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Chaves looking to build on breakout 2016

Esteban Chaves kicks off his season at the Tour Down Under, and he's hoping 2017 is at least as successful as 2016 was for him.

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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Esteban Chaves is hoping to pick up right where he left off following his breakout 2016 season.

With podiums in both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España, Chaves ended 2016 by becoming the first Colombian to win the Giro di Lombardia. The ever-smiling Chaves is back in action this week at the Santos Tour Down Under. The Colombian firecracker is hoping to hit the repeat button for 2017.

“I have to pinch myself. It was unbelievable,” Chaves said of 2016. “It was my best season ever, and now we can put the goals super-high. We have to keep training and working hard, but now we know we can do it.”

“Chavito” is putting a heavy Aussie accent on his season debut. Born and raised in Colombia’s sprawling capitol of Bogotá, he said he feels right at home in Australia and has already penned a deal to stay with Orica – Scott through 2019.

“I feel half-Australian, and this team feels like my family,” he said. “Three years ago when I came here, I didn’t speak one word of English, but everyone made me feel so welcome. This team is special. We race to win, but we also race with our hearts.”

Chaves, who turns 27 on Tuesday, is racing on Australian roads for the first time. After the Tour Down Under, he’ll head to the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and then face off against Sky’s Chris Froome at the Herald Sun Tour before returning to Colombia to race in the national championships in Bogotá next month.

“I would love to win the national title in my hometown,” he said. “After that, I will go to Europe and start focusing on the big races of the season.”

Following his stunning success at the Giro and Vuelta, Chaves is keen to get his first taste of the Tour de France. Right now, Orica is keeping the team’s GC plans under wraps until the Australian block of racing is completed.

Orica is in an enviable position, with Chaves and the Yates brothers among the leading lights of a new generation of GC contenders. Adam Yates has already raced two Tours, finishing fourth and winning the best young rider’s jersey in 2016, while his brother Simon, also has two Tours under his belt.

There is some talk that Chaves will repeat the Giro-Vuelta double, with eyes on taking home one of the trophies, but he might make his Tour debut as well. Either way, Chaves knows his future lies in the grand tours.

“Some day I will go to the Tour and it’s the race that every rider dreams to win,” Chaves said. “I have come up very fast, and the past few grand tours give me confidence I can race against the best in the peloton.”