Australian WorldTour team Orica-Scott have announced its seven-man team for the 64th edition of the Herald Sun Tour, confirming Esteban Chaves and Simon Gerrans as its two leaders. The team has twice won the race, in 2014 and 2015 with Simon Clarke and Cam Meyer, and with Damien Howson was third to Chris Froome in 2016.
Across the 'summer of cycling', Orica-Scott has enjoyed stage wins at the Tour Down Under and Bay Cycling Classic but is yet to claim a big scalp. Gerrans was runner-up at the Australian nationals and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, while Chaves was second to Richie Porte at the Tour Down Under. At the Herald Sun Tour, the team is aiming to take out the victory with director sportif Matt Wilson explaining he believes the race will be decided on stage 1 to Falls Creek.
"The Falls Creek climb should be spectacular finish to stage one. It's clear that Chris Froome and Team Sky are the ones to watch in the general classification battle and they have a number of guys who can play a role, but we would be naïve not to consider other contenders too," said Wilson.
"The 2017 Jayco Herald Sun Tour is definitely one of the tougher courses we have seen here for a while and we obviously hope to finish our Australian season strongly."
For Chaves, the race and Falls Creek climb will be an important early-season test against Froome who he could be battling on the French roads in July at the Tour.
"I am really looking forward to the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, particularly the second day. I was at Falls Creek in my first trip to Australia, when I couldn't speak a word of English, and I remember this climb," Chaves said. "The climb is much longer than the short, punchy climbs we have raced in the Tour Down Under and Cadel's race, and it is more like the climbs we have in Colombia so should be a little better for me.
Prior to Sunday's Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the last time Chaves and Froome raced each other was at the Vuelta a Espana where the Colombian was third with Froome second to Nairo Quintana.
"I am looking forward to racing Chris Froome here. We have not raced against each other a lot, so I am enjoying learning more about how he rides, how he is with his team and this is all a good experience for me," he added. He has already shown in the Cadel race and the criterium that he is in good form and he is here to race, even if it is early in the season. He is a champion of this sport and we cannot wait to race him again."
Howson is unlikely to be riding for his own opportunities at the race in 2017, and will instead be an important workhorse and key ally to Chaves on the climbs. Power, making his 2017 racing debut and first start since placing third at the Japan Cup in October, will also be an important rider for Chaves in the mountains. Sam Bewley, Mitch Docker, and Michael Hepburn will round out the squad.
The Herald Sun Tour starts Wednesday, February 1 with a short prologue in Melbourne before heading north for the Falls Creek stage. Two relatively flat stages will follow before the final day Kinglake circuit stage which is sure to see a final shake up of the general classification.
Orica-Scott for the 2017 Herald Sun Tour: Sam Bewley (NZl), Esteban Chaves (Col), Mitch Docker (Aus), Simon Gerrans (Aus), Michael Hepburn (Aus), Damien Howson (Aus) and Robert Power (Aus)