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Orica director balances two sprinters in Giro lineup

Neil Stephens talks about how he'll balance the roles and goals of Matthew Goss and Leigh Howard in Italy

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NAPLES, Italy (VN) — Every team at the 96th Giro d’Italia takes the start on Saturday with its own unique set of objectives, whether it is the general classification, hunting stage wins, chasing an inter-race competition, or gaining exposure through breakaways.

Australian team Orica-GreenEdge brings a squad devoid of a GC contender, instead equipped to win from breakaways or in time trials — and, most importantly, stocked with not one but two world-class sprinters in Matthew Goss and Leigh Howard.

Goss, 26, needs no introduction; the winner of Milano-Sanremo in 2011, he’s a two-time Giro stage winner, his most recent win coming on stage 3 last year, in Denmark, after Italian Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) caused a crash that took down several riders in the finale, including Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). His most recent win came with a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico in March; the 2013 edition will mark his fourth Giro start.

Howard, 23, is less accomplished on the road than on the track, where he’s been a world champion in both the Madison and omnium events. His biggest road victory was a breakthrough stage win at last year’s Tour of Britain, ahead of Cavendish. This year Howard earned two wins at the Challenge Mallorca.

Riding in support of the team’s two sprinters are Brett Lancaster, Christian Meier, Jens Keukeleire, Jens Mouris, Luke Durbridge, Pieter Weening, and Svein Tuft.

Both Durbridge, from Australia, and Tuft, from Canada, have earned national time trial championships and will be targeting the race’s two TTs as well as driving the squad’s team time trial chances on Sunday.

Team director Neil Stephens told VeloNews on Saturday that Orica brings “a bit of an opportunist team, really” to the start in Naples.

“Obviously we’re after the stage wins with Gossy and Leigh, but apart from that, everyone here has the opportunity to go for their own stages, whether it be the sprint stages, the breakaways, or even the time trials, we’ll be giving it a shot,” Stephens said. “The one thing we won’t be involved in is the general classification. Everyone knows our style of racing, and we’re hoping we can do that well in the Giro.”

Asked how he planned to manage two capable sprinters in a field that also boasts Cavendish, Ferrari, Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), Daniele Bennati (Saxo-Tinkoff), and John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), Stephens said that Goss would be the team’s protected sprinter, with Howard as a back-up, though it would remain a fluid dynamic.

“Leigh is a young talent, and he’s very good, he’s had some great wins this year so far, but he’s got a bit to learn yet, and he can learn that from his leadout train,” Stephens said. “Who knows, we might have to switch around roles a little bit. We’ll have to see how things pan out.”

Pressed to explain how sprint roles are switched mid-stage, Stephens explained: “We’ll tend to address that day-to-day, depending on how things are going. We might leave the hotel with an idea, and then if someone’s not feeling good, or if someone’s feeling great, or whatever, we’ll have to be adaptable. The idea from the start is for Leigh to improve as a bike rider. If he can win races along the way, that’s great, but he still needs to learn and improve a bit.”

Stephens said the team would look to Lancaster — who won the opening stage of the Giro in 2005 and wore the pink jersey for one day — to ride as the leadout for Goss.

“Brett is a key rider in Matt’s leadout train,” said Stephens. “Brett has worked in this role for many years. He has a fantastic rapport with Gossy and the younger members of the team that has established him as a leader in the train. Brett is also a strong team time trial rider. Although this year’s team time trial is a bit atypical, we expect Brett to be one of best on our team in this discipline.”

Noticeably absent from Orica’s Giro roster is Daryl Impey. One of Goss’ strongest leadout men, Impey will be home with his wife to welcome their new baby.

“This is a good thing for us,” said Stephens. “If Daryl isn’t around, or he isn’t feeling great on a certain day or he’s out with an injury, we need to build up a little camp of guys that can do similar work to what Daryl can do. Instead of looking to the always reliable Daryl Impey, other guys get a tap on the shoulder to step up.”

They’ll get that tap Saturday in Naples.