Looking for experience, Orica picks up Spanish veteran Plaza

The 35-year-old joins the Australian outfit from Lampre-Merida, for whom he won stages at the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana in 2015.

One way to assure job security is to win bike races. Spanish veteran Rubén Plaza did that in 2015 in impressive fashion, and the payoff is a new contract to join Orica-GreenEdge next season.

Riding for Lampre-Merida, the 35-year-old Spaniard won stages at the Tour de France and Vuelta a España this season, results that opened the door for him to join the Australian outfit for 2016 in a two-year deal.

Yet the team is tapping Plaza more for his experience than his recent spate of winning ways. According to team management, Orica wants Plaza to help budding GC talents, such as Esteban Chaves and the Yates brothers.

“The main thing we want out of Ruben is his experience, his capacity to guide our young guys, but also his ability to be there in the key moments,” said Orica-GreenEdge sport director Neil Stephens in a team release. “He is a guy who can be there in the last 20-odd riders. He was top-10 at Alpe d’Huez this year, which is great, but what excites him more is to be around guys like the Yates boys or Chaves, and to be able to guide them through the major races.”

Stephens compared him to classics anchorman Matthew Hayman, and Plaza will join compatriot Amets Txurruka, who joins Orica from Caja Rural for 2016.

“I was looking for a new direction for my career, so when this possibility came up, it was an easy choice for me to make,” Plaza said. “I’m at a point where I’m ready to give 100 percent to a team with some amazing young talent for the grand tours, and I’m convinced we can take those guys very far.”

Plaza turned pro in 2001 with the current Movistar franchise (then, and switched to Kelme in 2004. He was caught up, but later cleared of allegations, in the Operación Puerto doping scandal that engulfed Spanish cycling in 2006.

He raced two seasons in Portugal before rejoining the Movistar franchise in 2010 (that year racing as Caisse d’Epargne). Always a steady performer, he won the overall at the 2013 Vuelta a Castilla y León, and joined Lampre-Merida in 2015.

This season, he enjoyed the best year of his 15-year career, taking a dramatic victory in a descending duel versus Peter Sagan into Gap in stage 16. In September, he earned a hard-fought stage victory that was overshadowed by the dramatic showdown in the mountains north of Madrid that saw Astana’s Fabio Aru dislodge Tom Dumoulin of Giant-Alpecin to win the Vuelta.

Stephens said Plaza will still have his chances to win even though he’s being tapped to help develop the team’s young talent.

“Ruben is a guy that is always very motivated,” Stephens said. “But if the opportunity presents itself he is also very capable of pulling off a result himself, like we saw at this year’s Tour de France.”

Other new Orica arrivals for 2016 include Txurruka, Luka Mezgec (Giant), and Christopher Juul Jensen (Tinkoff-Saxo).

Lampre, meanwhile, is seeing several riders switching teams, including Rafael Valls to Lotto-Soudal, Max Richeze to Etixx-Quick-Step, Nelson Oliveira to Movistar, and Niccolo Bonifazio to Trek Factory Racing. The team’s major arrivals include Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) and Matej Mohoric (Cannondale-Garmin).