Caleb Ewan (Jayco AlUla) won’t do many smaller races this year than the Australian Criterium Championships. Winning it in Ballarat this evening for the fourth time in his career – the most of any rider – certainly won’t make it to his list of biggest victories.
And yet …
Ewan’s struggles throughout the 2023 season are well documented. Just one UCI-level victory for the season, and that at the tiny Van Merksteijn Fences Classic (UCI 1.1). A very public fall-out with his Lotto Dsnty team that saw him end his contract early. The relief of re-signing with Jayco AlUla, the team he began his pro career with almost a decade ago.
And now there’s even more relief, now that he’s won his first race of the year for his new-old team. Because when it comes to riders like Ewan, getting wins on the board is all important.
“I think sprinting is all about confidence,” he told reporters in the Ballarat twilight. “So to win here, it gives me a bit of confidence especially going into the summer now. It feels great to win again in Jayco colours.”
Ewan took a somewhat unusual route to victory this evening. While he eventually won it (comfortably) in a bunch sprint, he spent a few of the race’s 40 laps off the front on his own.
“Yeah, that wasn’t planned,” he said with a smile. “I saw lots of moves going and I saw a few of my guys had been moving a lot already and I think they were a bit tired so I just jumped. I thought maybe some guys would come with me, but no one came with me. I wasn’t going to go solo for 20 laps there.”
While Ewan won the final sprint easily – beating Jensen Plowright (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Sam Welsford (Bora-Hansgrohe) – it wasn’t all smooth sailing. In the final drag to the line he was involved in a crash that brought a couple riders (and spectators) to the ground. He would likely have crashed himself had he not had a rider to fall into.
“I kind of clipped the wheel there because I had a guy come on the inside of me and Jensen [Plowright] on the outside of me,” he said. “I got squeezed to the wheel and then I kind of fell into the guy next to me on the inside. But yeah, just a racing incident.”
Race officials confirmed Ewan’s account, and no punitive measures were taken.
Now, Ewan turns his attention to Sunday’s road race where he’ll start as one of several options for Jayco AlUla. Or as the option if new teammate Luke Plapp is to be believed.
“No one really knows how that race is gonna pan out,” Ewan said. “We need to see what the conditions are like, as well. I definitely think that I’ll be one of the options [for Jayco AlUla] but [Plapp’s] definitely, probably more of a favourite than I am. The race really needs to go a certain way for me to win.
“We’ll see how it goes. But my legs feel good. So hopefully I can do the double.”
While hardly a milestone achievement for Ewan at this point, winning the Nationals crit this evening will still feel good. Winning on the hilly Mt. Buninyong course on Sunday will feel even better – a win that’s proven elusive over the years.
Even better than those two will be getting back on the winners’ list at the WorldTour-level Tour Down Under later this month. That will be an even bigger sign that Ewan’s comeback is progressing as planned; that the Ewan of old is on his way back.
Another Jayco podium sweep
After the Jayco AlUla team swept the podium in the elite men’s time trial on Thursday, the women’s team – Liv AlUla Jayco – did the same in the elite and U23 women’s criterium this evening.
Ruby Roseman-Gannon got away with around 18 of 30 laps remaining, with Gina Ricardo (BridgeLane) the only rider going with her. Clearly the stronger of the pair, Roseman-Gannon attacked Ricardo with two laps to go and won solo – her second national criterium title after taking victory in 2022.
Ricardo was caught in the final lap with Georgia Baker and Alex Manly the next two across the line to complete a podium sweep for the Aussie team. Keely Bennett (BridgeLane) took out the U23 title.
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