The holiday is over and it is time for the professional riders to start their serious training for the 2017 season. After the team building activities at the first team meetings in November, the month of December is traditionally the time for the first real training camps where the first drafts of the season schedules are made and just a few weeks later, the cycling season is in full swing at the Tour Down Under. During the next few weeks, CyclingQuotes prepares you for the coming season in a series of analyses where we take a detailed look at each of the 18 WorldTour teams and what to expect during the next 12 months.
Below we take a look at Orica-Scott.
Michael Albasini, Sam Bewley, Johan Esteban Chaves, King Lok Cheung, Mitchell Docker, Luke Durbridge, Alexander Edmondson, Caleb Ewan, Simon Gerrans, Jack Haig, Mathew Hayman, Michael Hepburn, Damien Howson, Daryl Impey, Christopher Juul-Jensen, Jens Keukeleire, Luka Mezgec, Magnus Cort Nielsen, Ruben Plaza, Robert Power, Svein Tuft, Carlos Verona, Adam Yates, Simon Yates
Roger Kluge (IAM), Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff)
Riders leaving the team
Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb), Christian Meier (retires), Amets Txurruka (?)
Anaysis of the transfer season
Never change a winning formula. With two monument victories, podiums in two grand tours, a fourth palce and the white jersey at the Tour de France and stage wins in all three grand tours, Orica-Scott had a marvelous 2016 season that went far beyond expectations. Hence, it seems that the management has been very careful not to change the roster too much and instead the key objective of the transfer season has been to extend the contracts with numerous core riders. Most importantly, they have reached new agreements with their grand tour captains Esteban Chaves and the Yates brothers and star sprinter Caleb Ewan while they have also retained several domestiques. The second half of the year has been littered with announcements of contract renewals but there have been far between the new signings to the strong roster.
Nonetheless, the few changes that have been made, clearly reflect the strategy that the team want to follow. The team’s marquee stage hunter Michael Matthews will leave for Team Sunweb and no replacement has been signed. Instead, the main acquisition is another stage race and grand tour rider, Roman Kreuziger, who can support the young grand tour captains in the three-week races. When the team started, they made it clear that GCs at big stage races was a long-term objective and their goal in the grand tours was only to go for stage wins. During the first years, they slowly developed their own GC leaders Chaves and the Yates brothers and the team gradually built a GC focus. Last year was the first time where they targeted the overall standings in all three grand tours and that approach now seems to have taken over completely. Orica-Scott is fully a GC team whose only real secondary goal is to build a strong lead-out train around Caleb Ewan.
That also makes it hard to decide whether the balance of the transfer campaign is positive. The loss of Matthews is huge. The Australian is not a real sprinter but he is a winner who knows how to peak for the biggest races. He may not have won a big classic yet but it is just a matter of time before he gets an Amstel Gold Race on his palmares. The World Championships are also within his reach and he can potentially be competitive in short stage races too. Hence, his absence will be felt.
On the other hand, Orica-Scott was not ready to provide him with the support that he deserved and so it is better to focus fully on a few clear targets. Esteban Chaves and the Yates brothers are among the most talented grand tour riders in the world and they have now all proved that they can be there for three weeks. However, they were often a bit lonely in the mountain stages and so it is only right that the team had a focus on signing a climbing domestique.
The addition of Roman Kreuziger is great, at least if he can get back to the level he had a few years ago. For a long time, it has been evident that the Czech will never become the rider many expected when he won the Tours de Romandie and Suisse at a very young age but his fifth place at the 2013 Tour where he worked as a domestique, was a clear indication of his class. He has not been at the same level since then and it remains to be seen whether he can get back. However, even if he fails, he is still a classy bike rider who finished in the top 10 in the Tour and seventh in Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2016. His main goal in his new team is to be a support for Chaves and the Yates brothers and so he can be expected to line up for two grand tours. However, he should also get the chance to lead the team in select one-week stage races and he may also get his own opportunities in the Ardennes classics which have always been dear to his heart.
The other new signing is focused on the other target. While most of the attention will be on the GC, it is no surprise that the team are also keen to try to turn Caleb Ewan into one of the best sprinters in the world. After all, they need an Australian team leader and Ewan is the best option for the moment. The 2016 season was a bit difficult for the tiny sprinter but he still got a big win in a classic at the Hamburg Cyclassics. Roger Kluge has been signed as a valuable addition to the train and the big German should clearly make the group around Ewan stronger.
