Orica-GreenEdge believe Chaves is a future Grand Tour winner

The belief that a Grand Tour victory is within Esteban Chaves' grasp was shared by his Orica-GreenEdge teammates following his second place overall in this year's Giro d'Italia.

Australian teammate Damien Howson, 23, and one of the Orica-GreenEdge riders who came to the fore in his budding role as a climber to help Chaves in the Giro, said the team is "ready to go" and help their Colombian leader make that one extra step up on the podium.

"The way Esteban puts it, it is just the start and the start for all us," Howson said before Sunday's 163km stage 21 of the Giro from Cuneo to Torino won by the German Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin). "There is a Grand Tour win for Orica-GreenEdge and for Esteban."

By the time Sunday's stage was over, Howson and all the Orica-GreenEdge team were carrying Chaves-like smiles of satisfaction for their effort that resulted in Chaves finishing second overall at 52 seconds to the Giro winner, Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). In third place overall was Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at 1:17.

However, the significance of Chaves' result was understood well before the final stage.

"He was second in the Giro, which was a massive credit to him," Howson said. "It's also a massive credit to the team that has worked really hard for the last three weeks. It takes some serious concentration, day-in, day-out; massive amounts of effort to [help Chaves] save as much energy as possible, for him to do the finishing touches and his best result."

What is Chaves, 26, like as a leader? "It is just an honour to work for him," Howson said. "He is so grateful for everything, from the support he gets from the team … also the way he goes about life with friends and family. It's really special and makes what I do really rewarding."

At the tail end of three weeks of hard racing, Howson, who also rode with Chaves in last year's Vuelta where the Bogota rider claimed fifth place overall, understandably found it hard to pinpoint a stand out moment of the Giro, other than to say: "There have been many moments … but it all adds up to the end result and we are definitely happy with second."

For Chaves and Orica-GreenEdge, this year's Vuelta is set to be the next opportunity they get to go one better, and Howson said he is already looking forward to that if selected.

"For sure," said Howson, the world under-23 time trial champion. "You are always tired now but [after] a few weeks of rest, we focus on our next objectives. Yeah. We will be ready to go."

Embracing the budding role as Chaves' wingman

Howson is excited about his developing role as a wingman for Chaves in the mountains where at the Giro he was one of Orica-GreenEdge's three climbers with seasoned Spaniards, Ruben Plaza and Amets Txurruka. He has been heartened by his performances in last year's Vuelta and this Giro.

In the latter, Howson impressed with several rides, including on stage 19 to Risoul when an effort by he and Plaza on the Colle Dell'Agnello left the then race leader, Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto-Jumbo) isolated from his teammates. Kruijswijk then crashed on the descent, while Chaves took the pink jersey and Nibali won the stage.

More on this story:
Giro d’Italia stage 21 highlights – Video
Giro d’Italia state 21 – Finish line quotes

Howson has also enjoyed an impressive early season, that included a third place overall in the Herald Sun Tour of Victoria in February in which he placed second on the final stage to the top of Arthur's Seat; and 16th overall in the Tour de Romandie just before the Giro.

"The Vuelta last year was the first experience I had riding for Esteban," Howson said. "I got a really good taste of what the role was and what I had to do to fulfil it.

"It is something I worked a lot in the summer, knowing I was coming to the Giro for the role and hopefully to take a step in the right direction and be a more important asset to him."

Racing the Vuelta also gave Howson vital know-how in dealing with the inevitable fatigue that riders face over there weeks, especially coming into the last and mountain week.

"The third week … It's definitely physical and mental fatigue that gets to everyone," Howson said of what he learned. "Its something that I realised … that it's not just myself that gets tired. It's the whole race, so its something you are conscious of and have to keep fighting
Howson admits adapting to the professional ranks he joined in 2014 with Orica-GreenEDGE was challenging, especially considering that his known speciality was in time trialling.

"When you enter the professional ranks it's a matter finding your feet in the team," Howson said. "Everyone has their specific strong points. I came into the World Tour off the back of an individual world title in the time trial, an event the team identified I was strong in."

In his first professional season, 2014, Orica-GreenEdge rewarded him for steady progress by selecting him for the world team time trial championship in which the team placed second.

However, Howson was nurturing a bigger idea. "I had always in the back of my mind that I can climb pretty well," Howson said. "I just had to put the two [time trialling and climbing] together and show the team and the rest of the world that I am capable of going uphill."

That opportunity came in last year's Vuelta where, said Howson: "In some of the tough mountain stages I found myself right up there in crucial points. It was an eye opener to everyone – including myself – that I was at a level that I was capable of mixing it with the best. I then focused on improving in that area – in climbing. Living in Andorra, there are endless amounts of climb to train and focus on this new area I really want to succeed in."

Watch 2016 Giro d'Italia stage 21 highlights video

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Rupert Guinness first wrote on cycling at the 1984 Victorian road titles in Australia from the finish line on a blustery and cold hilltop with a few dozen supporters. But since 1987, he has covered 26 Tours de France, as well as numerous editions of the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana, classics, world track and road titles and other races around the world, plus four Olympic Games (1992, 2000, 2008, 2012). He lived in Belgium and France from 1987 to 1995 writing for Winning Magazine and VeloNews, but now lives in Sydney as a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media) and contributor to Cyclingnews and select publications.

An author of 13 books, most of them on cycling, he can be seen in a Hawaiian shirt enjoying a drop of French rosé between competing in Ironman triathlons.