A bruised and bandaged Caleb Ewan begins his defence of the Bay Classic criterium series crown when the Australian road cycling season cranks up in Geelong on Thursday.
Becoming the first teenager to win the event last summer, rising star Ewan used the success as a springboard to a tremendous 2013 that recently led to a contract with world pro tour outfit Orica-GreenEDGE.
Ewan claimed several European youth tour stages, two one-day events for emerging riders and two podium finishes at the national track championships in a break-out season.
However, 19-year-old Ewan said a recent training crash left him “a bit battered” as he attempts to claim back to back Bay Classic victories from January 2-4.
“No bad injuries, just some skin off with the worst part a chunk out of my hand,” he said.
History is against the talented youngster – the only two riders to win consecutive series are prolific sprinters Mark Renshaw and Robbie McEwen, both at the peak of their careers in their 20s.
The New South Welshman said recent form had him positioned well heading into the popular series.
“I have done a few of the crits all around the place recently and have been going pretty well in them so I am confident going into the Bay Crits, but there are a lot of good guys there.”
Riding for NSW Institute of Sport in this event, Ewan’s chief rivals are likely to come from the Orica-GreenEDGE team led by Tasmanian Matt Goss with Geelong local Leigh Howard, Luke Durbridge, Michael Hepburn and Mitchell Docker.
Goss will be Orica-GreenEDGE’s sprinter in the Tour Down Under later in January, with team sport director Matt Wilson hoping for success.
“We will be going in with the aim of winning at least a couple of stages out of the four,” Wilson said.
“These short sprint-style crits are perfect preparation for both (the Tour Down Under and Herald Sun Tour), they really help the guys to fine tune their form in the lead in to those races, and these guys should all be capable of winning on any of the four days of racing at the Bay Crits.”
The 64-rider men’s field has been outdone by a 70-strong women’s contingent, including prolific former winner Rochelle Gilmore.
Gilmore’s team Wiggle Honda includes several international stars, including three-time world champion Italian Giorgia Bronzini, Charlotte Becker of Germany and Swede Emilia Fahlin.
Billed as the world’s fastest criterium series, the first two stages take place on the Geelong foreshore before heading to Portarlington on Saturday and wrapping up in Williamstown on Sunday.