• Michael Hepburn leads the chase for Orica-Scott in the first stage of the 2017 Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic (Kathryn Watt)
It's been this way the past five Australians summers but watching the world take on Orica-Scott is no less fun, writes Anthony Tan.
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Source:
Cycling Central
4 Jan 2017 - 9:14 AM  UPDATED 4 Jan 2017 - 10:28 AM

Since 2012, this time of year, it's always the same: the only Australian team in the WorldTour attempts to win everything across the Australian summer of cycling, and every other team either attempts to prevent them from doing so, or, conceding defeat (which, depending on who you ask, when you ask, and what rival team you're referring to, happens before, during or after the event), fights for the scraps.

At first glance it may be an unenviable position but the team now called Orica-Scott hasn't known any other way. They feel it is their responsibility to dominate, it seems, much the same way Team Sky go about that race around France each July. Above all else, anything other than a musette full of medals (gold, preferably) from the Nationals and overall victory at the Tour Down Under is an abject failure.

The irony, of course, is that within the Australian domestic scene, Orica-Scott boast the financial advantage Team Sky enjoy abroad.

Personally, I think it a little unhealthy to see such numbers at a race like the Nationals, because before a pedal has been turned it creates an uneven playing field; to see teams capped at around six or seven riders, as I've said before, would make a better, and fairer, race. This year may be a little different, however, since Orica-Scott, among its men's roster of 26 riders, has only 10 Australians on board - the lowest since their inception. Besides, Heinrich Haussler and the recently retired Jack Bobridge got the better of them in 2015 and 2016, respectively, as did women's victor Peta Mullens in 2015.

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In all other events - Bay Crits, Tour Down Under, Cadel's Race, Herald Sun Tour - team sizes are capped and for the most part, Orica-Scott has performed admirably. They deserve all the credit for their success, and equally, must look themselves in the mirror when things don't go to plan.

From an overall season perspective, success in these events doesn't bear too much influence on how they travel the rest of the year. In 2016 their men won the Bay Crits (with Caleb Ewan) and TDU (Simon Gerrans) but didn't see the podium in the road race at the Nationals or Cadel's Race, and only just made third on GC at the Sun Tour, with Damien Howson pipping Bobridge by three seconds, behind the Team Sky duo of Chris Froome and Peter Kennaugh.

Yet, by season's end, they amassed 17 WorldTour wins among 28 UCI victories, which included six Grand Tour stage victories, two Monuments, two overall Grand Tour podiums and the best young rider's jersey and fourth overall at the Tour de France. "We can absolutely claim this season as our best to date," Shayne Bannan, the team's general manager, said on October 24.

It would be presumptuous to say they will do it again, but with just two new signings (three if you count Carlos Verona, who joined midway last year) the template is there to repeat, if not better, a number of their performances from yesteryear. "The DNA and group is very similar to the roster that achieved so much in 2016," said head sports director Matt White.

"This is an exciting prospect but something we need to approach with caution to ensure that we don't let any complacency slip into our processes."

For the first time, White said, the team will approach all three Grand Tours harbouring general classification ambitions. With a budget reportedly one-third that of Team Sky (13 million vs 35M Euro, as reported by L'Equipe last July), that alone is an impressive, though given what they've achieved, not insurmountable, undertaking.

The irony, of course, is that within the Australian domestic scene, Orica-Scott boast the financial advantage Team Sky enjoy abroad. Yes, Aussies love an underdog but this team has developed an insatiable appetite (and formula, too, it seems) for success.

MARS Cycling Australia Road Nationals Championships - all three criterium races will be streamed live from 4.30pm AEDT today (4 January) on our Facebook page only.

On 8th January, in addition to TV, the elite men's and women's road races will be streamed live here on the Cycling Central website from 1pm and also available on mobile via the SBS OnDemand app and the new FreeviewFV app. Available for both iOS and Android.