The Orica-BikeExchange team has confirmed that Esteban Chaves will target the general classification at the Vuelta a Espana, with Simon Gerrans, Simon Yates, and young Australians Damien Howson and Jack Haig backing the Colombian climber during the testing Grand Tour route.
The 2016 Vuelta a Espana includes ten summit finishes with the most difficult stages packed into the second week of racing in the north of Spain. The race starts on Saturday with a 29.5-kilometre team time trial in northwestern Galicia before moving into the Basque Country and the Pyrenees. The final week of racing visits Valencia and Alicante before the traditional sprint finish in central Madrid. Orica have dominated recent team time trials in Grand Tours are likely to give Chaves an immediate advantage on the opening day.
Chaves finished second overall in the Giro d'Italia in May, only losing the pink jersey to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) on the final mountain stage. Last year he won two stages, wore the Vuelta a Espana's red leader's jersey for six days and finished fifth overall. It was a breakthrough performance for the 26-year-old Colombian, who fought back from serious injury after a crash at the 2013 Trofeo Laigueglia race in Italy.
"We are heading into the Vuelta a Espana with one very clear objective and that is to achieve the best possible general classification result that we can," directeur sportif Neil Stephens said when Orica-BikeExchange confirmed its nine-rider squad.
"Esteban (Chaves) has proven with his performances over the last year that he deserves to be the leader of the team for the 2016 Vuelta and we are all super motivated to do all we can to support him. Of course, as always this will be a very difficult race and we will have to pay close attention to a very strong field of competitors. We have only the upmost respect for the race and the other teams."
Gerrans back in action
The team assembled to back Chaves includes Britain's Simon Yates, who is now back in action after serving a four-month ban after testing positive for a prescribed medication for his long-term asthma that was not declared in a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) by the Orica-GreenEdge team. He recently took his first professional victory at the Clasica Ordizia and fourth overall at the Vuelta a Burgos.
Simon Gerrans returns to Grand Tour racing after a broken collarbone forced him to abandon the Tour de France. He will have a versatile role within the team, and alongside Belgian Jens Keukeleire and Dane Magnus Cort, will provide support to Chaves on the flatter stage finishes. Howson and Grand Tour debutant Haig will play vital roles in the mountains. Haig finished second overall in the 2015 Tour de l'Avenir and now has the chance to test his ability in his first Grand Tour.
Hard working Sam Bewley and Svein Tuft, plus Belgian fast finisher Jens Keukeleire complete the nine-rider team.
"We have a team with a great mixture of talent, experience and motivation," Stephens said. "The guys are all clear on our aims and objectives but as with any bike race you have to be prepared for any eventuality. I'm happy and excited that we have such a strong and versatile squad here and I feel that we are well equipped to compete in such a challenging race."
Orica-BikeExchange for the Vuelta a Espana: Sam Bewley, Esteban Chaves, Magnus Cort, Simon Gerrans, Jack Haig, Damien Howson, Jens Keukeleire, Svein Tuft and Simon Yates.
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