• The road to the Giro is long and winding for Esteban Chaves. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Signs that Esteban Chaves is back to his 2016 best are there but the road to the Giro is long and winding, writes Anthony Tan.
Cycling Central
6 Feb 2018 - 9:31 AM 

It's not difficult to be enamoured with that effervescent smile but let's swallow a chill pill or three and take a little time to digest what just happened, and what it actually means.

Crome claims final stage of Herald Sun Tour, Chaves the overall
Sam Crome (Bennelong SwissWellness) has won the final stage of the 2018 Jayco Herald Sun Tour in Kinglake with Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton Scott) claiming overall victory.

In a field of just 101 riders, this year's Herald Sun Tour had two WorldTour teams. Mitchelton-Scott sent an outfit not unlike BMC Racing to the Tour Down Under. Trek-Segafredo did not. For the former, as the home race, anything less than overall victory would have been deemed a failure.

As we saw with Daryl Impey at the Tour Down Under, Michelton-Scott is becoming adept in the business of blindsiding.

Given the race's headline sponsor is also the primary backer behind the team, it was unsurprising that organisers tailored a course that played to the strengths of Esteban Chaves. For a climbing natural who came two days short of winning the 2016 Giro d'Italia, sticking a 20 kilometre ascent at the end of the penultimate stage is about as close as it gets to saying, 'It's yours if you want it.'

On that stage to Lake Mountain, we saw the depth in NRS talent, with three such riders finishing in the top 10. But we also saw the depth of Mitchelton-Scott who finished with three in the top five; as expected, Chaves was in a class of his own.

Chaves lights up Lake Mountain to take Herald Sun Tour lead
Esteban Chaves does what he does best to win the Jayco Herald Sun Tour third stage and take the overall lead.

To get a better idea of just how well the 28-year-old Colombian is travelling en route to the Giro then the Vuelta a España, which is the plan for he and Simon Yates this season, the race could've used the HST champion of 2016, not to mention the champion of the past three Tours de France. In case you've been living under a rock since December 13 last year, which is when the UCI announced an 'adverse analytical finding' had befallen the most recent winner of the Vuelta, Chris Froome has some explaining to do concerning his excessive Salbutamol levels in that race. It's now a case of 'please explain' for the Kenyan-born Brit, for which we're yet to hear the details, and whether or not he'll be cleared for inadvertently tripping the doping wire, as he claims.

Officially, he's clear to race, which he'll do at the Ruta del Sol mid-month. Ethically, perhaps less so, as journalist Jeremy Whittle wrote in a piece on Cyclingnews this week.

Froome to make season debut at Ruta del Sol
Team Sky has brushed off controversy over the ongoing investigation into Chris Froome's adverse finding of excessive amounts of the asthma medication Salbutamol and named the team leader to its squad for the upcoming Ruta del Sol.

Still, you can only compete against who's there and as far as GC was concerned, Chaves and Mitchelton-Scott wiped the floor. So yes, he's on track for La Corsa Rosa but that's about as far as we can take it. It'll be a different kettle of fish come May 4 in Israel, with Froome (provided he's not suspended) down to race and defending champ Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) set to return. Fabio Aru (UAE-Team Emirates), Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) are a few other big names he'll need to overcome, if he's to go one better than his outing two years previous. Though Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), his bête noire that saw Chaves' Giro ambitions unhitched in 2016, won't be there, opting to take on the Tour-Vuelta instead.

There are a few areas still to work on, too, it seems.

In the HST prologue Chaves finished 82/101 starters, 14 seconds down on stage winner Edward Clancy (JLT Condor) over 1.6 kilometres. There are a combined 44.2km against the clock in this year's Giro. The opening road leg, across the wind-buffeted plains to Warrnambool, he finished in the second group and lost 23 seconds to team-mates Cameron Meyer and Damien Howson. In fact, before the stage to Lake Mountain, he declared his GC chances over: "This is (a) big (time) gap and I think the climb isn't hard enough," he said.

"If there is one chance and someone attacks, then I'll cover, which could be good for me. But the priority is Cameron and Damien. I'll support them 100 per cent."

Turns out he did the exact opposite, but as we saw with Daryl Impey at the Tour Down Under, Michelton-Scott is becoming adept in the business of blindsiding.

It's food for thought because on the second stage of the 2015 Tour de France to Neeltje Jans, another Colombian by the name of Nairo Quintana got caught out in the crosswinds and lost 1'28 to Froome; by Paris he would finish second, conceding 1'12.

The Herald Sun Tour was also Chaves' second-only GC win, along with the 2015 Abu Dhabi Tour. While the champagne and smiles may flow for now, there's much work to be done between Kinglake and Jerusalem.