Steele Von Hoff.

"I can't be happier": Steele Von Hoff. Photo: Damian White

Steele von Hoff showed how winning bike races can be as much about having the gumption to seize opportunity as having the strength to make the best of them at the Australian road championships on Thursday night, when he won the men's elite criterium in Ballarat.

The 26-year-old Victorian finished the 44km race over 40 laps of the 1.1km circuit more than two lengths clear of West Australian Anthony Giacoppo, who won the race in 2012. Fellow Victorian Brenton Jones was third.

As strong as he rode after attacking on the downhill back straight of the circuit just inside one lap to go, von Hoff admitted he benefited from a crash of three Drapac riders that held up others behind them at the top end of the lap as they were trying to set themselves for the finishing sprint.

Among those to fall were one of the favourites, 2011 winner Jonathan Cantwell of Queensland and the Drapac team, and two of his teammates – Victorian Robbie Hucker and the ACT's Adam Phelan. They all sustained grazes but were not seriously hurt.

"I can't be happier," said von Hoff, a member of the US Garmin-Sharp team. "The crowds were amazing. I heard many people yelling out my name."

Asked how it felt to win a gold medal rather than the silver medal he won last year when West Australian Cameron Meyer won in a solo break, von Hoff said: "Good. I have worked my way up, that's for sure. I have earned this one pretty good." But then the second-year professional added: "There was a mishap up at the top corner which sort of dusted things up, and as a racer you just have to take advantage of that stuff."