Confidence is one of the traits that makes a true champion. Ask a professional cyclist if they can win a particular stage or event and you’ll more likely than not know the result before the race has even been run.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
16 Jan 2017 - 7:22 PM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2017 - 8:25 PM

The winners rarely if ever consider competition in their responses, and always weigh toward saying ‘yes’, even if it’s whispered.

“This is a hard question,” says Esteban Chaves with a megawatt smile when asked if he can win a Grand Tour this year.

“If you asked me last year if I could finish on the podium of one Grand Tour I would have said for sure not. In the end, I finished on the podium of two.

“So this year I say why not? It is possible. Why not. Yeah.”

The Colombian climber responds with a conviction that is believable and maybe why Orica-Scott has heavily invested in the man, who turns 27 on Tuesday and commences his season at the Tour Down Under.

Chaves typically doesn’t race so early in the season but nevertheless has been earmarked as a favourite to triumph in the hilly six-stage race.

“I was in Colombia for November and December and now I’m here. It’s a surprise because normally in January I am in Europe, so this is the first time we try this race. We will see,” he said.

“Here the climbs are six to 10 minutes, which is different. For me, it’s better to climb for 45 minutes to one hour. I’ve trained well and we’ll try for one good result.”

Orica-Scott has options in Chaves as well as four-time race winner Simon Gerrans for overall, and sprinter Caleb Ewan, who claimed the People’s Choice Classic on Sunday, for the sprints.

“The two principle objectives for the team is to try and win the Tour Down Under and try to win flatter stages,” he said.

Chaves barely spoke English when he arrived at the Australian outfit in 2014. Now, the man who describes himself as a big dreamer, a fighter, a relaxed guy and occasional comedian is becoming a face of the squad. Yet despite his rising star, he still appears a family man.

Chaves emphasises his will to set a fine example for his younger brother, and credits his parents for values that have made him successful. It was his father, a “super fan” of cycling, that introduce him to the sport as a toddler.

Orica-Scott is transitioning from an opportunistic outfit to one with genuine Grand Tour title aims, which Chaves, alongside twin brothers Simon and Adam Yates are at the centre of.

Chaves won a stage, marked a stint in the leader’s jersey and finished second overall at the Giro d’Italia last year before observing similar success at the Vuelta a Espana where he placed third on the general classification behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Chris Froome (Sky).

The reigning Il Lombardia champion has a results sheet that certainly doesn’t pertain to someone that doesn’t have confidence, although he surprisingly offers that when asked to identify weaknesses.

“Maybe I need a little more confidence in myself. Sometimes I feel not ready for the races,” he said.

Chaves prefers to race over train unlike some of his Grand Tour rivals that increasingly dedicate majority time to training camps and altitude over contests.

“I prefer racing because a race has atmosphere and you can push it,” he said. “There are people in front, on the road yelling your name, or whatever, so you’re pushing. Training, you have no-one and you need pushing. For me, finding motivation in training is sometimes hard, especially when it’s shit weather.”

Chaves was reluctant to take a bite of a lamington cake he was presented on the eve of the Tour Down Under, musing he had to watch his weight. Discipline, as he later mentions, is one of his key strengths.

It was reported last year that Chaves would likely lead Orica-Scott at the Tour de France this season. Reporters on Monday were not allowed to ask after his race programme, or which three-week spectacle he may target.

Savvy punters, however, may already be looking at his odds.

Tan Lines: Giro, Tour or Vuelta?
In what will indisputably be the most anticipated year for Orica-Scott to date, much talk is revolving around their three GC leaders and which Grand Tour they'll ride. They know where they're going - but for the time being, we'll need to keep guessing, writes Anthony Tan.