After their spectacular success in the Vuelta a España last year, with multiple stage wins, a podium finish for Esteban Chaves and sixth overall for Simon Yates, Orica-Scott's management feel that the highly mountainous 2017 Vuelta route could well suit their top riders' Grand Tour GC ambitions once again.
"It’s pretty good really, the route's pretty well balanced, even if the individual time trial" - at a hefty 42 kilometres - "is a little bit too long for Esteban and the Yates brothers. They're improving in their time trial skills, but they're not the best at that yet," sports director Neil Stephens told Cyclingnews.
"There's certainly enough terrain in the mountains to pull back any time losses there, though, and we're hoping to bring a very strong team to the Vuelta and we'll be up for a fight for the GC."
At this stage, Stephens says, Orica-Scott are still working on which GC riders they will definitely bring, with the Vuelta presentation today "helping that process along, although it's not finally decided."
The Vuelta has proved a goldmine of top results for Orica in the last two years. Not only was 2016 their best ever overall series of results in the Spanish Grand Tour, 2015 was also a major success: Esteban Chaves took two stages in the first week, Caleb Ewan a third and Chaves fifth place overall and a spell in the lead represented a breakthrough result for the Colombian.
Nothing that Stephens saw in Thursday's late evening presentation makes the Australian feel overly pessimistic about his riders' chances of an even better series of results in 2017.
"We were waiting for this presentation to work out some of the finer details, but we're definitely going to attack all three Grand Tours with the three major names for GC, Chaves and the Yates brothers. The Vuelta's a long way away yet, but certainly we'll be coming here with all guns blazing to pull off the win," Stephens said.
In terms of the route itself, Stephens argues that "the first week profile is a little easier than other years, but that doesn't make it easier for us, given everybody's stress levels in that first week. Often it's not about making up time there, but not about losing time. The second and third weeks are really, really hard but we won't be going under-prepared for that first week, either."
Stephens says that "without the punchy uphill finishes, it's maybe not looking as difficult overall, but I think there's a lot of parts that we've yet to go and drive over the course and see what those stages really are like." His first port of call, he says, on a hypothetical reconnaissance trip, would be "the stages down south in Valencia and into the second week, and like the one to La Pandera [stage 14]. I'm pretty intrigued by those stages, I think there's going to be a lot of hard stages there."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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