• The performance of Esteban Chaves at the Vuelta bides well for Orica-BikeExchange's future ambitions. (AAP)Source: AAP
Winners were grinners at the close of the Vuelta a España and none bigger than Orica-BikeExchange who delivered a podium placing, four stage wins and two overall top-tens over three weeks of racing.
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12 Sep 2016 - 11:50 AM  UPDATED 12 Sep 2016 - 12:12 PM

The Australian squad has added some more international colour over the past two seasons as it builds a Grand Tour winning capable roster and at the Vuelta it appears they are well on track to deliver on that ambition.

The four Vuelta Stage victories were well spaced. Simon Yates on Stage 6, Jens Keukeleire on Stage 12, and Magnus Cort on Stages 18 and 21.

In between Esteban Chaves covered all the moves with big assists at key moments from Yates and workhorse Damien Howson when it really counted. 

One could argue that it was their best ever and most complete performance in a Grand Tour. An amazing pivot for a team which was once focussed on stage hunting and the classics and excelled at it.

The turnaround is now complete and all that remains is for the team to place a rider on the top step a Grand Tour podium.

“Two riders in the top ten, a rider on the podium, four stage wins, all on varying terrain and with young riders. It just shows the promise and belief we have in this team,” Vuelta sports director Neil Stephens said.

“There were obviously the race winners in Movistar but we were one of the major players and we did a fantastic job.

“We took four stages but there were an additional two or three stages that we really animated the race and put everything on the line. These were critical days for the GC and the team executed every piece of the plan to perfection on these days."

Stage 20 was the moment when everything crystallised for the team, after it stage managed a brilliant set piece of racing to put Chaves back into the podium position he had lost to Tinkoff's Alberto Contador two days earlier in the time trial.

three-time Vuelta winner Contador has had a difficult season but he's a hard nut to crack when it matters. Orica's execution in the latter kilometres of Stage 20 did just that to turn a 1min 11sec deficit into an eight-second advantage and podium in Madrid.

It was perhaps the best single day of racing in 2016 - this in a season of incredible moments.

The team did not leave its roots completely during 2016. In fact, it stuck closely to the earlier script, winning Paris-Roubaix with veteran Mat Hayman and stages elsewhere with Michael Matthews, Michael Albasini, Simon Gerrans and Caleb Ewan.

Orica-BikeExchange is now one of the most well-rounded teams in professional cycling, a threat all over the road and I hope it does not abandon that approach in a singular pursuit to win a Grand Tour. 

I'll leave the final word to the team's brightest star, Chaves, who came of age during 2016 and now ranks as a rider capable of taking the next Grand Tour step.

"All is possible,” he said. “Things arrive when it’s time. This year it’s not my time, maybe next year, maybe in two years or maybe in three, you never know.”

“The most important thing is that you keep trying, you keep believing and continue to work and it will happen.”