For Orica-BikeExchange and its team manager Shayne Bannan, progression and development are two key ideals and driving principles. In 2016, the long game paid off with the investment in both its young and older riders resulting in two monument victories, and podiums at two of the three Grand Tours. The season was the best yet for the Australian team who entered the WorldTour in 2012.
"Certainly an exceptional year," Bannan told Cyclingnews at the Orica-BikeExchange winery ride event, held at team owner Gerry Ryan's Mitchelton Wines, of how he saw the season.
"The main focus and emphasis this year was progression, and I think we certainly achieved a little bit more than that," he added. "To see Mat Hayman win Paris-Roubaix was certainly something quite special knowing all the work over many years that he's done for that particular event. To see the progression of the younger riders such as Esteban, the Yates brothers, Magnus Cort, Jens Keukeleire, Caleb Ewan and continued efforts of the older riders. In particular, Simon Gerrans, and Michael Albasini. Too many highlights to mention anything but Paris-Roubaix [as the standout].
"Mainly because of the person Mat Hayman," Bannan added of the Roubaix victory. "It's his lifelong dream and whenever he does finish his career, whether it's the end of next year or the year after, he can finish really proud."
While Hayman's win, on his 15th appearance at 'the hell of the north', was a standout moment in a season of highlights, the progression of the team's general classification trio of Esteban Chaves, and Adam and Simon Yates has also greatly pleased Bannan. Chaves finished second at the Giro d'Italia in May and third at the Vuelta a Espana in September, while Adam Yates finished fourth and won the best young rider classification at the Tour de France with his twin brother Simon finishing sixth at the Vuelta. Chaves also became the first Colombian to win Il Lombardia in the autumn.
"When we go back to the start of the team, 2011-2012, we were always asked ‘what are your GC ambitions?' and I think the answer was ‘select riders and progress their development. If it happened in three years, four fives years, we don't really know," he said of the shift of aims and emphasis within the team. "We are seeing fantastic progression from the three guys and to be on the podium twice in three grand tours this year, and Adam Yates fourth in the Tour de France, and Simon sixth in the Vuelta, the progression is there, the talent is there, we just have to continue putting in the work and giving them the opportunity."
Considering 2016 was the first season in which Orica-BikeExchange announced its aims for the Grand Tours was to ride for GC, "progression" is the word used by Bannan when explained the team GC aims for 2017.
"The aim next year is to continue progression. There is still some pretty good riders around, Froome and Quintana in particular, our guys are still relatively young in terms of their grand tour experience. I think the focus is really to continue their progression," he said.
With the routes of May's Giro d'Italia and July's Tour de France made public for 2017, the team is currently working on its Grand Tour plans for next year. Like the Brazilian national football manager of yesterday, Bannan and the team management are faced with the selection dilemma of 'too much talent'. An enviable position that Bannan is more than happy to be in as they divvy up Grand Tour leadership between Chaves and the Yates brothers.
"We have ideas but there is still a lot of discussions and thought that needs to take place between the sport directors and individual riders. We are in the process of doing that now," he said.
Replacing Orica sponsorship, looking to Asia
Despite the success of the team in 2017, Orica announced in June that its sponsorship would come to a close after the 2017 season. There was good news a month later though with the team welcoming onboard BikeExchange as a new naming rights sponsor on the eve of the Tour.
The search for a sponsor to replace Orica will continue to occupy Bannan across 2017, explaining that Asia and Hong Kong, in particular, are areas he and the team are looking at and into.
"Orica have been fantastic and next year will be the fifth season they have been with us. They have been a great supporter and a great sponsor and they are stepping away from the sport at the end of the season next year. It is still another 12 months away but like every team we are always working towards looking for other partners going forward," he said of the search.
"It is a work in progress. We consider ourselves an Australasian team, we rode in the Hong Kong criterium five weeks ago, we have a Hong Kong rider with us for next year, Cheung King-Lok, we are broadening out network in the China region and we have a few initiatives that we are going to put in place next year."