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Orica-GreenEdge is pinning its GC hopes this Giro...

Sky sports director Cioni: ‘Watch Chaves’

If he can make it through Sunday's time trial without losing too much ground, Esteban Chaves will be a real contender for the pink jersey

AREZZO, Italy (VN) — Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge) is improving rapidly and under the radar of rival teams in the Giro d’Italia, which faces its big 40.5-kilometer time trial Sunday.

After seeing off Mikel Landa this morning, Sky sports director Dario Cioni said only one name when asked about the 2016 race favorites. “Watch Chaves,” he explained. “Keep an eye on him, he’s going to surprise many.”

26-year-old Chaves showed off the kind of talent that has Cioni watching him when he followed the attacks of Alejandro Valverde Saturday on the Alpe di Poti climb. He helped drop then race leader Tom Dumoulin (Giant – Alpecin), Ryder Hesjedal (Trek – Segafredo), and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana). Now, he sits sixth overall, just 48 seconds behind new race leader Gianluca Brambilla and within 25 seconds of the rest of the main GC contenders.

“I don’t mind the focus, I’m happy just to ride my bike,” Chaves said with the usual smile lighting up his freckled-face. “I’m happy to be in the Giro, it’s a victory to start it. I’m calm. The most important thing is to enjoy it. I am just racing my bike, there’s not point to put pressure on myself.”

In February 2013, Chaves crashed into a sign post in the Trofeo Laigueglia. It shredded and ripped nerves in his right arm, caused a head trauma, filled his lungs with blood, and fractured his jaw, ribs, and collarbone. He healed, but the ripped axillary nerve should have left him with no chance to continue his career. Only back in Colombia, three months later, did doctors diagnose the issue properly and perform an emergency procedure. Thanks to them and the faith of Australian WorldTour team Orica-GreenEdge, who offered him a contract even before it was sure he would heal 100%, he is in this position now in the Giro d’Italia.

Last year, he won two stages and raced to fifth overall in the Vuelta a España. This year, he is trying to win the Giro. Much hinges on the long time trial through Chianti tomorrow.

“Experience is a big factor. We tried to do the best, cover everything we could. We worked on the time trial bike, the recon, we trained, the diet, physiotherapy, stretching … We tried to control all we can control, the other things we can’t,” Chaves said of his Giro preparation

“We worked on my position on the time trial bike. I did about seven hours a week of training on my bike a week. The Australians are great with time trials, they come from the track and know how to get all the details right. All the prep.”

Chaves also studied all the climbs through the week, from Corvara to Sant’Anna di Vinadio. Should he survive the time trial tomorrow within the same window as Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Valverde and the others, then as Cioni pointed out, Chaves will be one to watch.