Last week I waxed lyrical about Caleb Ewan, but Ewan is just one of a handful of youngsters at Orica-GreenEDGE seemingly destined for big things. Only Sunday last, Jack Haig, a name many in Australia will be familiar with after his impressive string of performances in the national domestic series claimed a second consecutive runner-up finish for the AIS at the Tour de l’Avenir. The event, which can be summed up somewhere between a Tour de France for amateurs and espoirs, and a barometer for future success, attracts the hottest young talent in the world.
Haig, 21, showed his climbing chops with a series of world class performances in the high mountains. And finished only a minute behind a more mature foe in Spaniard Marc Soler, who’s spent the year riding in the pro ranks with Movistar. Haig follows Robert Power, who was narrowly beaten in the 2014 edition of the race, but was forced to sit out this year’s event with injury as the only Australians to podium the event - a feat even star AIS graduate Rohan Dennis never managed.
Both Power and Haig will ride with Orica-GreenEDGE in 2016 as first year professionals, joining a bumper roster of strong up and coming talent. Along with Ewan, the duo will be team-mates with, top future British stars Simon and Adam Yates, developing Colombian sensation Esteban Chaves, and of course, Michael Matthews.
For a team that’s middle tier in its overall budget, its ability to attract and recruit top-tier young talent speaks volumes of the nous of Matt White and Shayne Bannan. What they lack in financial reward, they more than make up for in opportunity. Simon Yates was given a Tour berth in his first season, while Chaves rode the Giro last season as a co-leader. This year he has impressed further at La Vuelta. Matthews meanwhile is already regularly the go-to man in the classics, and looks more than ready to fill the void that will be left by Simon Gerrans when the Australian eventually retires. Given enough time, who knows what we can expect of Power and Haig.
The big concern is how Orica-GreenEDGE can retain all this talent in the next few seasons, because of course, with results, and physical maturity comes a higher asking price. Chaves, who has a deal with the team until the end of 2016 will have seen a big jump in his expected contract value after his brace of Vuelta stage wins; and that could balloon further if he maintains his high GC position all the way to Madrid. And you can guarantee Team Sky to put considerable emphasis on signing the Yates’s when their contracts come up for negotiation next season.
Will that be a bridge too far for Orica; will the team’s role amount only to a foster home for its riders to build their resumes before setting out for higher profile gigs? Money speaks, and these guys are professional athletes, but I’d have to ask the question, if they did decide to move on for that reason alone, to where, and to what? The Yates’s aren’t going to be doing squat at a team like Sky or BMC while the likes of Chris Froome and Tejay van Garderen are around. Equally Chaves isn’t exactly the only top-tier Colombian rolling around these days, cough, Quintana, cough, Uran. Sure, they’ll be nicely financially compensated, but will they be valued like they will be at Orica? Will they get the same chances?
That’s the ace up Orica’s sleeve when all parties sit down to negotiate and it’s the big reason the team continues to attract big talent over bigger teams.