Chaves finished second overall to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) at the Giro on Sunday in what was his Orica-GreenEdge team’s first podium result at a Grand Tour.
The Australian-registered outfit is steering its overall orientation towards Grand Tour title success and with the 26-year-old is ahead of schedule. However, sports director Matt White has said the team won’t substitute burgeoning brothers Simon and Adam Yates for Chaves in July despite the latter’s Giro performance.
“His plan is not changing at all. He is going back to Colombia [on] Saturday and 100 per cent will not be going to the Tour. He will be going to the Vuelta to try and obviously win the Vuelta,” White told Cycling Central.
“We’re thinking of Esteban for the 2017 Tour de France, so two more Grand Tours riding general classification and he’ll be ready,” he added. “We’ve also got to develop a team to go the Tour de France that are ready to support him. The Yates’s are on a different trajectory. They’re still learning about stage races and they’re three years younger than Esteban. I want to give those guys experience and the Tour suits [them].”
Chaves’s omission from the Tour de France squad this year is a purposeful move designed to allow the pint-sized climber with a megawatt smile ample time to develop and shape a crack arsenal.
“He has improved his time-trialing a hell of a lot in the last 12 months. Twelve months ago he would have lost three or four minutes in those [Giro] time-trials, now he is losing a minute to a minute-and-a-half. He’ll never be a world class time-trialer but he just needs to limit his losses,” White said.
The former Tour de L'Avenir champion spearheaded Orica-GreenEdge’s first serious Grand Tour title tilt at the Vuelta last year in which he finished fifth overall. Chaves’s breakthrough at the Giro has further buoyed the squad that this month identified a right-hand man for the hungry contender in Australian Damien Howson.
“The Vuelta last year, that was the definite plan to see if we could do it. This year we knew we could do it,” White said.
“A three-week stage race rider, you don’t know if they can do it until they’ve actually done it. It’s like with the Yates’s at the moment, or Esteban before he did it, you have plans but until someone gets across the line after three weeks of consistent racing all it is, is potential.
“Some guys never turn into three-week stage racers. They can be the best one-week stage race rider in the world, or best one-day rider, but the three-week races are a different beast altogether.”
Chaves won stage 14 in the Dolomites and marked a stint in the Maglia Rosa, which he lost to Nibali on the penultimate day, on the way to the podium at the Giro, for which Orica-GreenEdge arranged its team in November and had a dual focus with sprinter Caleb Ewan.
“We knew it was going to be a hard job and, yes, obviously the initial thoughts there are disappointment because we were very close to winning the Giro but 12 hours [on] we’ve got a different view on things,” White reflected at the start of the final stage. “Three weeks ago if you had said we’d win the queen stage and finish second in the Giro we would certainly have been very, very happy with that result and that’s how we’re looking at it now.”
Orica-GreenEdge entered the WorldTour in 2012 with the stated ambition of winning Grand Tour stages and one-day races but is now, with Chaves, on a good way to meeting its redefined ethos.
Chaves overcame a severe crash-related trauma as a Team Colombia rider in 2013 to make his debut with Orica-GreenEdge in 2014 and has quickly made up for the year of racing he lost to recovery.
“When you look at where he has come from with a career threatening injury, he thought his career was finished at 23 years of age, so he is very, very hungry. It’s like people who stare death in the face, he has looked at the end of his career in the face and he is not going to waste a moment,” White said.
“He is always a happy go lucky guy but don’t be fooled by the smiling face. He is as hungry as anyone out there to win bike races. You don’t have to put on a sour face or pretend to be something you’re not just because you’re riding general classification, or you’re a winner.