Many will say it was no surprise that in-form sprinter and star on the rise Caleb Ewan won the men's elite criterium race at the Australian road cycling championships on Wednesday night.
But ask the 21-year-old, second-year NSW professional on the Orica-GreenEDGE team and he says that carrying the weight of favouritism is not easy.
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And after brilliant support by his teammates – including an exceptional lead-out by Alex Edmondson – Ewan claimed his first elite national title in the 44-kilometre race at Ballarat in Victoria.
The Bowral flyer was as much relieved as he was thrilled after winning the sprint from Victorian Brenton Jones (Drapac) and Western Australia's Anthony Giacoppo (Avanti-IsoWhey), who won the title in 2012.
Adorned in the national champion's jersey and with a gold medal around his neck, Ewan said his victory was a "a big relief" after placing second on debut in the same event last year – and then with only ex-teammate Leigh Howard in support.
No wonder he was so relieved, considering the added pressure on Ewan in this year's race after his three wins from four races in the Bay Classic series in Victoria that finished on Monday with him also winning it overall.
"I came into this race really, really nervous because I knew I had some good wins already in the Bay crits, so I was clearly the favourite," Ewan said.
"And obviously there was a fair bit of pressure going into a race as a favourite.
"I can't fault the team at all. They rode perfectly and again just gave me such an easy ride out there."
The finale was marred by one crash, when Victorian Neil Van der Ploeg (Avanti-Isowhey) went down on the last corner before the finale.
Ewan said he did not know what caused the crash that would have hampered the run-in for some, but by then he was perfectly placed on Edmondson's wheel and poised for the win.
"I didn't know if anyone came down," Ewan said. "I just thought riders were just fighting each other, which always happens in the last lap of a big race like this.
"I was focused on my sprint and I was super confident in Alex Edmondson to deliver me to where he needed to and he did it perfectly."
Ewan's focus will now turn to Sunday men's elite road race at Buninyong in which he was also second last year, to NSW's Heinrich Haussler, who is not here this year.
Ewan would love to win it, if the opportunity arises, but realises that Orica-GreenEDGE teammate Simon Gerrans has his eyes on the title as well.
In other races on Wednesday:
- NSW's Sophie Mackay won the 33km women's elite criterium from Victorian Lizzie Williams and NSW's Lauren Kitchen;
- South Australia's Jessica Mundy beat Shannon Malseed and Tayla Evans, both from Victoria, to take out the women's under 23 title that was contested in the same race as the elite women, and;
- Queensland's Jesse Kerrison beat Western Australia's Sam Welsford and Queensland's Dan Fitter to win the 33km men's under 23 criterium.