With confirmation that Esteban Chaves will be making his 2017 season debut in Australia at the Tour Down Under, Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, and Herald Sun Tour, Orica-BikeExchange director sportif Matt White has outlined the team's ambition for the summer races and background to the decision to bring the Colombian down under.
"We were talking about more than one year ago. We haven't made public our plans for Esteban next year but regardless of what he ends up doing, it works whether he does the Giro or the Tour," White Cyclingnews of the decision to start his season in Australia. "Obviously, discussions go on with different race organisers but when did it become reality? When we decided to pull the trigger on it."
Chaves isn't making the trip down under to simply enjoy the sunshine with the podium finisher at the 2016 Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana to co-lead the Orica-BikeExchange team alongside Simon Gerrans. The team has won the race on three occasions with Gerrans and is aiming to make it back-to-back overall victories for the first time in 2017.
"Try and win the win the bike race," White said of the team ambitions for the first WorldTour race of the season. "Gerro will be going in trying to defend his title but it just gives us another card to play. Particularly with the addition of Paracombe and to simplify the race, it will be won on two climbs. The Paracombe climb and the on Willunga. It gives us great options."
In 2016, Gerrans won two stages in his way to the overall with fast man Caleb Ewan also winning two stages as the team enjoyed its most successful Tour Down Under to date and set the scene for memorable season.
"Caleb is coming as well so we have a few things on the cards for that week. We have done it in the past and it will be a very similar team to what came out this year," White added of the team aims for January.
While race director Mike Turtur recently told Cyclingnews that he believes world champion Peter Sagan can win the race overall, White suggests the GC will come down to a fight between the climbers.
"I think with Sagan, looking at the way he has prepared for spring in the past, I very much doubt he will come into Australia at 100%. Obviously, the talent that he is, he will be capable of winning stages but I wouldn't expect him to come out in January at 100%, which is what you need to do to win that race," he said. "When you have the likes of [Sergio] Henao, Richie Porte, Simon Gerrans, or Esteban, they are world-class climbers and even though they are short climbs, the race is won in seconds."
Chaves' grand tour performances announced the 26-year-old as genuine contender for the three-week races but victory in Il Lombardia and Giro dell'Emilia demonstrated his capabilities as one-day racer. The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race is also on Chaves' Australian race programme where he and Gerrans will also share leadership with the team hoping to claim victory on its third attempt.
"Along with Simon, we go to both races with two leaders. It gives us options in the final to have Chaves up the road and obviously Simon is one of the fastest guys in a small group finish," he said of the newly promoted WorldTour race in Geelong one week after the Tour Down Under. "Going into the summer with two leaders, I don't see that as a problem at all," said White.
"At the Sun Tour, if it is super hard it suits Esteban. We haven't seen the course 100% yet but I have heard that it could even be finishing on Falls Creek, which is a serious climb," White added of the February stage race in Victoria where Chris Froome is expected to line up in defence of his title. "It will be interesting to see Esteban going against Froomey a long way out from the Tour. We have to see the final makeup of the course. We haven't finalised out roster for the Sun Tour but Esteban will definitely be there."
After the three Australian races, Chaves will head back to Colombia motivated for the national championships in his home town of Bogotá.
"He is definitely targeting his nationals and I think part of that preparation is obviously the racing in Australia," he added.
White is currently in Australia as the team conducts part one of its off-season planning for the year head and will head over to Europe next week to conclude the planning for next year's grand tour leadership. Yet to announce whether Chaves or one of the Yates twins will lead the team in the Tour de France, White diplomatically assured Cyclingnews that "there will be someone going for GC at all three grand tours".
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