• Rigoberto Uran has an Australian connection in Simon Clarke, his road captain at this year's Giro d'Italia.
We all know the Aussie-Colombian connection at Orica-GreenEDGE. However there's a similar partnership in another team, writes Anthony Tan, which will become increasingly important as this year's Giro winds its way to Turin.
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Cycling Central
10 May 2016 - 7:32 PM  UPDATED 10 May 2016 - 7:40 PM

For the parochial Australian cycling fan, there's been so much focus on Caleb Ewan and our 'adopted' Aussie, Esteban Chaves, at this year's Giro d'Italia, as well as the team they ride for, one could easily forget there are seven other Australians competing in the year's first Grand Tour.

Aussie Aussie Aussie, OGE OGE OGE! Or something like that.

"He may lack the raw horsepower of Nibali, but he's a deeply intelligent rider."

During these opening stages in Holland, it has become evident there is another Aussie-Colombian bond of equal importance, if not strength: that between Simon Clarke and Rigoberto Uran at the Cannondale Pro Cycling team.

For much of the two road stages, Clarke, as road captain, has been shepherding Uran, the team leader, either riding in front or behind him, as well as marshalling the seven other riders on the US-based squad. "He's our road captain because of his leadership and intelligence. He's the best out there. And, unlike many of the other road captains, he's never dropped early in the hills. He's there to lead until the bitter end," Jonathan Vaughters, Cannondale Pro Cycling general manager, effusively said of Clarke.

Much has been made of Uran's laidback nature and aversion to a highly structured environment, which, according to team-mate Joe Dombrowski, made him somewhat of a misfit at Team Sky, where they were team-mates in 2013. "I ran into Rigo on several occasions that first year at races and camps. We were both part of the machine that is Sky, but Rigo never really seemed to fit the mould. In a team that obsessed over data and employed somewhat scripted racing tactics, Rigo seemed the antithesis. He was more about attacking on a whim than gauged efforts, and his charismatic persona could override any furrowed brows over antics that might have been perceived as, well, disruptive," he said.

"Rigo is easy going and fun, yet the actions that shape his persona make him a natural leader, a guy you want to ride for without need for a big speech at the front of the team bus."

Preview: Giro d'Italia Stage 4
With three stages in the Netherlands tucked into the peloton's bibshorts, and a rest day to travel to Italy, Stage 4 marks the beginning of the second phase of the Giro d'Italia.

The description of Uran as described by Dombrowski is not unlike Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, who spent nine years straight on Vaughters' team and won the Giro in 2012, also finishing fifth last year. So, while it might seem like an odd match on face value, Uran, still only 29 years old, may have found the ideal place after three years at Team Sky, followed by a further two at Quick Step.

Twice runner-up, it's logical to think he has a chance to win. "We've made no bones about the Giro being our target for the season. It's a major objective for us, and the guys have trained accordingly," Vaughters said on the eve of the race. That said, the winning margins in those years were unequivocal: in 2013 Uran conceded 4'43 to a rampant Vincenzo Nibali; a year later, he found himself up against countryman Nairo Quintana, losing 2'58 to the prodigious climber by the finish in Trieste.

Still, had it not been for the infamous 'Stelvio-gate' incident on Stage 16 of the 2014 edition, where, in blizzard-like conditions, half the peloton weren't sure if the part of race was neutralised or not (some still don't know!), and which led to Quintana, Hesjedal and Pierre Rolland 'escaping' on the descent of the Passo dello Stelvio, that margin between he and Quintana would have been much closer. In fact, according to my calculations, if the stage was cancelled altogether and all other things being equal, Uran would've won overall. (Read: Under Different Circumstances.)

Like Alberto Contador, the Colombian, whose father was assassinated by one of the country's paramilitary terrorist groups when Uran was 14, rode the Giro-Tour double last year and didn't do so well - 14th at the Giro, and 42nd at the Tour. This year he's gone back to basics with a full tilt at La Corsa Rosa: "The whole team is totally focused and ready for work. This season, I have worked more in Europe and have made several highly focused efforts to prepare (for the Giro)," Uran, in a team release issued two days before the race start, said.

"Rigo's our leader going into the Giro because we like his toughness over three weeks. He's a resilient, smart racer. Consistency is key to winning a grand tour, and that's what I see in Rigo right now," said Vaughters. "He's finished second on GC twice at the Giro, and has two stage wins. He may lack the raw horsepower of Nibali, but he's a deeply intelligent rider. And as a person, he's the guy the rest of the team wants to support. They love the guy."

A deeply intelligent leader paired with a deeply intelligent captain in Clarke. And based on the few stages we've seen so far, a man they're prepared to back, and quite likely bleed, for.

Against Nibali, Valverde, Landa et al., can he win?

Said Uran: "We are going to try and confirm that in 21 days."

It's now 19 days and counting.

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