Report Card: Orica GreenEdge

2012 report card: So you're the new kid on the block and you want to make a mark on the WorldTour. Winning the first event on the calendar is not a bad way to go about it with management very clear in its objectives: to build a unit that would be competitive in smaller stage races and the Classics. GreenEdge made their intentions clear by carrying their momentum from Simon Gerrans' victory in the Cycling Australia Road National Championships through to the Victorian's win over Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at the Santos Tour Down Under later that month.

It wasn't all peace, love and mung beans however with Stuart O'Grady accused of a minor assault; Sky Procycling's sports director Sean Yates claiming the team was "not in good enough condition" and Australian cycling great Phil Anderson critical of the team's tactics which left Gerrans isolated on Willunga Hill. Stage win or no stage win, GreenEdge had done the job, wearing the Australian jersey. Ochre jersey in hand. "There's only one first time," said sports director Matt White. "We did it."

Impressively, the WorldTour neophytes then took out the team time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico before Gerrans was once again delivered to victory, this time at Milan-San Remo. The run continued with Michael Albasini at Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, Luke Durbridge at Circuit Cycliste Sarthe, and Matt Goss claimed the team's first Grand Tour stage win at the Giro d'Italia.

If the team was lacking in the first six months of 2012, it was in their performance at the Belgian Classics with the team largely anonymous outside of Albasini's second placing at La Fleche Wallonne. A much-hoped for stage win at the Tour de France was not forthcoming with Matt Goss earning two second placings, with general manager Shayne Bannan indicating the team would need a re-think when it came with the way it approaches the biggest race of the season in 2013.

The back end of the season did not come with the sane flurry of results as the first six months; however Simon Clarke took out a stage and the Mountains Classification at the Vuelta a Espana with a coming-of-age performance.

The signing of major sponsor Orica in May was largely a positive for the team although reaction to the "multi-million dollar" investment online was mixed, with many pointing to the negative press Orica has generated due to environmental concerns resulting from recent chemical leaks from plants on the Australian east coast.

It was announced that Michael Matthews would join the team from Rabobank, while Jack Bobridge would move to the Dutch team, cutting short his two-year deal. Robbie McEwen and Matthew Wilson both retired to take up positions within team management, while Sam Bewley was a mid-season replacement for the veteran sprinter.

Indeed, if the team ran into trouble, it was in the wake of the USADA Reasoned Decision documentation following their investigation into Lance Armstrong and his associates. Matt White was sacked by the team for his involvement in the "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen," despite the fact that Bannan told Cyclingnews that the evidence, which had been in the public domain since 2010, was not taken into account when hiring the sports director. The team also reneged on its previous statement that it would wait for the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency to conclude its investigation. Meanwhile, the inaction, standing down or otherwise, surrounding sports director Neil Stephens has proved puzzling and leaves question marks over the fairness of the team's handling of White.

Regardless of what happened away from racing, however, Orica GreenEdge finished its inaugural season with 32 victories - a tally that cannot be faulted.

What to expect in 2013: Despite their considerable achievements in 2012, Orica GreenEdge have a monkey on their back in the form of their lack of stage victories in the Tour de France, despite having the personnel with the capability.

The team remains relatively young, especially with the retirements of McEwen and Wilson, and due to this, their options in the Classics remain a touch limited with Simon Gerrans bearing much responsibility, as the team's future contenders are still some years away from maturity.

More racing under the belts of Aidis Kruopis and Daniel Teklehaimanot should also start to pay dividends while the road-only focus of Cameron Meyer means that 2013 will be crucial in his continued development.

The announcement of the conclusions of the Vance Review into the team's anti-doping policies and procedures will also be met with interest.

Best signing: The only one for the team, Michael Matthews, was not surprising given his past links to Bannan. The former under 23 world champion has got what it takes and provides the team with another option in the mould of Goss.

Biggest loss: Matt White had the respect of the team and rarely does one see a DS with that kind of command over his troops. With a curious mix of old school methods and an innate understanding of the inner workings of the modern peloton, White got results and leaves big shoes to fill.

Man to watch: Matt Goss hit a plateau in 2012 after a remarkable 18-month run. A longer pre-season in Europe should allow a more focussed Goss to resume his battles with rivals Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan in 2013 with better results. Goss should also benefit from the fine-tuning of the Orica-GreenEdge sprint train that comes with familiarity.


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