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Analysis: Orica showing deft hand in GC balancing act

For a team that was born on the legs of sprinters and opportunists in 2012, Orica – Scott suddenly boasts the best young grand tour talent in the peloton. And the team is playing a smart hand, covering its short-term bets with a longer view when it outlined its grand tour plans Wednesday for the 2017 season.

With Chris Froome (Sky), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Alberto Contador (Trek – Segafredo), and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain – Merida) all in their 30s, Orica has three gems poised to pick up the torch in the Yates brothers and Esteban Chaves.

On Wednesday, the team confirmed that Chaves will make his overdue debut at the Tour de France, and send Adam and Simon Yates to target the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. Chaves will likely race the 2017 Vuelta as well, assuring that Orica will be on the front lines across the season’s major grand tour battles.

By spreading out their firepower, and creating new challenges for their budding stars, Orica brass has revealed a deft hand in balancing an abundance of GC talent.

“Despite having three quality young riders to develop programs for, we have come up with a plan that the boys, and the team, are very excited about,” White said in a team release Wednesday. “They have each pleasantly surprised us with their results over the last year, but we have a long-term plan and we are not getting ahead of ourselves. Our priority is still to continue their development at a speed that suits them individually.”

Orica is the envy of the peloton. No other team has three young, ambitious grand tour GC riders on its roster. In fact, with grand tour talent at a premium, Orica finds itself in an enviable, and uniquely challenging, position.

Chaves, 27, emerged in 2016 as a legitimate star, winning the Giro di Lombardia, finishing second in the Giro d’Italia, and third in the Vuelta a España. Adam Yates, 24, defied expectations in his second Tour start, riding to fourth overall and winning the young rider’s white jersey. His twin, Simon Yates, who missed the Tour and the Rio Olympic Games due to a TUE screw-up, confirmed his GC chops with sixth overall and a stage win at the Vuelta.

All three are ambitious, and all three want to have chances to win. The Yates brothers are under contract through 2018 while Chaves re-upped through 2019, so what to do?

The Orica brass is playing it smart by sending the Yates twins to the Giro and untethering Chaves to lead at the Tour. That way, there won’t be any conflict over who is the leader at the season’s first two grand tours (assuming there is no fraternal duel). The Vuelta will be for the rider with the best legs.

White said sending the Yates to race the Giro-Vuelta double is an investment in the future.

“People on the outside might think it’s a bit strange that we are not sending a lad that finished fourth last year back to the Tour de France,” White said of Adam Yates. “But it’s simple, we want to give the guys a bigger foundation for the future because that’s where their biggest potential lies.
… Their results have been impressive, but we aren’t going to see the very best of them for a few years yet. Instead, we decided we will do two grand tours with them. The physical maturity and grand tour experience will be of great benefit for them both in the years to come.”

Putting two grand tours in one season into the legs of the Yates twins — something Chaves has done two years running — will give them additional depth and strength.

Orica is also facing a similar quandary as Movistar with Nairo Quintana (and just about every other team starting the Tour).

The Colombian has never finished worse than third at the Tour in three starts, each time pedaling straight into the impenetrable wall of Sky and the untouchable Chris Froome. The Sky captain, 32 in May, has a few good years left, but Orica, much like Movistar, who is sending Quintana to the Giro this year as well as the Tour, is looking for both for payback today at the Giro and to lay the groundwork for the future, in a strategic move that all but acknowledges that Froome at his best is nearly impossible to beat.

Sky has won four of the last five Tours — a streak derailed when Froome crashed out in 2014 — so everyone knows that as soon as Froome misfires or begins to show signs of weakness, there will be a peloton full of riders to take their chance.

Orica hopes to be right there with the Yates twins and Chaves, and its calendar this season for its bevvy of young stars is the perfect hand to play.

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