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Offseason Capsule: Orica GreenEdge, a Solid Start or Still Searching?

Road season is finally approaching again - much to the chagrin of us cross lovers - so we turn our focus towards the southern region of the globe. Riders flee winter for training camps in southern Spain and even, gasp!, to race. Last year's Tour Down Under gave the world its first real sight of the new GreenEdge team, Australia's first World Tour level team and the fulfillment of a generation of Australian riders' dreams. With the Tour Down Under starting again this Tuesday, it is only fitting to take a one year anniversary look at the boys from down under.

GreenEdge started off the season with a bang by winning the Santos Tour Down Under
GreenEdge started off the season with a bang by winning the Santos Tour Down Under
Morne de Klerk

The GreenEdge roster read like a who's who of Australian cycling, encompassing veterans like Stuart O'Grady, talents like Simon Gerrans and Matthew Goss in the prime years of their career, and almost all of the promising youngsters like Luke Durbridge, Cameron Meyer, Jack Bobridge... the list goes on and on. Though GreenEdge was created to give Australians a chance to ride for, develop through, and prosper in a team rooted in their home country, team management also looked to the northern hemisphere for promising riders who could prosper with a change of environment. Among others, the team brought classics promise Sebastian Langeveld in from the Rabobank fold, promising sprinters Jens Keukeleire and Aidis Kruopis, and Swiss stalwart Michael Albasni.

The team's fortunes wavered up and down throughout the year. A victory in their home tour gave the team the introduction to the world they were no doubt hoping for and Gerrans' win at Milan - San Remo was a career highlight. But afterwards, Langeveld was invisible in the early cobbled races before crashing out of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Simon Gerrans finished no better than 20th in the Ardennes. May brought good news with the announcement of a title sponsor - Orica - and Goss' win on Stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia but was followed by a disappointing Tour de France for the Tasmanian sprinter. Some expectations were met and others left dramatically wanting... was this a solid start for the team, or are they still searching for some magic?

What We Thought Coming In

I can only speak for myself, but when looking at GreenEdge's first year last January, I had far more questions than expectations. The roster was full of potential stars and the question was whether they would flourish in a new environment. Would Goss become a real challenger to Mark Cavendish now that they were on separate teams? Would Gerrans find and improve on his always promising form in the Ardennes classics? Would Sebastian Langeveld improve on his Omloomp Het Nieuwsblad win and 5th in Flanders from 2012 now that he was an undisputed team leader and free of the shackles of Rabobank's much parodied tactical blunders? And finally, how would all the young talents grouped together ride?

What We Got

New teams - especially those intended to focus on riders from a particular nation - often have a hard time living up to expectations. Sky's 2010 season was solid, but perhaps not what fans hoped for, particularly when British cornerstones like Bradley Wiggins were concerned. Though blips were still present, GreenEdge was fortunate to have a stronger introductory year. Among the team's stars, we saw flashes of the brilliance we expected. Gerrans had perhaps his best year as a professional despite sinking in the Ardennes, winning TDU, San Remo, and the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec. Goss took a quality stage win at the Giro but managed no other sprint wins all year. He was consistent, but mere podiums aren't enough to make a good season for a rider of his quality. And Langeveld? Most people's only recollection of him are sights of him being dropped in E3 Prijs and crashing in Flanders.

Below the surface, though, the squad managed to win consistently throughout the year. Albasini remained as strong, canny, and consistent as ever, taking two stage wins and the overall at a weather-shortened Vuelta a Catalunya and another stage in the Tour de Suisse. The real promise, though, was evident in the stellar seasons of younger development projects. Luke Durbridge burst onto the scene at the highest level of the sport with overall wins in two shorter stage races and a prologue victory in Paris-Nice. Aidis Kruopis won throughout the year and Simon Clark took a memorable mountaintop stage win at the Vuelta a España. Victories only tell half the story for developing riders, though, and Clark, Kruopis, Cameron Meyer, and Leigh Howard graced the podium on more than a few occasions over the entire season. Not bad for a bunch of relative kids.

Top 3 Highlights

  1. Simon Gerrans and Luke Durbridge dominate early season racing in Australia. Their wins in the Australian road race and time trial championships and then in the Tour Down Under confirmed the team's capability but also avoided major embarrassments if they had not won.

  2. Simon Gerrans outsmarts Fabian Cancellara and Vincenzo Nibali to win Milan - San Remo, reminding us that the strongest rider is not always the best bike racer.

  3. Goss wins a stage at the Giro d'Italia. The season may not have been stellar past then, but a grand tour sprint win is a grant tour sprint win.

Bottom 3 Lowlights

  1. Sebastian Langeveld crashes out of Flanders with 42km to go and breaks his collarbone. It was the culmination of a disappointing spring all round for the Dutch rider.

  2. Matt Goss's almost botched Tour de France points jersey bid. Stepping out of Mark Cavendish's shadow was never going to be easy, but with a dedicated leadout train and the ability to get over more hills than the Manxman, Goss had a legitimate shot at winning a stage and the green points jersey in the Tour de France. While he garnered six top-5 stage placings, he never mounted the top step of the podium and always seemed to lack a little something. The real low point, however, came on Stage 12 when Goss was docked 30 points in the points competition after he sprinted a bit too erratically in front of Peter Sagan as both riders tried to mop up points left behind behind the day's breakaway.

  3. Where did Gerrans disappear to between San Remo and September? A fine second place at San Sebastian in July was all we saw of him for months.

Where Now?

It is easy to chart out a path for Orica - GreenEdge for 2013. Give Goss the support he needs and let him continue to develop into the first tier sprinter he has the capability to be, allow Gerrans to do what he does best, using his wits and knack for being in the right place at the right time to get big results, let Langeveld get a shot at redemption (especially in lieu of any other serious cobbles threats), and support the younger riders. Natural development and the consistency of a few riders should carry Orica through another solid year alone. The more interesting question is where the team's identity stems from. Will they be remembered for their older stars at the end of the year or because of how their development projects have stepped up?