2014 Report Card: Orica-GreenEdge

Gerrans the star but plenty of promising young talent on Australian team

Orica-GreenEdge
WorldTour ranking: 5 (Up from 13th last year) 
Win count: 35 (Same as last year) 
Top riders:  Simon Gerrans (3rd), Chaves (65th), Michael Albasini (66th), Daryl Impey (72nd)

Orica-GreenEdge's third season as a WorldTour team was undoubtedly another successful year but one punctuated by a disappointing Tour de France. The opening stage crash that brought down Simon Gerrans in Harrogate left the team on its back foot for the remaining three weeks, and while Simon Clarke picked up a most combative prize award, it was far removed from the stage wins and yellow jerseys of 2013. Losing Michael Matthews to a training accident before the race even began was another disappointment, but across the season, the team showed its depth and character with a spread of winners once again.

As the only Australian WorldTour team, it has become expected that GreenEdge will finish the Australian summer of cycling with the road national titles and Tour Down Under to its name. And more recently, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

It was Gerrans who stood atop the "dream podium" of Cadel Evans and Richie Porte in Buninyong after an enthralling road race to win his second green and gold jersey and in doing so, atomically shortened his odds for a third Tour Down Under title.

In the time trial, Michael Hepburn upset teammate Luke Durbridge for his first national title, while former U23 world champion against the clock, Damien Howson, made it a clean sweep of the podium and retention of both titles for GreenEdge.

Since joining GreenEdge, Gerrans has developed an uncanny knack for targeting a race and duly delivering on the day regardless of any external factors or pressure. The Tour Down Under was the 34-year-old's second big target of the season, and a sprint win over Andre Greipel to open the race was a sign of a rider in peak condition.

Unable to stop Evans on the climb up the Corkscrew, Gerrans had to bide his time before reclaiming the ochre leader's jersey on Willunga Hill to seal a historic third overall title by a mere second over Evans.

Much is made of GreenEdge's team ethos, allowing every rider the opportunity to pursue personal goals, and while it may sound fanciful, the team arguably came close to perfecting this plan in 2014 as riders made the most of their opportunities when given the responsibility.

Simon Clarke has been crucial to Gerrans' success in recent seasons and when given the chance to lead the team at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, he proved his winning instincts are just as strong. While the final decisive stage to Arthurs Seat was cancelled, Clarke was a worthy winner of the race as GreenEdge steamrolled its rivals to make it a clean sweep of the Australian races.

Hepburn's win in the Qatar time trial, his first race in the national jersey, continued the team's winning streak, while Michael Matthews' affection for winning in Spain was shown not to have wavered over the off-season with victories at Vuelta Ciclista a La Rioja and a stage of the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco.

A second-place finish behind Philippe Gilbert at De Brabantse Pijl-La Flèche Brabançonne for Matthews was the start of a successful Ardennes campaign that culminated in the team's second monument win.

While Gilbert would prove unstoppable on the Cauberg for the umpteenth time, Gerrans showed himself as a model of consistency to record his third podium at Amstel Gold Race, all on the third step, while Matthews rolled across the line in 12th. Michael Albasini took over the team leadership at La Flèche Wallonne and placed a respectable eight, but it was la doyenne where the team excelled.

A last corner crash, of which the cause is likely to remain unknown, brought down Dan Martin just as he appeared on the precipice of defending his Liège-Bastogne-Liège title but in doing so, opened the door for Gerrans to become the first Australian, in the 100th edition no less, to claim victory.

Three wins at the Tour de Romandie by Albasini, all in different circumstances, kept the win tally ticking over, but it was in Turkey that the team was really excelling.

General classification focus

At the beginning of the season, the Yates twins were earmarked as riders to watch but both Britons exceeded almost all expectations. While Simon's season was halted by a broken collarbone, he was selected for the Tour de France debut having finished third at the British road nationals the weekend before.

The ambition of the year, as stated on several occasions by director sportif Matt White and team manager Shayne Bannan, was a concerted effort to focus on general classification.

Overall success in the first two seasons had been a missing ingredient in another wise tasteful broth for GreenEdge. Adam Yates' stage win at the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey was greeted with cheers but the team was careful in announcing the neo-pro as the potential winner. Yates rode with experience beyond his years as he secured the overall win, while fifth place overall at the Tour of California was proof that GreenEdge have a potential grand tour winner among its ranks and appear to be managing its talent appropriately.

Esteban Chaves' win at Mountain High in California and his even more impressive win on Verbier at the Tour de Suisse suggests the team may struggle in years ahead to manage its grand tour contenders in years to come.

Ahead of the Giro d'Italia, it was communicated clearly and repeatedly that GreenEdge were targeting the team time trial in Belfast for victory and victory alone. Whereas it all fell apart for Garmin-Sharp in Belfast, the rub of the green was all GreenEdge's, giving Svein Tuft a birthday he's unlikely to forget as he enjoyed a day in pink, albeit under the cover a rain jacket.

