winning the sprint ahead of Lucas Hamilton and Ayden Toovey.
The Australian Road National Championships continue tomorrow with the U23 men’s, elite women’s and elite men’s individual time trials.