Tag Archives: orica-greenedge

Gerrans’ shattered collarbone gives rivals a chance at Road Nats

Simon Gerrans has crashed in training, broken his collarbone and will miss all the races of the Australian summer. It’s a disaster for Gerrans, who won’t be able to defend his National title or his Tour Down Under title; and it’s a major blow for his team.

Simon Gerrans was unstoppable at the 2014 Road Nats
Simon Gerrans was unstoppable at the 2014 Road Nats

The upshot for the rest of us is that Nationals in particular, and to a lesser extent the TDU, have been blown right open. Suddenly what looked like another OGE Buninyong bully session is looking a lot more even.

In Australia over the past few seasons, Gerrans has been the closest thing to a sure bet in cycling. His development into one of the best classics riders in the world, backed by a team that vastly out-numbers and out-guns its rivals, means that Nationals has looked a lot like an Orica-GreenEdge club championships since the team’s inaugural season in 2012.

This time, the OGE spear will be without its point.

Is this finally Cadel Evans’ chance to win a National road race title, as he pedals off into the sunset? Could Australian sports fans even handle such a soppy finish?

Cadel at Aussie Road Nationals, 2014
Cadel at Aussie Road Nationals, 2014

Can Richie Porte do the business and prove that his injury- and illness-blighted 2014 season is behind him? He’s been telling journalists that his pre-season form is well ahead of the same time last year, and he wasn’t far off a win then.

Richie Porte is another top favourite.
Richie Porte is another top favourite.

Who will lead Orica-GreenEdge in Gerrans’ absence?

As one OGE rider told me (not strictly on the record) during the team’s recent promotional Winery Ride the team has Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D. OGE can make the race, while everyone else in the race has one shot only; they are forced to hope that things fall their way.

Now Plan A is out the window, so who steps up? OGE has a few potential winners, and the numerical advantage remains. But without Gerrans, OGE’s options are several guys who ‘could’ win, rather than guys who ‘will’ win.

Simon Clarke is probably the most obvious alternate leader: his ability to climb is important on the hilly Buninyong course, he can survive long days in the saddle, and he’s proven himself winning stages in Grand Tours.

In 2014 Clarke was sent into the day’s break, which almost stayed away until his teammates decided to pull it back in the closing laps. He was excellent in that role, so perhaps it would be tempting to have him play it again. If Clarke has a weakness, it’s his sprint. There must be some doubt that he can beat Evans mano a mano.

Michael Matthews will be kept up the OGE sleeve in case the break fails again – he’s extremely unlikely to be beaten in a bunch sprint by anyone who can survive the last few climbs up Mt Buninyong, but then again could he follow Evans and Porte up the hill if they really went for broke? He couldn’t in 2014.

Cameron Meyer was agonisingly close to winning in 2014, until Richie Porte dragged Evans and Gerrans across to his wheel in the final lap. Meyer certainly looked sharp in the Australian Madison championships last weekend, so he’s another option, perhaps for another late attack.

Cameron Meyer is desperate for an opportunity - he's been close several times
Cameron Meyer is desperate for an opportunity – he’s been close several times

You might even think about Luke Durbridge, who won in 2013, or Caleb Ewan. But the team suddenly looks heavy on time-triallists, and light on for guys with Aussie passports who regularly win road races.

Despite the numerical advantage (and it is a significant one) the Aussies riding for other teams will suddenly be thinking they’re a realistic shot at wearing the green and gold hoops in 2015.

Think Evans, Porte, Adam Hansen, Nathan Haas, Jack Bobridge.

Drapac Cycling will also be important, buoyed by a fresh three-year sponsorship deal with Jaguar and signings of veteran sprinter Graeme Brown, climber Tim Roe, and Swiss rouleur Martin Kohler – all three of whom bring World Tour experience – and young Aussie talent like Sam Spokes and Brenton Jones. It’s a powerful outfit (even without Kohler at Buninyong).

Whatever happens, suddenly it’s all up the air. Tactics, favourites, leadership, jumbled up like Gerrans’ shattered clavicle.

For the absent Gerrans, he’ll reset his sights and peak for the spring classics, no doubt cursing his treacherous mountain bike and the opportunities missed, but knowing that it’s a long season and bigger prizes await in Milan-San Remo and the Ardennes.

Matthews shows the need for speed at La Vuelta

The Vuelta is feeling the need, the need for speed this week after stage 3 started on a Spanish aircraft carrier.

Cue Instagram shots of top gun riders in flight helmets looking ready to write cheques their bodies couldn’t cash, lots of jokes about borrowing one of these jets for the sprint lead-out, and does anyone else reckon John Degenkolb bears an uncanny likeness for Top Gun’s tragic hero Goose? Maybe it’s just the moustache.