A rider who was a barometer of sorts for GreenEdge in 2014 was Matthews. Hypothetically, if asked at the beginning of the year if he'd take six days in the maglia rosa, of which one would include a stage win, plus a stage win at the Vuelta a España, plus three days in the red leader's jersey on the proviso he'd miss the Tour, would Matthews have accepted? Despite missing the French grand tour, if Matthews can replicate the successes of this season consistently, he'll finish his career with a lengthy palmarès.

After the highlight of the first week of the Giro, which was capped off by a cunning stage win by Pieter Weening, sickness and fatigue spread through the team, leaving Hepburn and Tuft as the sole remnants. An image of stark contrast to the podium-heavy start GreenEdge enjoyed.

As the Giro concluded, Daryl Impey bagged a win at Bayern Rundfahrt, Matthews was warming up for the Tour with a win at Tour de Slovénie while Cam Meyer outsmarted his breakaway companions to win at the Tour de Suisse.

Tuft's double win at the Canadian nationals proved to be the calm before the storm though, as it was announced on the eve of the Tour that Impey had tested positive for Probenecid, both A and B samples, at the South African national championships where he had won the time trial.

It was extinguishers at the ready as the team tried to put out the fire as the curtains were being drawn on the biggest stage of all, a Yorkshire Grand Départ. Provisionally suspended, Impey's stint in the yellow jersey, just one year prior, was looking like a very distant memory.

Wins by Adam Yates at GP Industria & Artigianato and Weening the next day at Giro della Toscana helped to direct attention away from the Impey case, as did the team's performances at the Vuelta. While the specifics of the positive test were being contested and debated, Impey continued training, expressing his innocence with the backing of team management.

There would be redemption for Impey in Canada though, as the departing Matt Goss disposed of personal ambition to help his teammate to the final stage win of the Tour of Alberta in Edmonton and seal overall victory by just one second.

When Gerrans became the first rider to win the Canadian WorldTour double in the same week, GreenEdge were riding high and its star performer was the favourite for the rainbow jersey on the Ponferrada parcours. Albasini decided he wanted one final win of the season and grabbed the Tre Valli Varesine as GreenEdge then turned its full attention to claiming the team time trial world title.

Having been halted in its tracks by the force of Omega Pharma-Quick Step at the 2013 Worlds, GreenEdge got one over its rival, but it was BMC standing on top the podium in Ponferrada, leaving the team to console itself with a third medal in three years.

The late-season announcement that Orica will commit to a further two years as naming rights sponsor and the re-signing of Gerrans on a three-year deal was further fruit on the Pavlova ahead of another summer in which the team will start every race as the favourites.

What to expect in 2015: It's hard to see GreenEdge going anywhere but up next season with a recruitment drive that has added depth and talent to a young and hungry roster. A better showing at the Tour would be first item on the team's aims for 2015, while a similar approach to the Giro and Vuelta to 2014 of targeting stage wins and blooding GC riders, looks likely to continue. If GreenEdge can replicate this season with a few tweaks here and there, then 2015 is looking bright.

While new signing Magnus Cort and Adam Blythe will be given time to settle in, both riders are winners by nature and could very quickly add their names to the GreenEdge winners tally.

For all its success, GreenEdge are yet to have a breakout cobbled classics campaign. Mat Hayman was active in Paris-Roubaix until he was felled by flats and will lead the team's chargers there again, while Mitch Docker could spring a surprise or two on the day but this is one area where the team can improve.

Meyer and Durbridge have been good but not great at GreenEdge so far, and only due to their talent have they been followed by great expectation, and 2015 may be the year in which the Western Australian duo both deliver big wins and cash in.

Matthews has stated that Milan-San Remo is a career goal and could just decide that next year's race, finishing back on the Via Roma, is when he'll strike.

Best Signing: Take your pick of Cort, Caleb Ewan and Jack Haig. All thee riders are capable of winning and winning regularly. GreenEdge's job will be to ensure that they are given the right opportunity to do so. Just as the Yates' twins were given chances that they wouldn't be afforded at a Team Sky or Tinkoff-Saxo for example, the team needs to be bold in the development of these three and keep their confidence high.

Biggest loss: Matt Goss may have the season of his life in 2015, but GreenEdge won't have any regrets about letting the Tasmanian move on after three lacklustre seasons with the team. Goss never hit the heights he is capable of during his stint with GreenEdge, and the replacements that the team has signed have seen his loss covered for.

Man to watch: Esteban Chaves hardly touched a bike in 2013 due to injury, so understandably there was little expectation upon the 2011 Tour de l'Avenir winner's performances this season. However, wins atop Mountain High and Verbier, coupled with fourth overall at the Tour de Langkawi and third overall at the Tour of Beijing have provided Chaves with a platform from which to spring from in 2015.

The experience of leading the team's GC ambitions at the Vuelta was an equally important experience, and while he faded in the third week to finish in 41st place, there was enough on display to suggest that Chaves can develop into a GC contender. Chaves' compatriot Quintana, who won the Tour de l'Avenir in 2010, was 36th on his grand tour debut.

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