• Team BikeExchange men's and women's teams at the training camp in Valencia (Team BikeExchange)Source: Team BikeExchange
Losing Adam Yates, Daryl Impey and Jack Haig in the off-season for Team BikeExchange was far from ideal, but head sports director Matt White was positive ahead of the 2021 WorldTour season start.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

27 Jan 2021 - 1:29 PM  UPDATED 27 Jan 2021 - 1:54 PM

Speaking from Team BikeExchange's training camp, combining the men's and women's teams in Valencia, Matt White spoke to SBS Cycling Central about planning for the 2021 season without Yates and Haig as leaders for the men's team.

“It effects us a little bit, obviously we’re down two world-class climbers," said White. "But, it gives a guy like Lucas Hamilton a chance to step up and lead the team, a chance he may not have had if they’d stuck around.

"We’re very confident Lucas will step up. With Michael Matthews, that gives us a whole gamut of races that we can go and target. We didn’t have someone who could win those races in the last couple of years."

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Hamilton has long had pundits impressed with his potential, and the 24-year-old broke through for his first WorldTour win last season, taking out Stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico before looking very strong at the Giro d'Italia ahead of being withdrawn from the race.

"He came into the Giro as being that crucial support for Simon (Yates)," said White. "Unfortunately, in that first week, Simon contracted coronavirus somewhere so we reset and put our focus into Lucas. He was in a great place and only getting better in that Giro.

"He’s a rider who probably sees himself as having similar talents to Jai (Hindley) and Tao (Geoghegan Hart), and they went on to finish first and second in the race. It’s a good burning desire for him, he knows what he’s capable of and I’m sure you’re going to see some special things from Lucas this year.”

The highlights were spread a bit more thin than normal in 2020 for a WorldTour team accustomed to success, with Meyer and Durbridge's wins at nationals, Adam Yates and the UAE Tour, Simon Yates at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Czech Tour with Damien Howson the main victories for the season.

"As far as wins, as a team we’ve averaged 30 wins a year for the last nine years," said White. "Last year we had 16, but we also raced about half the race days as normal. We’ve always been a successful team that’s won from January right through to October and that doesn’t change."

Part of the downturn was due to the Giro d'Italia, a big target for the squad with Simon Yates, turned into a minor disaster, with the team ejected from the race after the first rest day with too many coronavirus cases. With Daryl Impey departing as well as the top top climbers, there's plenty of room for new winners to step up and take their place, with White nominating 22-year-old Queenslander Kaden Groves as a likely rider.

"Kaden Groves this year, I’m sure he’ll win us some races this year," said White. "He, as a neo-pro, had a very restricted season, he did win two races at the start of the year, four months off then came back.

"He didn’t win a race, but had three or four podium places and he’ll be ready to take a step up this year."

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Groves will have to share sprinting duties with the likes of Matthews and Luka Mezgec, with the Slovenian agonisingly close in the Tour de France last season with two second-place finishes. However, Mezgec will also turn provider at times, though White also highlighted Groves' ability to surf other sprint trains in the final kilometres of a race.

“He’s pretty flexible," said White of Groves. "We have guys that can help him, Luka Mezgec and Alex Edmondson, then some big guys like Jack Bauer, Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn that can prepare the sprint.

"I have seen that he can also fly solo very effectively as well. It’s a good talent to have. He’ll get mixed in our WorldTour races, sometimes with help and sometimes with minimal help in the last kilometre or two."

White was very positive about the chances of Stannard in 2021, tipping the young Aussie for a big improvement in early 2021.

"We’ve really looked after him the first few years, not pushing him too much," said White. "Last year he did his first Tour of Spain and he did a great job, handled the load and racing very well.

"I think in the spring this year you’re going to see a much-improved Rob Stannard. It happens with age and some guys develop faster than others but I think that big load that he had in the tail-end of 2020 is going to set him up well for the spring of 2021.

"Rob’s going to get some big opportunities in the classics and some of these spring races. We’ll see what Grand Tour he does, but we’re looking for big things from Rob."

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White was speaking from the Team BikeExchange training camp in what remains a disrupted atmosphere due to COVID restrictions, not going to Australian races as would be the norm for the Australian team director.

“I’ve been in Europe since 1992 and it’s the first time I haven’t been back to Australia for Christmas and New Year," said White. "I’ve spent enough time in lockdown this year to not volunteer to do two weeks in quarantine for one race. Matt Wilson’s in charge and we’re in good hands."

“We normally start first week of January, this year it’s the first week of February. It’s busy here, everyone who’s not in Australia is at this camp, both men and women, and things are going well.”

Team BikeExchange will be hoping to bring that momentum and positivity into the start of the WorldTour season, a bounceback year with some new faces leading the way.