• The face of Australia's World Tour squad has become more cosmopolitan. (L-R) Adam Yates, Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates. (Getty)Source: Getty
Orica-Scott’s performance at the recently finished Tour of Guangxi was much like its season as a whole: solid but unspectacular. In his first column for Cycling Central, Kieran Pender assesses the Australian team’s 2017 campaign and considers the future of Orica-Scott.
Kieran Pender

27 Oct 2017 - 10:23 AM  UPDATED 27 Oct 2017 - 10:26 AM

The mood at Orica-Scott’s 2017 Tour de France afterparty was buoyant. The Australian-registered team arrived in Düsseldorf at the beginning of July with one goal – the prestigious white young rider’s jersey – and Simon Yates had held the maillot blanc from stage five until Paris. At a swanky hotel in the French capital, champagne was poured, glasses chinked and team owner Gerry Ryan expressed his gratitude.

On the other side of the world, the assessment of Orica-Scott’s Tour de France performance was more measured. The team had failed to secure a stage win and was far less active during the race – representation in breakaways or jostling for points were rarities. While Yates comfortably secured the white jersey, he rarely challenged compatriot Chris Froome for its yellow equivalent.

Many Australian fans no doubt appreciated the significance of his young rider classification success, replicating brother Adam Yates’s achievement of 2016. But, particularly for more casual cycling watchers, Orica-Scott had not matched their efforts of prior campaigns.

The same might be said about this year’s other season-defining races. Orica-Scott managed just one Grand Tour stage win, Caleb Ewan taking a sprint at the Giro d’Italia, and a collection victories in second-tier one-day races. Compared to 2016, where Colombian Esteban Chaves placed second in the general classification standings at the Italian race, third at the Vuelta a España and won a Monument – not to mention Mathew Hayman’s Paris-Roubaix triumph – this season has lacked lustre.

A transitional campaign following last year’s success was not entirely unexpected – cycling is a sport of fine margins and luck is an elusive bedfellow. But a middling 2017 for Orica-Scott prompts questions about the team’s identity and future.

From its inception in 2012 as GreenEDGE Cycling, Orica-Scott was an Australian cycling team. In its debut season, more than half of the outfit’s roster hailed from Australia. Orica-Scott’s debut race was that quintessentially Australian event – the Bay Cycling Classic – and the team’s first big statement win, the 2012 Milan San-Remo, was secured by Australian Simon Gerrans. When Orica-Scott broke the Tour de France team time trial record in 2013, catapulting Gerrans into the yellow jersey, six of the nine riders were Australian.

But as Orica-Scott developed, the team has steadily become more multicultural. It was never an Australian-only affair – the backroom staff have always been a veritable United Nations of nationalities – but this global flavour became steadily more apparent on the road. In 2017, only 10 of its 26-strong squad wear the green and gold when on national duty. “We have Australian DNA, but we are a global team,” general manager Shayne Bannan told Inside Sport earlier this year.

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Orica-Scott’s ranks are still filled with young, talented Australian cyclists – Jack Haig had a very promising year and Caleb Ewan is the nation’s best pure sprinter at just 23. But in the medium term, Bannan has placed his faith in two Brits and a Colombian. With three general classification contenders on the roster, the focus has switched from stage wins and one-day races to illustrious Grand Tours. The necessary corollary is fewer opportunities in the truly elite races for Australian riders, and more time spent protecting seconds.

Orica-Scott’s chosen path is certainly not worthy of disparagement. The team has no obligation to preference Australian riders, and the recent establishment of a development team demonstrates Ryan’s steadfast commitment to the future of Australian cycling. With Cycling Australia withdrawing road funding to focus on track glory, the importance of Ryan and Orica-Scott to the sport’s success in this country will only increase. And, if Chaves, Yates or Yates win a Grand Tour in the coming years, no-one will be bemoaning the team’s decision to diversify.

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But in the battle for the hearts and minds of Australian cycling fans, Orica-Scott can no longer claim automatic superiority. The casual cycling observer here may applaud the first Australian team to win a Grand Tour, but they won’t necessarily be on the edge of their seat watching a Brit finish safely in the bunch on a mundane stage. Particularly with BMC Racing Team now boasting Gerrans, Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis and reigning national champion Miles Scotson, the race to be Australia’s favourite cycling team has opened up. The implications for Orica-Scott’s identity – and even commercial prospects – could be significant.

2018 is therefore a pivotal year for the GreenEDGE project, on and off the road. Owner Ryan says Orica-Scott will enter their seventh campaign targeting the Classics and podiums at the Giro and Vuelta. If the team win Australia’s first ever pink or red jersey, lingering concerns about the Orica-Scott’s future will quickly disappear.

Kieran Pender is an Australian-based writer, contributing to publications including The Guardian, Al Jazeera and Inside Sport. He has reported from four continents, and covered sporting events including the Tour de France and FIFA Confederations Cup.