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Launching the sprint a tad different today I think

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Catch me if you can!! #vuelta #cadiz #procycling?

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Anyway, never let it be said that cycling doesn’t love a gimmick.

Australia’s Michael Matthews hit the afterburners and won stage 3 overnight, he also took the leader’s red jersey. It’s the same feat he managed in the Giro d’Italia earlier this season – winning a stage and wearing the leader’s jersey is becoming a habit for him.

This was his third career Vuelta stage, after winning two in his 2013 debut.

Matthews is becoming a specialist at winning sprints at the end of hard stages, and everyone in the peloton knows it. It’s gratifying that when he aims for a particular stage, he delivers remarkably often.

It’s certainly doing his reputation no harm, although being photographed before the stage wearing sandals and socks might.

Michael Matthews is lucky his legs do the talking, not his fashion sense.

For all Matthews’ talent, these successes are built on the strength and depth of his Orica-GreenEdge team in the team time trials, which gets him within striking distance of the race lead.

It’s no accident that the Australian team is consistently taking the leader’s jersey in Grand Tours, and the team was open about its goal for the day before the stage began. The team worked all day for Matthews, and will do so again tomorrow. He’s a leader worth working for.

The disappointment of missing the Tour de France after a crash in training just before the race will be eased by success in Spain, but Matthews clearly has unfinished business in France next season.

It’s a measure of Matthews’ ability and rapid improvement that Orica-GreenEdge’s erstwhile top gun sprinter Matt Goss has hardly been mentioned this year, as he battles through a winless season.

The Vuelta is in Spain’s deep south, not far from the Straits of Gibraltar and the short ferry crossing to Morocco. Stage 2 began in Algeciras, a port city where travellers can make the crossing to Tangier, the scene of centuries of trade (not all of it legal), international espionage and a seedy underbelly.

Southern Spain is sweltering country, in late August the summer is barely waning and sunburnt British tourists flop through the heat haze in states of barely coping.

It’s lucky then, that the Vuelta keeps the mountains under control this week. Not entirely absent – stage 3 had a series of four Cat.3 climbs; stage 4 has a Cat.2 – but the first real climb doesn’t come until Thursday.

The expected melee for the overall victory is still a few days away from any serious skirmishes. Movistar’s Colombian sensation Nairo Quintana is sitting pretty in second on GC, Spanish favourite Alejandro Valverde is third,and Alberto Contador and Chris Froome are a handful of seconds back.

Image: Sean Rowe (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sjr-images/14162178575/)
Image: Sean Rowe (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sjr-images/14162178575/)

Handing the race lead to Matthews is almost the ideal scenario for Movistar, which faced a decision about how much energy to spend defending it. When you’ve got two riders who are expected to be high on GC in two-and-a-half weeks’ time, a few days chasing breakaways in the wind and heat just so the sprinters’ teams can clean up the stage wins probably seems less than appealing.

That said, relinquishing the leader’s jersey in Grand Tours seems to have gone out of fashion, and a Spanish team in its home race has extra pressure to keep its sponsor’s logo on the evening news. Matthews is no threat to Quintana or Valverde, but as he showed in the Giro, he might be strong enough to defend the jersey for a few days and let Movistar save their legs.

Is it time to worry about Orica-GreenEdge’s results?

The Australian team is suffering a bit of a dry spell, without a race win since Michael Hepburn’s time trial victory at the Tour of Qatar, on the 11th of February.

After beginning the season like a bullet from a gun with victory in the Tour Down Under, the team has slumped to 10th (out of 18) on the UCI World Tour points rankings.

At various times Matt Goss, Daryl Impey, Michael Matthews, Leigh Howard, Jens Keukeleire, Aidis Kruopis and Simon Clarke have come close to winning races, but without snaring the champagne.

In the major races, where it really counts, OGE’s results so far this season have been poor.

Outside Australia, apart from Hepburn’s Qatar TT win, the team hasn’t had a victory at a World Tour, HC, or UCI tier 1 race.

This year OGE has 9 victories: 7 in Australia or Oceania, the South African national championship, and one in Qatar.

This time in 2013 the team had 11 victories, but spread across races including Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, the Tour de San Luis, and the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. Dominating in your backyard is fun, but it’s no substitute for winning at big European races.

Let’s go through some recent results.

At the first Monument for 2014, Milan-San Remo, Daryl Impey was the best finisher in 49th, 3’50” behind the winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). Matthews, Tuft, Luke Durbridge and Clarke were all more than 10 minutes off the pace.

In Belgium, where the cobbled classics are underway, the team has been nowhere near the sharp end of the races.

