• Walking, or rather riding, the talk... Caleb Ewan delivers a third consecutive victory at the Australian criterium championship. (Mitchelton-Scott)Source: Mitchelton-Scott
When you place so much pressure on yourself, there's only one outcome that will sate the appetite, writes Anthony Tan.
Cycling Central
4 Jan 2018 - 2:46 PM  UPDATED 4 Jan 2018 - 2:48 PM

"Anything less than a win would be a disappointment."

That pretty much sums up the pep talk to one individual before the Australian men's criterium championship last night in Ballarat.

Of course I'm talking about Caleb Ewan. Who else?

His Mitchelton-Scott sports director, Matt Wilson, said as much two days before. It's a touch arrogant, you might say, but that said, as things stand in Australian road cycling circles, Ewan is the fastest sprinter we have. By some margin.

And if he can't win in Australia, he won't be able to win in France. Because in July this year, that's where he's going.

His team told us so as early as last December - six months out from the Grand Départ in the Vendée on July 7.

The criterium championship is the first of a number of stepping stones to Ewan's Tour debut, and one he needed to successfully negotiate, because as we saw last season with André Greipel, if you get yourself into a bit of a funk, it's hard to get out of it.

Of course, had he lost to Steele von Hoff (Bennelong SwissWellness) or Brenton Jones (Delko Marseille Provence KTM) it wouldn't have been the end of the world; it's not like he wouldn't be going to the Tour. But it would have placed Ewan in a completely different mindset to the one he's in now.

Criterium wins for Ewan and Wiasak at roadnats
Caleb Ewan won his third-straight criterium title on day one of the road nationals, while Rebecca Wiasak took out the women's race.

"It's one of those things I always want to tick off the list at the start of the year to build my confidence going into some of the bigger races," Ewan said after his third consecutive victory in the event. "I think it's a good start and I'm feeling good, so I feel good about going into the next few races."

If he hadn't won, he would've likely spent the next months questioning himself, questioning his speed. Invariably, a sprinter is their own harshest critic: when Mark Cavendish was in his pomp, look at the way he berated himself for not winning every race he contested, apologising profusely to his team-mates for all the work they'd done beforehand.

He'd make it up to them, he promised. Most times, he did.

For any ordinary person the pressure on its own would be unbearable. Ewan, clearly no ordinary athlete, must learn to thrive under such circumstances for the next decade, if he's to emulate countryman Robbie McEwen, an eight-time stage winner at the Giro d'Italia and Tour, or Cavendish, fifteen times a stage winner at the Giro and twice that in France.

"It feels good. It never gets old, I'm super happy to take the win again and the feeling is just as good as the first time."

So far, at 23 years young, he's saying and, most importantly, doing, all the right things.