Apart from Matthews, the team have only lost two riders. The always reliable Christian Meier has retired and it should be possible to find a replacement for the solid domestique. It is slightly more surprising to see Amets Txurruka leave after just one year in the Orica jersey. The Basque never reached his best level in the team but as he was one of pretty few climbers in a roster that will have to cover three grand tours, it is a bit of a risk to let him go.
What to expect in the classics?
The classics were where Orica-Scott got their first big wins. Simon Gerrans won Milan-Sanremo in 2012 and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2014 and the big one-day races have always been a big target for the Australians. However, as they slowly develop into a GC team, those races will play less of a role and the season balance will no longer be dependent on success in the spring. Nonetheless, the team won two of the five monuments in 2016 but it will be very hard to repeat that in 2017.
Despite their success, Orica-Scott have never really been a major team in the cobbled races and Mathew Hayman’s marvelous win at last year’s Paris-Roubaix was a standalone result as they had never even podiumed in one of the cobbled monuments before. For Hayman, the stars truly aligned and a lot of circumstances came together for him on that day in April. After all, Hayman had not even been close to the win in the past and it will be an even bigger surprise if he manages to win a major race again in 2017.
Next year Orica-Scott will again be an outsider on the cobbles but they are still capable of delivering a surprise. Jens Keukeleire has always been a solid rider for the hard races in the north but he has never been among the very best. However, the Belgian took a massive step up in the second half of 2016 when he seemed to be on a roll for several months. He climbed excellently and topped it off by winning a reduced bunch sprint at the Vuelta a Espana. It will be very interesting to see how that translates into the races that suit him the best. In any case, Keukeleire deserves to be the clear leader in the Flemish races. It won’t be easy for him to win any of them but we expect much closer to the best in the hardest races like E3, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Keukeleire can expect support from Hayman who will probably focus most on Rouabix, and Luke Durbridge who is constantly improving in the cobbled races. He is no longer a time trial specialist but every year he gets a bit further into the finale of the big races. He is unlikely to ever take a big win on the cobbles but he can be a very valuable rider for Keukeleire. Christopher Juul-Jensen is a similar rider who has the potential to get far in these races.
Magnus Cort had a bit of a breakthrough in the second half of the 2016 as he won two stages in the Vuelta. On paper, the Dane has the skills to be one of the protected riders on the cobbles. Unfortunately, he didn’t show much in those races in his first two years and it is probably too early to target wins. However, he could be the protected rider in races like Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen where a bunch sprint is more likely. Together with Keukeleire, he will probably also be the leader at Milan-Sanremo where both rider have the potential to be in the top 10.
It remains to be seen whether Caleb Ewan will do any of the cobbled races. He had a pretty promising debut at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and by winning the race in Hamburg, he showed that he can handle long races. On the other hand, he is very inconsistent and we doubt that he has the stamina to be competitive in the Flemish races and Milan-Sanremo already in 2017.
In the Ardennes, the team will be led by Simon Gerrans, Michael Albasini, Roman Kreuziger and one or more of their grand tour leaders. It has not been confirmed how the Yates brothers and Esteban Chaves will distribute the three-week races but those who aren’t focusing on the Giro, should have a first peak in the spring and so be present for the hilly races in Northern Europe. That turns the team into a pretty powerful formation with numerous options and they have a much better chance of success here than they have on the cobbles.
Even though he has won Liege, Gerrans has always been most suited to the Amstel Gold Race. He no longer seems to be at the same level as he once was and we doubt that he will ever feature in the finale of the hardest races again. However, the Dutch classic is still within his reach if it comes down to sprint from 15-20 riders like it did in 2015 and at this age, he definitely benefits from the course change which means that the race no longer finishes on the Cauberg. The Australian will probably have full support for the first race of the Ardennes week, with Michael Albasini being a back-up plan for a sprint.
At Fleche Wallonne, the team will probably focus on Albasini and Chaves/Yates brothers. The Swiss has been on the podium before and has been one of the most consistent riders. He will be 36 by the time they hit the Mur de Huy in 2017 but he is still not showing any signs of weakness and in 2016 he was even better than ever, with the second place at Liege-Bastogne-Liege being the highlight of his career. He won’t win the race in Huy but he can be on the podium again. Both Chaves and the Yates brothers have the right kind of explosiveness and if they go into the race in peak condition, they can all be on the podium too.
