• That smile... Esteban Chaves enters this year's Giro d'Italia with high hopes.
It's taken the team four years to reach this point but in Esteban Chaves and the Giro d'Italia, Orica-GreenEDGE has a contender and a race to win, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
4 May 2016 - 4:00 PM  UPDATED 4 May 2016 - 9:51 PM

Prior to their inception, at their inception, and following their inception, team general manager Shayne Bannan repeatedly said the objective of targeting the overall classification in a Grand Tour would not happen till at least 2015.

"This is new territory for us. We have enjoyed success at the Giro d'Italia in recent years with stage results and consecutive days in the leader's jersey in 2014 and 2015 but we have never realistically gone into the race looking to challenge for the overall," Matt White, Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director, said in a team press release on the eve of the 99th edition of La Corsa Rosa, which begins this Friday in the Dutch city of Apeldoorn.

"The stock price of the boy from Bogotá has gone a bit like Blackmores on the ASX."

That OGE is targeting GC with a non-Australian does not really matter. Unlike Team Sky, they never once claimed they wanted to win a Grand Tour with a certain rider within a certain timeframe. It's not to say they didn't try hard to recruit one - Cadel Evans was first courted, then Richie Porte - both politely declined - and in Jack Haig and the injury-sidelined Robert Power, they do have potential contenders-in-the-making, albeit five-to-seven years away. Sponsors simply can't wait that long for 'ifs' and 'maybes'.

The recruitment of Esteban Chaves for the 2014-15 seasons was a Moneyball acquisition by Bannan. Wikipedia lists the injuries sustained from a terrible crash at the Trofeo Laigueglia in February 2013 - enough for an entire team: "The team doctor revealed that he had a compound fracture to his right collarbone, fractures in his left petrous bone, right cheekbone, maxillary sinuses and sphenoid bone, and also received pulmonary compressions, abrasions and suspected rib fractures." His overall victory at the 2011 Tour de l'Avenir, dubbed the 'Race of the Future' for its uncanny ability to unearth future GC talents, was enough to convince the bigwigs at OGE the Colombian was worth a punt.

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In the intervening period between then and now, the stock price of the boy from Bogotá has gone a bit like Blackmores on the ASX, which has skyrocketed from around $21 in January 2014 to a high of $218 in December last year. After his breakthrough performance at the 2015 Vuelta a España where he led the race for six days, eventually finishing fifth behind Fabio Aru of Italy, Chaves was worth much more, which saw other teams come-a-knocking. Quite clearly, though, he was more than happy in his Anglophone surrounds, signing a three-year extension till 2018 on the second rest day of the Spanish Grand Tour. (If you want to see rabid fans, check out their 'Backstage Pass' for some clips of him coming out of the team bus during the Vuelta; the last time I saw such adoration was with a guy called Lance.)

"Supporting him (Chaves) will be our big focus for the race" said White but OGE will also be there for Caleb Ewan, that guy who sprints so low he could lick his stem at 70km/h. Against Marcel Kittel, André Greipel and Arnaud Démare, three of the biggest hitters in the sprint stakes, Ewan's got his work cut out for him in what will be his biggest test yet.

But it is the GC battle that truly tantalises. Nibali, Valverde, Majka, Uran and Pozzovivo have all made the Giro, not the Tour, their primary focus, with all bar the latter stating their intention is to not just reach the Turin podium come May 29, but win. Only Valverde has shown his true colours so far this season; the rest, including Chaves, have laid low (Nibali's Tour of Oman victory aside), preparing themselves for what will be a three-and-a-half week, 3,383km dogfight. "We are here to wage battle every day," Valverde said this week.

At 26 years young and five seasons into the WorldTour, Chaves is perhaps two to three years off his best. It'll be intriguing to see how he fares against the hands of Nibali, Valverde, Uran and Pozzovivo, who will surely employ old dogs' tricks in attempt to restrain the pup-like Chaves, the new kid on the block. Said Nibali, "The experience I have accumulated in the Grand Tours that I rode and won could play out as a big advantage for me."

With a smile like his and charisma to match, one can only wish him well.

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