Founded in 2012 as ORICA GreenEdge, the Australian BikeExchange-Jayco team has become one of the most respected and successful WorldTour squads of the last ten years with a Vuelta a España title, a Paris-Roubaix and an Il Lombardia victory among its impressive palmares.
The team has evolved several times over the years from a sprint and one-day squad through to its current incarnation with Simon Yates as their sole leader for the Grand Tours. The British rider won the Vuelta in 2018 and has been close on several occasions at the Giro but he has also established himself a major player when it comes to stage hunter, with eight victories spread across all three Grand Tours.
This year the onus will be on Yates to once again lead the line across the stage racing format, but the late and surprising signing of Dylan Groenewegen provides the team with a much-needed sprint and one-day racing option. Groenewegen will have a chance to return to the Tour de France for the first time since 2019, while the team will be expecting several other riders to step up, including Michael Matthews, after a disappointing 2021.
The management structure headed by Brent Copeland and Matt White looks settled but the major ongoing challenge is to find a sponsor that fits with owner Gerry Ryan and his vision of the team.
How did they fare in 2021?
World Ranking: 19th
The team had a disappointing return with just nine victories and two of them coming at WorldTour level. Yates chipped in with a stage and third overall at the Giro but the Tour was a quiet affair by the team’s previous standards.
Matthews went the entire season without taking a victory, and several others couldn’t fill the void in terms of picking up wins. The team were hampered by two botched sponsorship deals stemming back to 2020, but while stability has finally been established the team have been unable to recruit heavily in the off-season.
Groenewegen changes the complexion somewhat but losing Esteban Chaves and Mikel Nieve leaves the team short of experience.
Simon Yates: The signing of Groenewegen means that Yates doesn’t have to carry the team on his own but when it comes to stage races, and especially the Grand Tours, the British rider is the team’s only proven talent.
A return to the Giro beckons and the route certainly suits the pure climbers, but while a podium should be the minimum requirement, Yates will also need to deliver in the week-long stages races both before and after May. The loss of Nieve, Chaves and the recently fit-again Andrey Zeits doesn’t exactly improve the climbing support around Yates but Howson, Kangert and potentially Colleoni will provide cover as far as they can.
Yates is very much the leader of the team, however, and his season will effectively determine the success of the squad as a whole when it comes to stage racing. He’s an elite world class rider.
Dylan Groenewegen: The Dutchman’s late arrival on the Australian team couldn’t have come at a more welcome point. The squad have a dearth of marquee riders, and with Matthews yet to find his best legs, Groenewegen adds exactly the sort of qualities that BikeExchange have been crying out for since the departure of Caleb Ewan a few years ago.
In Groenewegen, the team have a rider who can potentially win a dozen races in a campaign, provide consistency from January to October, and add relief in the Grand Tours in which they don’t have a GC presence. In his last full season in 2019, the Dutchman won 15 races, two of them Tour stages, and if he can replicate that level of form in 2022 then this could turn out to be the signing of the season. What’s more, Groenewegen isn’t the sort of rider who needs a huge lead-out in order to be successful, which is lucky because the team are lacking numbers in that department too. Luka Mezgec, who doesn’t win a lot but is vastly underrated, is in for an important season when it comes to supporting Groenewegen.
Michael Matthews: After a barren 2021 in which the Australian failed to win a single race, the onus is on the all-rounder to come up with the goods during his second year back on the team.
The arrival of Groenewegen likely helps Matthews in so much as it will quell some of the pressure on his shoulders, but the management will still expect the Australian to step up and chip in with at least four or five wins throughout the campaign. That should be the bare minimum for a rider of Matthews’ ilk.
The foundations of his season will rest on the week-long stage races, Classics, and the Grand Tours but the squad might also consider sending their versatile sprinter to some slightly smaller races in order to boost that win tally and build his confidence.
On his day, Matthews is a class act but the emergence of so many talented one-day riders means that unlike five years ago when he had to see off Peter Sagan, he’s now facing a barrage of even better riders. That makes Matthews's job harder, and it might ensure he races more aggressively at times – watch him get in more breaks – but he remains a vital rider and figurehead for the team.
Lucas Hamilton: Hamilton was given a shot at Tour leadership in 2021 and while that didn’t work out it’s likely that the 25-year-old will at least be given a shot at leading the team in a number of stage races this year.
The Tour is unlikely to determine whether Hamilton has a successful year or not, and instead, it’s the weeklong races – where he has shown promise – that will matter most. He was fourth in Paris-Nice last year and eighth in the Tour of Romandie, and it’s within those races where improvements will be expected and required.
This team desperately needs a plan B for when Yates is either tired or racing elsewhere, and Hamilton currently fits that slot. It’s a huge opportunity. If he can step up then the team might not need to recruit another stage race leader for 2023.
Last year was certainly a disappointment but there’s a new sense of optimism around the team thanks to the arrival of Groenewegen and new bike sponsor Giant.
The Dutchman is the perfect tonic for a team struggling for confidence and wins, and he has experience having helped Jumbo out of the doldrums a few years ago. If he can notch between eight to 10 wins then the team will be well on their way to a decent season.
Simon Yates will always pick up major wins and placings in the key stage races he targets but if he can finally land that Giro title then almost everything else becomes immaterial. If Matthews can also pitch in, and the team develops one of their younger sprinters then the team could turn the corner after a tough period. Matteo Sobrero moving across from Astana went under the radar but he’s a strong addition.
This team is once again in transition as it looks for a long-term future after a rocky couple of years. Gerry Ryan has invested heavily in Australian cycling but his resources and can only last so long, and at some point the team needs to find a sustainable pathway if the legacy of an Australian WorldTour is to continue.
They thought that they had it with the Manuela Fundacion but dodged a bullet, and then the proposed deal with Premier Tech fell apart at the eleventh hour.
Giant are on board and that might be enough for the short term but until this team receives significant investment via new sponsors, it is hard to see them attracting the biggest stars in the peloton. The infrastructure is there, and there’s undoubted talent. They just need more funding.
The signing of Groenewegen cannot be understated given his talent and track record. The sprinter gives a vital boost to a team that at times looked devoid of riders who could compete for wins last year.
The backbone and spine of the team remains strong and there are solid foundations for the future – both in terms of Giant’s arrival and some of the young talent that has been recruited.
In the short term, it’s on Yates, Matthews and Groenewegen to deliver. It feels as though the team have their backs against the wall but that could ultimately inspire them towards some great moments in 2022.
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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