As said, we doubt that Gerrans will be competitive in Liege but the team will still have cards to play. Kreuziger is a regular top 10 finisher and he will be on hand to cover the attacks. Albasini is one of the fastest finishers and Chaves and Adam Yates have both won big one-day races on the WorldTour. That gives the team numerous options and should make sure that they come away from La Doyenne with at least a top 10 finish.
In the autumn, the team is likely to be less visible. Ewan will of course try to make it two in a row in Hamburg and that is definitely a real possibility. Plouay is suited to Keukeleire and Cort but both must also be keen to return to the Vuelta after their success in 2016. Gerrans has had lots of success in the Canadian races in the past and if they end up in reduced bunch sprints, he can do well in both of them again. Albasini and Daryl Impey will be back-up plans but for some reason the Swiss never reaches his best level in the autumn. The GP Montreal could also be an option for the Yates brothers but as they are likely to either do the Vuelta or be tired after the Tour, they are unlikely to play a major role. Finally, Chaves would love to win Il Lombardia again and if he does the Vuelta , he will be a big favourite. The Colombian always comes out of the grand tours in outstanding form and that should be the case again if the Spanish race is on the schedule. The race also suits the Yates brothers but we doubt that they will be competitive at that late point in the season.
What to expect in the grand tours?
The time when Orica-Scott went into the grand tours with a focus on stage wins are over. Last year was the first when the team went for GC in all three races and this will again be the case in 2017. With Esteban Chaves and the Yates brothers, they have three riders who have all been in the top 6 in a three-week race and that means that they have enough leaders to cover all the races.
The team still haven’t announced how they will share the roles and it is anyone’s guess who will be the leader in Italy, France and Spain respectively. The problem is that the three leaders share the same characteristics and all prefer courses that are light on time trialling. If one of them had been a great time triallist, it would be easy to send him to the Giro where there will be two long TTs, and have some of the climbers focus on the Tour which will be decided in the mountains. With three real climbers, the team don’t have that option.
Last year Chaves made it clear that he wanted to make his Tour de France debut in 2017 but he later backtracked on those plans. Instead, he even told Colombian media that he will again go for the Giro but his team later refuted those claims, insisting that a final decision has not been made. However, it seems that Chaves is very keen to try to win a grand tour after he got so close in Italy last year. He knows that he is not going to win the Tour in his first attempt and so his best chance is to go for the Giro-Vuelta double again. Our best guess is that Chaves will lead the team in the two smaller grand tours while the Yates brothers will form a two-pronged attack in the Tour which they have both done in the past.
If we are right, the team should go for victory in the Giro. While the Yates brothers are probably not ready to win a grand tour yet, the time is ripe for Chaves. He would have preferred less time trialling and the huge amount of riding against the clock will make things difficult. However, Chaves is still developing and he should be even stronger in 2017. In 2016, he was probably the best and most consistent climber throughout all three weeks and that could very well be the case in 2017 too. More importantly, the Vuelta was the first grand tour where he didn’t fade in the third week and this is crucial if he wants to evolve into a grand tour winner. Now he seems to have taken all the steps to take that elusive overall victory and if he focuses on the Giro, that should be his clear goal for 2017.
The main question is what kind of support he will have. As a Giro win with Chaves is the team’s best shot at a grand tour victory, they should go into the race with all their best climbers Roman Kreuziger, Carlos Verona, Damien Howon and Ruben Plaza. However, Caleb Ewan has made it clear that he expects to have a similar schedule to what he had in 2016 and this means that he will do the Giro. He needs a few lead-out riders at his side and that could take away some of the support from Chaves.
For the Tour, we expect the team to be led by the two Yates brothers. None of them are ready to win the race yet so the goal must be another top 5 finish to prove that their 2016 results were no flukes. The two flat time trials are still a big weakness for both of them and at the same time, their recovery still needs to improve. Even though they both showed that they can go through three weeks without a really bad day, they both seemed to fade in the third week. This year it will be important to take another step in this area. Simon Gerrans and Michael Albasini are also likely to be present and they may be given a chance to go for a stage win in the lumpier stages.
