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The Orica GreenEdge team has said that Michael Matthew’s injury-provoked withdrawal from the squad for this year’s Tour makes its goals harder to achieve, but that it will nevertheless strive for a very successful race.
“There are a few stages there that the combination between Gerrans and Matthews would have worked very well, starting Sunday,” directeur sportif Matt White told CyclingTips at Friday’s press conference. “But it is what it is and we have to move on and change our focus for some stages. Like I said, I am happy with the nine guys we have got.”
Matthews clocked up victory on stage six in the Giro d’Italia and also wore the Maglia Rosa for several days. However his participation in the Tour was threatened by a crash during training earlier this week, a fall which left him with a badly damaged hand.
He and the team hoped that it would heal up in time but Orica GreenEdge then confirmed today that Christian Meier would step in to fill the slot.
White acknowledged that they are completely different types of riders. “Michael’s replacement is certainly not a sprinter. Certainly Christian Meier is not a guy who will be out there winning the same stages,” he said. “But he is an incredible team-mate and he certainly bolsters certain areas of our preparation, for sure.”
Twelve months ago the Orica GreenEdge team won stage three with Simon Gerrans, then took the following day’s team time trial. The latter success put Gerrans into the Maillot Jaune for two stages, then team-mate Daryl Impey took over for two more.
Asked what the team wanted from this year’s Tour, White said that there wasn’t pressure to repeat that same level of success.
“I think most teams come to the Tour de France to try to win a stage. If you look at the statistics, most teams don’t win a stage,” he said. “We had the Giro a month ago and nine teams out of 22 won a stage. We were lucky enough to win three.
“Most teams it is usually 50-50. 50 percent don’t win a stage, 50 percent do. So if we win one stage of the Tour de France it will definitely be a success. Anything more than that will be a bonus, for sure.”
With Matthews out the biggest chance for a stage win rest on Gerrans’ shoulders. He spoke about that during the media conference, expressing his hope that things will pay off on Sunday.
“The preparation for stage two has actually been quite similar to, say, my build-up for the Ardennes, with me doing a couple of stage races leading into the Tour and also the specific training I have done.
“As soon as we saw the parcours, the profiles for stage two, we realised it is very, very similar to an Ardennes Classic. It is pretty safe to say my preparation for here has mirrored what I did for the Ardennes.”
He said that the team rode the second half of the stage earlier this week; the general reaction was a thumbs up. “We were all pretty excited about the stage. I think there are plenty of opportunities there for a team like ours to get a good result in that sort of finale.
“It is obviously a stage that we have really targeted in the first week of the race. With a team like ours who are targeting stages, I think we all have to put it on the line for an opportunity like that.”
The key question is how close Gerrans is to the level of form he showed in last year’s Tour, and also earlier this year in winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège? White believes his level is where it needs to be to achieve his goal.
“I would say [it’s] pretty similar,” he told CyclingTips. “Look, Simon Gerrans doesn’t miss too many targets. If you look at his history, he hasn’t got too many second places in races. It is either winning or he is not there. So we are pretty confident that he is ready to go.
“Whether it is for Sunday…he will be very competitive on Sunday, but also a little bit later in the Tour as well. He is the consummate professional. He is always ready.”
If that is indeed the case, Gerrans has made clear that he wants more than just a stage; he’d like to repeat what he did last year and also lead the race overall as well.
“I think it [stage two] is a fantastic opportunity to do that. But firstly you have to place really well on stage one. With the system on the countback, I suspect there will be a big group finish on stage one and then a select group on stage two.
“Firstly I have to place well on stage one. Then on the stage two course, which I think suits myself and the team quite well, we will be going all out to win that. If everything goes to plan, then we shouldn’t be too far off the yellow jersey.”
White expects Wiggins to stay with Sky rather than move to Orica GreenEdge:
Orica GreenEdge was in the headlines in June when White stated that Bradley Wiggins could be of interest to the team. The Briton has had a tense few weeks with his Sky team due to non-selection for the Tour de France. He said in June that if he wanted to ever ride the Tour again, that it was clear to him that he would have to leave the squad.
Time has passed, Wiggins was confirmed as missing the Tour team, and will be on the sidelines when the Tour rolls out of Leeds on Saturday morning.
Notwithstanding that, White says that the chances of Wiggins joining the team now appear much more remote than before.
“There certainly has been no development [since the story first emerged – ed.]. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bradley stays where he is. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays with Sky. I would see it as a very small possibility [that he goes to Orica].
Wiggins said last month that he wanted to ride the Tour de France at least once more in his career; White feels this may no longer be the case. “He has already said that he is changing his focus. He said he would like to do the Tour de France again. But at the end of the day his focus is on the Rio Olympics,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it can work [with Sky]…he just won’t ride the Tour de France again. But I am sure he can ride plenty of races with Sky and also prepare for the Olympics. I am pretty sure that is what his idea is.”
If Wiggins doesn’t move to the team, that would in theory create a gap that would otherwise have been filled by the former Tour winner. White said that berth could potentially be filled by another similar-type rider if one was available and interested, and if the budget was there.
He ruled out Cadel Evans as being a rider who could fill that gap. “Probably not. I think he is going to make a decision if he wants to actually race next year,” he said. “I don’t know of any discussions that we have had between the team and Cadel Evans about riding next year. I certainly haven’t heard anything.”
If it comes to it, he said that the team can simply continue with the GC roster it has. He feels things are already going in the right direction and that the current roster is one which could prosper in long stage races in years to come.
“I am pretty happy with the young guys we have got. We might not be ready to go to the Tour de France next year with a GC guy, but with the Yates brothers, with Esteban Chaves, there are some very, very talented climbers on the horizon,” he said. “And they are developing quicker than we would have thought.”
Listen to the audio clips above for more from White, including the reason why sprinters Matt Goss and Aidis Kruopis weren’t considered as replacements for Matthews, as well as the views of Gerrans and the Tour debutants Simon Yates and Matt Hayman.