• Esteban Chaves at the Team BikeExchange training camp (Team BikeExchange)Source: Team BikeExchange
Colombian Esteban Chaves is putting his injury and illness woes behind him as he sets out to return to peak form with Team BikeExchange in 2021.
SBS Cycling Central
21 Jan 2021 - 5:33 PM  UPDATED 21 Jan 2021 - 5:34 PM

Forced to sit out most of the 2018 season to recover from the Epstein Barr virus, Chaves has since only shown flashes of the form which helped him to podium finishes at the Vuelta Espana and Giro D’Italia in 2016.

The global coronavirus pandemic proved to be another major hurdle for ‘El Chavito’, as he missed numerous European races last year and was unable to link-up with his teammates due to border restrictions which prevented him from leaving his native Colombia.

After receiving more than his fair share of bad luck, Chaves is confident his fortunes could be set to turn and he will be able to deliver on his incredible potential this season.

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“I’ve put the last season behind me. I’ve shown I can still climb with the best riders in the world,” Chaves said.

“I just need to figure out the last pieces of the puzzle to get me back to my best like in the 2015 or 2016 seasons.

“I’ve had a really tough time the last few years but luckily I have had this team who support me like family.”

The Colombian admitted his struggles have given him a chance to learn and develop both as a person and as an athlete.

His period off the bike has made the 30-year-old climber determined to make up for lost time now that he is returning to full health.

“When you have difficult times you do your best to learn from them and I think it has helped me become more mature.

"I’m still enjoying riding and racing. I feel young even though I’m now one of the older members of the team.

“I can see myself climbing with the best as I did in the first week in France with the other South Americans and Italian riders.

"For a while, I didn’t think I could do that but I have regained my confidence and I know now I have the talent to win.”

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Chaves will be an important rider for a new look Team BikeExchange this season but he says there is still some uncertainty around his exact role will be with the Australian outfit and what events he will contest.

“For the moment it is hard to single out a goal after what happened last year.

“I think it is best if we just take this season step by step and see what I can achieve.

“We will see in terms of big tours but my mind is also on the Olympics so that needs to be considered also.”

That uncertainty and inconsistency has seen Chaves' previous status as a protected Grand Tour rider downgraded from his top-tier billing. BikeExchange team director Matt White was blunt when asked whether Chaves would be a GC leader in 2021. 

"Probably not this year," said White. "Yes, he’s shown some flashes of brilliance there but we need to go back to basics. When he’s in super shape he is a very competitive world-class climber. But, it’s been four years since he’s ridden a competitive Grand Tour,  the last time was the Vuelta in 2016.

"Let’s get back to what we know he’s capable of, winning at WorldTour level, if his form allows for some big results or bigger leadership roles in the summer then we’re certainly open to that."