There may also be room for a sprinter in the team. On paper, it’s the grand tour that suits Ewan best but it seems that a Tour debut has been ruled out. Magnus Cort could be given his chance but the many pure bunch sprints don’t really suit him.
In the Vuelta, we expect the team to be led by the Giro captain and as said, we expect Chaves to get that role. The Colombian was on the podium in 2016 and he should aim for the same in 2017. We doubt that he is ready to beat the likes of Froome and Quintana who are both likely to be present, but he has shown that he can be competitive in two grand tours. Again there should be room for a sprinter in the team too and we expect Cort to be given another shot after his success of 2016.
What to expect elsewhere?
As said, Orica-Scott will have most of their focus on the grand tours and with the loss of Matthews, they will probably be a lot less visible elsewhere. Nonetheless, they should show themselves in some key events, starting with the Australian summer. Simon Gerrans will be keen to take a fifth Tour Down Under win and this time he will even be joined by Esteban Chaves to form a great two-pronged attack. We doubt that Chaves will have the form to win at this early point of the season and things won’t be any easier for Gerrans who is no longer as strong as he once was and is likely to be up against and in-form Richie Porte who is really aiming for the win this year. However, the Australian knows the race like no other and if he can again get a massive haul of bonus seconds, another win is within his reach.
In the WorldTour stage races in the spring, it will be up to Roman Kreuziger and some of the grand tour captains to go for the results. As said, we expect Chaves to focus on the Giro and this usually means that he won’t be competitive in the races in the spring. However, the Yates brothers are regular top 10 finishers in races like Pais Vasco, Romandie and the Dauphiné and if they go for the Tour, they should be podium candidates in many of the big races in the first part of the year. Kreuziger is no longer as strong as he once was and it is a major problem that he has lost the edge in the time trials. Nonetheless, he is still a top 10 contender in these races.
As the team’s marquee sprinter, Caleb Ewan will be expected to win a lot during the year and he will get a solid amount of support wherever he is present. He is still pretty young and so will probably still have a lighter schedule but he should do a few select one-week races like Tirreno-Adriatico, the Tour of Poland and the Eneco Tour. His 2016 was slightly disappointing but his performances at the end of the year indicated that he is back on track. We expect him to be a lot more successful in 2017.
On paper, races like Pais Vasco, Catalunya and Romandie are perfectly suited to Magnus Cort and Jens Keukeleire but as they will both be riding the classics, they will skip those races, at least the former two. However, they should still get some sprint opportunities throughout the year and especially the Dane can be expected to win a few sprints during what should be another solid season for him.
Simon Gerrans and Michael Albasini are among the best stage hunters in the one-week races in the WorldTour and they should again show themselves in the harder races. Gerrans is likely to go for stage wins in either Catalunya or Pais Vasco where there usually are several reduced bunch sprints while Albasini will continue his love affair with Romandie. With Matthews’ departure, there may also be a bit more room for Daryl Impey to test himself in some of the reduced sprints but we doubt that the South African is fast enough to take a second win in a WorldTour stage race.
Who’s ready to surprise?
For the 2016 season, Orica-Scott signed two of the most talented climber Australia has ever produced. Jack Haig and Robert Power have both been second in the Tour de l’Avenir and this speaks volumes about their potential.
Unfortunately, Power’s season was destroyed by a rare bone marrow disease which forced him to rest until he could make his debut in August. However, he slowly built some form and at the Japan Cup he showed that he can be competitive at this level. He hasn’t done a WorldTour stage race in Europe yet so it may take a bit more time before he can go for results but he should definitely show himself in the mountains at some point during the year.
Haig now has a full WorldTour season under his belt and he even has a grand tour in his legs. A three-week race usually serves young talents very well and so Haig is probably ready to take a bit more responsibility. At the Tour de Slovenie, he confirmed that his potential is huge and he also climbed well in the Vuelta and the Dauphiné. We expect Haig to take another step and show himself in the mountains throughout the year.
Magnus Cort had a difficult first year on the WorldTour but at the Vuelta, he finally showed why he was so successful at the continental level. The Dane showed himself as a sprinter in that race but he is actually much more than that. He climbs well on shorter climbs and so has a chance in a wide range of races. At the same time, his sprinting in the Vuelta showed that he doesn’t have to fear most of the riders that climb at his level. Cort should be a lot more visible in the cobbled classics and win a bit more than he did in 2016.
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