• Esteban Chaves: Bird whisperer and Aussie in waiting (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
In Australian cycling’s post Cadel world, the sport needs an attractive crossover rider able to capture the public imagination.
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Source:
Cycling Central
14 Oct 2015 - 1:24 PM  UPDATED 14 Oct 2015 - 1:54 PM

Sure, Chaves is Colombian through and through, and I know Colombia is in South America, not South Australia, but maybe we need to claim the diminutive 25-year-old climber from Bogota as one our own, for the sake of Australian cycling’s immediate future.

Despite the dozens of high quality riders plying their trade worldwide, Australian cycling is in a bit of a post-Cadel Evans slump. The sport is not in the wider media limelight as it was during his tenure at the top.

With Tour de France and world championship victories in his back pocket, Evans is rightly the biggest cycling star this country has ever produced.

He did this largely on the strength of his riding ambition not personality. Workmanlike, quiet and introspective, he often looked uncomfortable in the media limelight required of a today’s mega sports stars.

You always sensed that it was his professional obligation that got him through the interviews and events and that he would much rather be out riding and preparing for his next race or season.

In fact Evans may be the last big-time Australian sporting professional allowed the luxury of being more of an athlete than a brand. But today, it’s not enough to have talent and be a good bloke - a high degree of marketability and personality is also needed.

So here we are with a number of big-time riders with stories to tell, Richie Porte, Simon Gerrans, Michael Matthews and Heinrich Haussler among them, and yet they are seldom seen leading the sport pages or even front pages.

In fact the biggest Australian cycling crossover moment this year was that infamous incident on Stage 10 of the Giro d’Italia when Richie Porte (Sky) was penalised two minutes for receiving assistance from Orica-GreenEDGE’s Simon Clarke.

Leadership in other arenas would also help in bringing the sport out of its silo and into the wider world. Australian riders never seem to be involved in or leading the cultural debates of the day like Australian of the Year and now retired AFL superstar Adam Goodes. 

Even a bit of infamy would work to splash our wares outside of specialist media. Like Nick Kirygios is to Tennis, maybe we need a trash talking, mohawk wearing multicultural bad-boy to stir things up.

Why couldn’t it have been Gerro who had hitched a ride on the Orica-GreenEDGE team car like Vincenzo Nibali did at the Vuelta a Espana; only to sulk about getting busted for weeks afterwards before winning in style at Lombardia?

Too many of our riders are anodyne in their approach to the sport. Talented? Yep. Professional and dedicated winners? Sure. Larger than life personalities? Nope. 

Tiding us over for the moment is a retired Robbie McEwen, who now brings his considerable personality to our TV screens. I even upgraded the High Def to a larger size just to fit him into my living room.

Some like Jack Haig, with his cheeky laconic Australian style, could fit the bill as he progresses through the professional ranks after his maiden season in 2016. The same for Caleb Ewan. But in their very early 20’s, both are careers and personalities still in the making.

Now we look instead to riders like Nibali, Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel, Fabio Aru and even Chris Froome, to inflame our passions and capture cycling attention for all the right and wrong reasons.

So if we already look overseas for a front page rider, why not Esteban Chaves? And riding for Orica-GreenEDGE already makes him half-Aussie (that’s how that works, right?).

With his sunny personality and high quality riding he could be Australian cycling’s next marquee.

Orica-GreenEDGE recently signed Chaves for three years, a long range vote of confidence seldom seen in the the high pressure world of cycling.

They need to bring him “home” as soon as possible to piggyback on the considerable interest and curiosity he’s generated through his riding and via Dan Jones’s excellent season long Backstage Pass.

Shop him to the mainstream press, generate magazine profiles and get him on breakfast television. Mel and Kochie would find him irresistible, huggable and kissable. Gerard Whateley would be singing his praises in a way reserved only for elite horseflesh.

Chaves has a personality that would melt the hardest of hearts. Even shock-jock Ray Hadley might be persuaded that not all foreigners are dole bludging Jihadists here to steal our jobs.

Esteban Chaves, the face of Aussie cycling. You know it’s right. Oi! Oi! Oi!