At E3 Harelbeke last Friday, six riders crashed. Tuft and Matt Hayman fell and were injured, forcing them out of the race. Jens Keukeleire, Mitch Docker, Jens Mouris and Hepburn were caught behind a crash and couldn’t regain touch with the leaders. Impey and Durbridge stayed with the leaders until they too were caught behind a crash. Impey eventually finished in 38th place, Durbridge 71st, and the other six riders DNFed.

On Sunday at Gent-Wevelgem, the best result was Keukeleire’s 37th, rolling in 19 seconds behind John Degenkolb’s (Giant-Shimano) winning group. Mitch Docker was 81st; Simon Yates 137th; Goss, Durbridge, Hepburn, and Mouris didn’t finish, and Tuft didn’t start on medical advice after hitting his head in E3 Harelbeke.

There was some bad luck involved: Goss was hit by Fran Ventoso (Movistar) and lost his rear derailleur, which meant Hepburn had to donate his bike to his teammate. Hepburn is taller than Goss, and the replacement was too big for the Tasmanian sprinter, who lost more time switching to his own spare bike not long later. Goss then suffered from allergies and a mix-up with his asthma inhaler meant he struggled to breathe. Everyone wasted energy trying to chase the race after these incidents.

Keukeleire’s 9th at Dwars door Vlaanderen, a much less prestigious race, was the only decent result of the first week in Flanders.

Yes, it’s unlucky when riders crash or are caught behind crashes, and yes, it does happen to even the best riders. It even happened to Fabian Cancellara (Trek) at E3 Harelbeke, costing him any chance of contesting the win despite the Swiss master looking strong enough to tow a plough up the Eiger.

Crashes are part and parcel of racing on the cobbles, and the further back you are, the higher the risk. Indeed, this year’s editions of Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke seemed especially risky, with experienced pros like David Millar tweeting that the peloton is riding like a bunch of juniors:

But the good classics teams manage the risk. You always see OPQS, Lotto-Belisol and Belkin with multiple riders near the front, and if one of them falls it doesn’t ruin the whole team’s race.

Watch the team’s Backstage Pass from Gent-Wevelgem: at the 3 minute mark you see DS Laurenzo Lapage telling the team to move up in the bunch. The next scene there’s a crash and Orica-GreenEdge is named.

Even Team Sky has picked up its classics game this year, continually putting riders into strong positions.

Racing on the cobbles takes a highly specialised skillset, which Australian (or Canadian) riders don’t acquire growing up like the Belgian and Dutch riders do.

To me it looks as if the Orica-GreenEdge classics squad is lacking the confidence or experience to boss its way into position on the cobbles, and being pushed to the rear of the peloton where crashes and splits are guaranteed to wreck races.

But even if the team seems out of place on the cobbles, what about its results in more ‘standard’ conditions?

The results haven’t been bad exactly, with plenty of top 10 results and a handful of podiums.

However, it’s fair to say they haven’t set the world on fire.

At the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya (a World Tour race), Leigh Howard picked up 2nd in stage 1 and 9th in stage 2 (he was also 5th at the GP Nobili). Rookie Adam Yates performed solidly in the GC against strong opposition, and Damien Howson got into the winning break on stage 6, finishing 8th.

At Tirreno-Adriatico the team was 2nd in the team time trial, and Simon Clarke grabbed a quality 3rd behind two of the form riders of the Spring, Peter Sagan and Michal Kwiatkowski, in stage 3.

At Paris-Nice the best result was Matt Goss’s 2nd in stage 3, behind John Degenkolb. Michael Matthews was 4th in stage 4, and thereabouts on the other flat stages.

At the Tour of Langkawi Aidis Kruopis collected podium finishes like most tourists collect satay sticks, and Esteban Chaves finished 4th overall, but there were no wins.

All of these podiums and top 10’s suggest there are a number of OGE riders in pretty good shape, but for whatever reason things aren’t quite falling into place.

So where is the team’s next win coming from?

They’ll be racing at Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, but it would be one of the upsets of the century if an OGE rider stole a win at either of them.

The Tour of the Basque country has been a happier hunting ground – Simon Gerrans and Daryl Impey each won a stage there in 2013. Any of Gerrans, Michael Albasini, Michael Matthews or Pieter Weening are a chance to grab a stage this year.

Then it’s the Ardennes classics (Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege), where Gerrans has set his sights. Since leaving Australia, the national champion has been virtually unseen as he builds for his second peak of the year.

We know how good Gerrans is when he picks out a race, but his team really needs someone else to step up, because they can’t rely on Gerrans alone, and the pressure will build.

Is it time to worry about Orica-GreenEdge’s season? Not yet, but we’re not that far off it.

 This post was first published at The Roar.