Esteban Chaves says that he feels like a new rider following his debut season with Orica-GreenEdge. The Colombian returned to racing last year after a horrific crash at the Trofeo Laigueglia in 2013, and took stage wins at the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse before making his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a España. In 2015, he will go back to the Spanish Grand Tour with a goal of securing a top place overall.
He gained a lot of confidence going into the winter months after a strong 2014 season. “I feel like a new rider and more than confidence it gives you peace and the tranquility to be in the peloton, tranquility because you have a team that supports you and the calmness to face the races,” he told Cyclingnews.
“It was a very difficult year and I really did not expect things to go as they did, but with the support and help of the team I was able to do so… It is an incredible team, from the manager, directeur sportifs, staff, cyclists and people working in the office. They form a group where it is easy to be happy.”
Following his successful debut in the WorldTour, Chaves headed home to Colombia and sunnier climes during the European winter. He split the remainder of the off season between his European base in Spain and South Africa for a team training camp – where he and his teammates added to the growing number of Orica-GreenEdge music videos.
He’s made a brief foray into racing thus far in 2015 with three one-day races, including his first appearance at Strade Bianche – which also happens to be the first time he has raced there since his accident. It was a difficult opener but Chaves is happy to finally be back in the peloton. “It was a difficult but necessary beginning, one day races are quite aggressive and explosive but this is something that you lose after three or four months of training only,” he said.
“Strade Bianche was fine, but it's a difficult race for a boy of 56kg with winds of 60kph, white roads and guys over 80kg but it is an amazing experience especially since it was my first race in Italy since 2013.”
Aiming higher at Volta a Catalunya, Pais Vasco, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España
After proving in 2014 that he hadn’t lost any of the talent that had moved Matt White to sign him – despite not knowing if he would race again – the expectations of what Chaves is able to do has grown. His first major goals of the season are just around the corner, starting with the Volta a Catalunya on Monday and then the Vuelta al País Vasco at the start of April. He’ll be leading Orica-GreenEdge’s GC hopes at both races and he’ll go up against some of the biggest names.
“I'd love to (challenge for the general classification), but I always like to go step by step and stage by stage, I have trained well and we did what we had to do. We'll see during the races and take things as they come,” Chaves said. “It is the first block of hard racing and at a high level, the expectations are very large and feelings are better than last year so on we go and we will see how things go.”
Much loftier ambitions await Chaves later in the season. With his first Grand Tour under his belt, the Colombian will ride both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España in 2015. The Giro will serve as another learning experience before he makes his first genuine tilt at the general classification at the climber-friendly Vuelta later in the year. It’s a daunting prospect but Chaves says that there is no pressure coming from the team for a result.
“It's the beauty of this team, we have no pressure, the pressure at Orica-GreenEdge comes from the individual,” said the 25-year-old. “It is a race that is really suited to the Colombians, not only the climbs but also because it is hot. I like the race and I think that it suits my qualities. Last year was my first three-week race and you learn a lot, especially mentally and you realize that the body reaches limits that didn’t believe was possible.”