With a limited budget and diverging goals, it is little wonder Orica-BikeExchange (OBE) has made some sacrifice with the announcement of early transfers for 2017. But would you prefer to see the team parochially support Aussie riders, or a more cosmopolitan team attempt to go for the top step at a Grand Tour?
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

5 Aug 2016 - 2:33 PM  UPDATED 5 Aug 2016 - 3:52 PM

Over the last few seasons, the OBE setup has steadily progressed from targeting the classics and stage wins to contending for the overall victory in the biggest races while maintaining a sprint presence.

The latest step in that progression sees superstar Michael Matthews leave for Sunweb-Giant (Giant-Alpecin) in 2017 as Czech national champion Roman Kreuziger, Carlos Verona and Roger Kluge come into the squad.

Let’s take a quick look at the biggest results OBE has managed this season, along with the ages of the riders:

  • Tour Down Under: 2 stage wins plus Classic for Caleb Ewan (22) and 2 stage wins plus overall for Simon Gerrans (36)
  • 4th Overall Tour de France for Adam Yates (23)
  • 2nd Overall plus stage win Giro d'Italia for Esteban Chaves (26)
  • 2 Paris-Nice stage wins for Michael Matthews (25)
  • Paris-Roubaix win for Mat Hayman (38)
  • 2nd Liege-Bastogne-Liege with Michael Albasini (35)
  • 5th Amstel Gold with Michael Matthews

Note the age and you will recognise a clear split. There's the old guard with responsibility for taking the big wins for a number of seasons now. Then there are the new guys who OBE hopes will take over that mantle into the future.

So it is natural to say, yes, signing riders for the future should revolve around supporting those youngsters who've demonstrated they can step up and be team leaders.

The one sticking point is Michael Matthews. Still young, he was always going to be one of the most expensive free agents this transfer season, even alongside the likes of Alberto Contador, Peter Sagan and Phillipe Gilbert.

For a team with a limited budget, you can’t afford every rider you would like to keep and it appears that a decision was made at some point on going down the general classification route. But will that decision come back to bite them?

Matthews is a superb rider already and only likely to get better from here.

So who is OBE getting in his stead? 

Roman Kreuziger 

 

Kreuziger has contended for Grand Tour wins in his own right (four top ten finishes in Grand Tours) and supported both Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador to Grand Tour wins. He will be present right up to the final push for the finish in most races and is one of the most reliable climbers in the peloton.

The addition of Kreuziger was described as a ‘game-changer’ by Matt White in the announcement and it is hard to disagree. His presence opens up a whole new set of tactical options for the team when the biggest races reach the high mountains.

We have seen Chaves and the Yates brothers isolated over multiple peaks in the toughest stages. This wasn’t a huge problem in the Tour de France, where Adam Yates simply followed the Team Sky train like everyone else. But it was for Chaves at this year's Giro d’Italia.

OBE's leader found himself shutting down a number of moves in the final week and though he did a commendable job, the Colombian ran out of steam in the final stages. Visibly weakened he ceded the maglia rosa to Vincenzo Nibali. 

With Kreuziger at his side, he will now have that slight physical advantage and mental help in going about his task that may have made all the difference in 2016. 

It is worth noting Kreuziger can win races and take good results in his own right. He has won Amstel Gold, Clasica San Sebastian, finished fifth overall at the Tour de France and looked likely at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in recent years. The Czech champion is a solid addition to the squad.

Orica-BikeExchange signs Roman Kreuziger
Australia's WorldTour cycling team Orica-BikeExchange have further strengthened their general classification arsenal, signing Czech rider Roman Kreuziger.

Carlos Verona

Carlos Verona’s mid-season transfer from Etixx-QuickStep is the other climbing domestique announcement so far this transfer period. The 23-year-old Spanish climbing prospect appears to be an absolute steal. He is a superb talent who has drawn attention from many quarters even in this early stage of his career.

The mid-season move is a surprise, probably reflective that he wasn’t too happy at his former team. It’s hard to guess at his potential yet, but he’ll have some time to develop and show what he’s got alongside the other young climbers at OBE.

Orica-BikeExchange bulks up skinny climber talent with new signing, Verona
Orica-BikeExchange have signed young Spanish climber Carlos Verona for the rest of the year until the end of the 2018 season.

Roger Kluge

Roger Kluge, switching from IAM, will slot straight into Caleb Ewan’s sprint train. Time will tell on his exact position but it’s unlikely to be the final spot in front of Ewan as Luka Mezgec has done a good job so far steering the young sprint star. 

Ewan has signalled his commitment to the team by extending his contract to the end of 2018. Up until now, their Grand Tour teams were light on climbing support, throwing their numbers behind sprint victories. How OBE continues to balance the goals of targeting stage wins for him with the general classification for their climbers is anyone's guess. 

Caleb Ewan extends with Orica-BikeExchange as team enlists more sprint help
Caleb Ewan will sprint again for the Australian WorldTour team in 2017 and 2018. Orica-BikeExchange has also announced its signing of German sprinter Roger Kluge to assist in the sprints despite a new focus on grand tour general classification.

The elephant in the room

Obviously the elephant in the room remains: will all OBE has done to bolster its climbing stocks convince one or both of the Yates brothers to stick around?

Speculation is rife the pair is in Sky's sights as the next generation of British cycling stars. If they open their chequebook, OBE can’t compete. Maybe OBE can convince them to stay the course given their success so far and with the promise of even better support. But it is a difficult argument to make in the face of Team Sky's imposing financial and competitive shadow over the sport.

 

So will it all be a waste of time, money and Michael Matthews if the Yates brothers both end up elsewhere?

Not quite. Obviously, Chaves is a contender for Grand Tours and Kreuziger himself is a viable leader in his own right, if not really considered one of the top candidates for a Grand Tour win these days.

There are other potential recruits off contract this season that could fill a Yates-sized void. Rafal Majka has the climbing ability to nab a Grand Tour podium place and hasn’t signed yet with another team.

While OBE can't compete with Sky on money it can offer more leadership roles and Wout Poels might be on their radar. The Dutchman is one of the hottest properties on the transfer market after a stellar performance at the Tour de France. He was the standout Team Sky domestique in a star-studded squad. Poels also won that little old race in April called Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Far from an easy acquisition.

It's certainly interesting times at OBE at the moment. There's a decidedly more international feel to the squad than when it started with 18 Australian riders on the team in 2012.

History will have the final say on the success of these moves in personnel. But do you think it is the right call to change up the focus of the squad?