Canberra rider Thomas Palmer was third in the opening leg of the NSW International Grand Prix on Saturday. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
CANBERRA rider Tom Palmer took a big step towards winning a start at next year's Tour Down Under after a strong third place in the opening leg of the NSW International Grand Prix at Cronulla on Saturday.
The Australian-based Drapac-Skoda team has moved up to Pro-Continental level for the first time this season, and has received a wildcard into the country's premier road race in January.
Palmer joined the team seven years ago when still in school, and as its longest-serving member is well placed to be selected for the Adelaide event.
Palmer, 23, did his chances no harm in the 36km dash on Saturday, despite being edged out by winner Caleb Ewan and twice series winner Chris Sutton in a photo finish. ''The team's doing the Tour Down Under and I'm trying to put my best foot forward to show I deserve a spot,'' Palmer said.
''After the nationals in Ballarat [in January] the team will be finalised, and hopefully I'm there.
''Seven years ago I was in grade 10 at St Edmund's [College] and nowhere near ready for professional races. I've been able to do the progression from juniors to professional without having to change teams because it's grown at the same speed.''
Despite its shorter nature, Palmer believes the NSW criterium series provides an accurate form guide towards the Tour Down Under.
''They're still hard, particularly for the sprinters,'' he said.
''For a sprinter like me, it's good to pit yourself against the guys you will have to beat at Tour Down Under.
''I raced it a couple of years ago for a composite team. It's a pretty awesome race.''
The step up to senior company didn't seem to faze Ewan, 19, of Moss Vale, who quit school in year 11 to pursue his dream of becoming a cycling professional.
Having made his mark on the velodrome as a junior, winning a world omnium title, he made the switch to the road at the urging of former professional and newly appointed national high performance coaching director Bradley McGee.
''I was only 11 when I was allowed to sit up and watch the Tour de France for the first time and watching Brad ride into the yellow jersey (in 2003) was a real buzz,'' an exhausted Ewan said.
''He went on to coach me through the junior ranks and still has a lot to do with my racing career.''
The diminutive Ewan had to dig deep to edge out Sutton in the final dash to the line.
''It was hard coming to the finish because I attacked a fair bit at the start,'' he said.
Ewan will have little time to rest up with round two of the NSW GP series set down for Wollongong on Sunday.
Commonwealth Games gold medallist Rochelle Gilmore had plenty to smile about as team owner of the Italian-based Wiggle Honda team, which made it a 1-2-3 finish in the opening round of the women's event.
Gilmore, who took ownership of the team a year ago from Saturday, was content to stay in the bunch as teammates Lauren Kitchen, Germany's former world road and track champion Charlotte Becker and Emily Collins made it a Wiggle Honda trifecta. with AAP