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BALLARAT, Australia — Reigning Australian national criterium champion Steele von Hoff has not had much to smile about since Slipstream Sports decided not to renew the former Garmin-Sharp rider’s contract with the newly merged Cannondale-Garmin team late last year.
However, a dominant win over rising star and 2014 U23 national criterium and road race champion Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) and track world champion Scott Sunderland (Budget Forklifts) at the 2015 Australian road national championships on Wednesday, had the recently-turned 27-year-old grinning ear-to-ear.
“I was messaging my girlfriend telling her, ‘headwind finish, uphill, Caleb is so aero, and now it’s a headwind. I’m not backing myself,’ so to be able to go out side-by-side with him in the finish and be able to beat him, I’m amazed at myself,” an ecstatic von Hoff said.
“I put so much pressure on myself today.
“I didn’t think I could do it, and now I’m just really happy I actually came through.”
The historic win places von Hoff, now with British-based Continental team NFTO, into the record books as the first man to ever win the elite criterium national title twice since its inception in 2010.
“I really wanted the jersey so I could take it over to Europe with me and actually use it this time racing [criteriums] in Britain,” he said. “To be representing someone that wants me, that’s what I want.
“So to take it to NFTO and race in England to display the Aussie colors over there it’s going to be amazing,” added von Hoff, who only raced in his 2014 national champion’s jersey at the Tour Down Under and the Japan Cup.
Von Hoff claims he learned from losing to Ewan, the two-time Bay Cycling Classics champ, last weekend in Portarlington on Stage 3, where von Hoff said, “He absolutely whooped me.”
“I was on his wheel and he accelerated away from me, and I left it too late to drop my gears [last week],” added von Hoff. “So I dropped my gears earlier and as soon as he went I was right on him in his slipstream, and when I came around him [I wasn’t sure I’d win], he’s such a fast little guy, he’s going to be the next Mark Cavendish for sure.”
For Ewan, who dominated the Bay Crits by recording the hat-trick, second place is disappointing for the 20-year-old neo-pro, but says he only has himself to blame for perhaps jumping too soon.
“I came here with one goal and ambition to win,” Ewan said. “So obviously I am a bit disappointed to come away with silver, but that happens, and you can’t win all the time.
“It would have been nice to have had one more person, but Leigh [Howard] did a great job covering all the moves up the front so it made my job a lot easier.
“I didn’t lose because I didn’t have enough teammates. I think I stuffed up going a little bit early,” he added. “To beat a guy like [Steele] that is so quick, you really need to nail the sprint perfectly.”
Editor’s note: Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews