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It’s already taken Grand Tour stages, Classics and some of the other top races in the world. Now Orica GreenEdge is aiming to continue its evolution in the sport with a wider targeting of success in the upcoming Tour de France.
While general manager Shayne Bannan is staying tight-lipped on the exact composition of the lineup for now, he has revealed that he believes the team will, for the first time, be able to aspire to stage wins throughout the race.
Previously, the squad featured riders who are strong on the flat or on rolling parcours; in other words, able to chase victory in the early part of the race. In 2013 Simon Gerrans won the third leg of the race, notching up the team’s first Tour stage victory.
The following day the Australian squad won the team time trial, putting him into the yellow jersey.
Gerrans held it until stage six, then handed it over to his team-mate Daryl Impey.
Last year things were quieter, with the squad finishing outside the top three on each stage. It will head back to the race determined to correct that statistic.
Both Gerrans and Impey are expected to be part of the line-up once again, while Michael Matthews will give the squad additional oomph in the sprints.
However with the Yates brothers Adam and Simon expected to ride, the team is in a position to challenge for additional stages this time around.
“We are taking a really well rounded team,” Bannan told CyclingTips. “I am not privy to tell you who that team is yet as we will be announcing it on June 30, but it is certainly going to be a well-rounded lineup.
“In the past we have really targeted a certain segment of the Tour or Giro or Vuelta. This time we will be targeting stages spread over the three weeks and also we will have a reasonably strong team for the team time trial. That is one we will have a really good focus on as well.”
What about the final podium?
The Australian WorldTour squad made its debut in 2012 and has grown since then. At the time Bannan and others said that the general classification was not an immediate goal, but that it would be down the line. This deferring of that goal continues to be the case, not least because the Yates brothers and fellow climber Esteban Chaves are still young and developing.
Bannan said that the team is starting to look more in this direction, but that it needed to be patient. It appears to be still a couple of seasons away from chasing the final podium in the race.
“This year we have started to change the way we approach the Grand Tours,” he explained. “It is an evolution…it just really depends on firstly, our ability to progress and develop the young riders coming through, and secondly, on our ability to keep them.
“It is really difficult to say, yes, we will be ready [to chase yellow] in 2017 or 2018. What is in our control is the way we look after our riders, the way we develop them and they way they are progressing through. What is out of our control is if will we still have them in two years time.”
Bannan admitted that other teams have bigger budgets and thus there is always the danger that when riders get to a certain maturity, that others will try to snap them up with big contracts.
While Orica GreenEdge might not be able to match those offers, he said that he hoped the work the team had put into those riders would be recognised by them and that this, as well as strong team relationships, would prompt them to consider staying.
The squad is known to have a strong atmosphere and he knows that this would be a factor in any decision to stay or move.
Aside from waiting for the young talent to reach the point where they are ready to aim for races like the Tour, the team could also opt to buy in proven Grand Tour riders.
However Bannan said that the first scenario is the more realistic of the two
“At this stage that is deemed the general philosophy, that we would prefer to develop our GC riders at this stage rather than bring somebody on board,” he said.
“That philosophy could change in two years’ time, but currently that is what we are looking at.”
He acknowledged that team budget would be a factor in this, with the possible securing of a second title sponsor – replacing the GreenEdge part of the name – the way this could be achieved.
Softly, softly with Caleb Ewan:
Another highly promising young rider on the team is the sprinter Caleb Ewan. He has clocked up several UCI wins in what is his debut season but, at 20 years of age, there is no chance of him being put into a Grand Tour anytime soon.
Bannan correctly recognises that the most important thing with a rider in this position is to coax them along gently.
“We are absolutely pleased with his progression,” he said. “I think it is always really challenging for a first and second year professional. He is starting to adapt extremely well, bearing in mind that he is only 20 years of age and there is certainly no pressure from a performance point of view.”
He sees other things as a bigger priority. “There is a pressure for him from an adaptation point of view,” he continued. “To think about the one percent, to learn a language, to be adaptable in terms of the different culture where he is living and in living by himself.
“There are a lot of things to take in as a first year professional. I probably see these as more important than winning races at a young age. Because of that I think it would be a little bit premature of us to put him in the big race starts before we address the stuff that is going to address the foundation for the future.”
In other words, it seems that there is little danger of Ewan being pushed too fast too soon, something which might be the case if he were to start the Vuelta a España this year. Bannan knows this is the biggest danger with an ambitious young rider who is putting already pressure on himself to shine.
“Caleb certainly has got age on his side. We are following his progression on a weekly basis. We will make sure that we make good decision when it comes to the time to do so, in terms of what races he is doing and not doing.”
In the meantime, riders such as Simon and Adam Yates are two years older, physically more developed and potentially in a position where they can start to look at achieving stage wins in Grand Tours.
If one or other of them manage to do so this July, it will be a big step forward for their career and also for the Australian team.