Orica-Scott took a page out of the Alberto Contador playbook with an all or bust approach to the Los Machucos summit finish on stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana. Esteban Chaves, Adam Yates, Jack Haig and Magnus Cort all tried their hand off the front of the bunch with an eye to making time or taking stage glory.
While Contador came out with a substantial time gain from his attack on the lower slopes of Los Machucos, it ultimately didn't work out for the Australian team. Team sports director Neil Stephens knew that their tactics had the potential to blow up in their faces, but it was it was a risk they were happy to take.
"Finishing in the top 10, we've done that before on a number of occasions and so we wanted to get on the front foot to try to move up or go for a stage win," Stephen's said. "We identified early on that Jack was going really well after his stage win in Poland. He has done some great work already this Tour of Spain and he deserved to have the opportunity on his own."
Cort was the first of the team to head up the road in the initial breakaway, which contained the day's eventual winner Stefan Denifl. Adam Yates and Chaves then tried a two-man move on the penultimate climb of the day. The pair was joined by several others, but would eventually be reeled back by Team Sky and the rest of the remaining peloton. Haig would go soon after and joined forces with Cort, who was still up the road, but that would be neutralised too.
In the end, Haig was the team's best finisher in 12th at 1:42 behind the stage winner while Adam Yates and Chaves finished together but more than four minutes behind their teammate. After a strong start to the Vuelta a Espana, Chaves has faded in recent days and endured a difficult time trial on Tuesday. He was still holding onto a top 10 place, sitting in ninth at 6:40 behind Chris Froome (Team Sky). By the top of Los Machucos, he had slipped down to 12th and is now more than 10 minutes behind the race lead.
Sitting on the outskirts of the top 10 did not interest Stephens and the tough course provided them with a chance to try something different.
"Being aggressive, we knew had its risks and may in fact trip us up in the end but we were willing to try it," said Stephens. "We tried, we tried with Esteban, we tried with Jack. It didn't work out but that doesn't mean we're not going to try again."
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