Caleb Ewan stamped himself as a "road warrior" of some distinction – after winning the opening round of the NSW International Grand Prix criterium cycling series on Saturday in Sydney’s south.
Ewan came with a withering sprint finish in the last 20 metres of the 40km dash around Cronulla to edge out seasoned Team Sky rider and two-time series winner Chris Sutton in 50 minutes and 55 seconds.
So close was Ewan’s margin, chief commissaire Glen Vigar called for a developed print to separate the first three finishers.
Wagga Wagga’s Tom Palmer, riding for the second-tier Australian Pro-Continental team, Drapac-Skoda, finished third.
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 fully fledged 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 (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 to do with my racing career."
A "pocket rocket" in stature, 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," Ewan said.
Ewan will have little time to rest up with round two of the NSW GP series set down for Wollongong on Sunday.
In the women’s event it was an all Wiggle-Honda affair with the team – claiming all three places on the podium. Lauren Kitchen was active all day as she made her way into breaks and spent time out front alone with her team in complete control.
While small groups were forming over the final 10 laps of the race, Wiggle-Honda was aggressive in getting their riders to the front and shut down any attempts to reel Kitchen in. Team owner Rochelle Gilmore was delayed in starting the race as she broke her pedal just prior to the start gun firing.
With her teammates getting out in front, it was primarily Gilmore and Joanne Tralaggan who controlled the bunch.
"It’s a really tough course with the wind which definitely made it a challenging race. There’s been some good training in the last few weeks and with the team here today, so really happy to take the win," Kitchen said.
"Having the numbers is always the best thing when in you’re a break like that and we’re all strong here today and it just happens to me that was the one that went away. I put my head down and I knew that had to pull off the win for Wiggle," she said.
Tiffany Cromwell tried her luck with aggressive racing but it was the numbers of Wiggle that ensured Kitchen the win. Chloe Hosking and her new Roxsolt Sydney Uni team were active all day but didn’t have the firepower of Wiggle.
Having swept the podium, Wiggle is in a strong position to take the overall series at Wollongong tomorrow. "We’ll sit and consider it and look at the points and see where everybody else finished up," explained Kitchen.
Recently crowned NZ criterium champion Emily Collins was quick to show off her new kit to crowd and is well placed for a high overall finish.
"We want a Wiggle rider standing on top of the podium tomorrow, of course I’d like to be that one but we’ll have to see who is the best rider which rider suits the course the best."
The 1.34 km circuit that borders on Wanda, Elouera and North Cronulla beaches has been one of the favourite criterium circuits for the world-class cyclists that have taken part in the racing.
The circuit with wide roads, a climb, sweeping corners offers the aggressive cyclists every opportunity to make a break and last year’s victory was testimony to that.
The cyclists require skill, speed and strength and the finish straight offers a long fast sprint for the big gear riders coming off a down hill run before racing the final 200 metres on the flat.
It is also a great circuit for the spectators with wonderful vantage spots and the opportunity of watching the race unfold and attracts a large crowd.
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