Gent-Wevelgem runner-up Jens Keukeleire and Luke Durbridge, most recently second during the Flanders-esque opening stage at Three Days of De Panne, will lead Orica-Scott on Sunday as the Australian WorldTour team attempts to add a final Monument to its collection at the Tour of Flanders.
Mathew Hayman, winner of Paris-Roubaix in 2016, and experienced Classics rider Mitch Docker will join the duo to form Orica's lead quartet in La Ronde. They'll be joined on the Flemish roads by Sam Bewley, Magnus Cort, Alexander Edmondson and Luka Mezgec, one of the team's strongest-ever Classics line-ups.
Durbridge is obviously on form at the moment after having ridden tenaciously to fourth-place finishes at both Dwars Door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke. On Tuesday, he battled Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) for the win during stage 1 at De Panne, eventually settling in for second after a hard day climbing many of the same bergs that will be featured on Sunday.
After finishing second at Wevelgem, Keukeleire started De Panne and finished 15th on the opening day but did not start Wednesday's second stage, perhaps to rest his legs for Sunday's challenge.
"I think when you look at team we have, we started with guys with a lot of potential but not very much experience in these cobbled classics," said team director Laurenzo Lapage. "All they needed was the opportunity to get that experience and now what we are seeing is their growth year by year because of that.
“Luke and Jens both deserve our protection," Lapage said, "but we are also seeing our other guys performing better. It shows where we are as a team and that everyone is willing to fight for each other."
Orica-Scott nailed down it's third and fourth Monuments last year when Hayman claimed an upset win in front of Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors) at Paris-Roubaix, and Esteban Chaves won Il Lombardia at the end of the season. Two-time Monument winner Simon Gerrans claimed Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2014 and Milan-San Remo in 2012. Just one of cycling's five great one-day races has remained out of reach for the Australian team.
"Imagine if we could win Flanders and have all the Monuments," Lapage said. "That’s the dream scenario. But what’s most important is that we are starting these races with the experience we have now and we show ourselves in the race. Results come after that. We need to put everything on the line, and if it’s a win, it’s a win. But our priority is being ready to fight, and we are ready to do that."
Orica-Scott roster for Tour of Flanders: Sam Bewley, Magnus Cort, Mitch Docker, Luke Durbridge, Alexander Edmondson, Mathew Hayman, Jens Keukeleire, Luka Mezgec
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