Caleb Ewan may not win anything at the Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships, but he is definitely one of the big names to watch.
By
AAP

7 Apr 2015 - 5:20 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:35 PM

Even Ewan's team bosses are torn between tempering expectations and acknowledging the hype around this massive cycling talent.

The 20 year old's outstanding performance in the Mitchelton Bay Classic criterium series makes him one of the riders to watch this week at the Australian road championships.

Ewan will be outnumbered heavily in Wednesday's Ballarat criterium and he will probably have a support role for Orica-GreenEDGE in Sunday's elite men's road race on the hilly Buninyong circuit.

But if the speedster is anywhere near the front of either race at the finish, he is a massive chance.

Ewan started his first full season as a WorldTour professional by dominating the Bay Classic.

He won the first three races and was fifth in the last round when the peloton inexplicably let a small breakaway nearly gain a lap.

Matt Wilson, Ewan's team director for the series, is wary of the growing attention the youngster is attracting.

But Wilson readily sees the reasons for all the fuss.

"He already has a lot of pressure on his shoulders - people comparing him to Robbie McEwen and this and that," Wilson said.

"It's quite unfair for a young rider to have that sort of pressure.

"(But) it's very tempting ... it is very exciting to say `we have the next big Australian sprinter'.

"He could very well be. Who knows?"

Ewan's race program this year reflects his status as a rare, but developing talent.

He will miss Adelaide's Tour Down Under, but ride next month in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road race and the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

Evans' overseas program will feature a series of medium-level tours.

The really big races - the spring classics and Grand Tours - will come later.

"We just don't want to throw him in the deep end and see if he can sink or swim," Wilson said.

"It's a matter of building him up slowly."

Ewan has shown he knows it takes to win at the nationals, taking out last year's under-23 criterium and road race titles.

But now he is in race fields that are stronger than what he faced in the Bay Classic.

And Ewan will only have Leigh Howard as a team-mate for Wednesday event's criterium in Ballarat.

Ewan has said he will have a support job in Sunday's road race, where Orica-GreenEDGE will not have their number one rider Simon Gerrans because of injury.

Gerrans' absence will open up the race and shorten the odds for Cadel Evans (BMC) and Richie Porte (Sky), the two big favourites.

Another big highlight will be the men's elite individual time trial on Thursday, which has attracted a world-class field.

Jack Bobridge (Budget Forklifts) and Rohan Dennis (BMC) will use the event as a gauge for how their preparations are going for their hour world record attempts next month.

Defending champion Michael Hepburn, Porte, three-time world time trial champion Michael Rogers, Luke Durbridge, Campbell Flakemore and Damian Howson are also in the stellar line up.

Gracie Elvin, the two-time defending champion, is the rider to beat in the women's elite road race on Saturday after some strong form during the Bay Classic.

Australian Road Nationals Program:

Wednesday
Criteriums, Sturt St, Ballarat
Men's under-23 4.30pm, Women's 5.30, Men 7pm

Bay Classic series winners Ewan and Chloe Hosking are obvious favourites for the elite titles, but they will be outnumbered. National Road Series riders could well take out the titles.

Thursday
Individual time trials, Buninyong (new course)
Men's under-23 10.30am (29.3km), Women 12.30 (29.3km), Men 2.15pm (40.9km)

The men's elite time trial rivals the men's road race as the event of these championships, with a host of big-name riders competing on a tough new course.

Saturday
Men's under-23 road race 9am (132.6km), Women's road race 1.30pm (102km)

Gracie Elvin looked awesome at the Bay Classic, but former champion Ruth Corset is always a big chance.

Sunday
Men's road race, 10.50am (183.6km)

The blue riband event of the nationals. Cadel Evans and Richie Porte are the favourites, but with Simon Gerrans sidelined through injury how will Orica-GreenEDGE race? Will the inevitable early breakaway stay clear this year?