National projects have been all the rage for a few years and Orica are perhaps the clearest case we have of it, they're as Australian as Fosters beer. It's a tricky concept because not only do you need to be successful, which most teams find hard enough, but you also need the right riders to be successful for your fanbase to really appreciate it. In Orica's case they hired a few high profile aussies who they were counting on to carry the team. Matt Goss and Simon Gerrans were supposed to be the big stars as a batch of younger guys, Durbridge, Meyer, Hepburn and a few more matured into the stars their talent suggested they might become.
Year three of the project turned into perhaps the most anonymous in the team's history and it was a year that highlighted much of what has gone right and what has gone wrong for the aussies.
What We Thought Coming In
We didn't get around to capsuling Orica last year, possibly because well.... there was that thing and then we ehh... and it was raining and...the dog ate my first draft. Also they are sort of...... unremarkable. The only real identity they have built, besides being a bunch of good blokes, is that of being truly excellent at team timetrials and lets face it, TTTs aren't what thrill fans most in the big scheme of things. So what did we think before the season? I think many people had three expectations: Matt Goss would reawaken in his contract year and be a factor in races again. Gerrans and Matthews would keep winning big races and the Yates brothers would make Sky regret missing out on some great British talent-gems.
What We Got Instead
Gerrans confirmed that he is a big-race winner taking another monument at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and continuing to impress while all Goss confirmed was that he was permanently lost at Orica. I'm assuming we will learn what the hell happened to him as a rider these years because as disappearance acts go, his was a doozy and probably not a cheap mis-investment by Orica. All the things that Michael Matthews have been starting to do is what we were expecting from Goss. Luckily Bling became the teams big GT saviour by pulling off high profile wins in both Giro and Vuelta and had it not been for an ill timed crash he probably would have made an impact at the Tour as well.
As for the Yateses they lived up to most every expectation. Simon got injured early and then Adam presented himself. In the second half of the season Simon impressed at the national championships, got a surprise early Tour-debut
and then almost went toe to toe with Valverde all the way to the San Seb finale. A+ grade for both of them. (No he didn't, that was Adam too apparently. Stupid twins.)
Among the lesser known guys the token Colmbian signing, Esteban Chaves, turned out to be a golden pick-up. He came with a lot of buzz, even by 2014 Colombia standards and he really shone. Two big mountain stage wins and a string of impressive showings proved that he wil be gold for the aussies if he sticks around. Darryl Impey came back cleared from doping suspicions and won races in Alberta. Michael Albasini took his traditional swiss wins and Peter Weening took a Giro stage that was really overshadowed by the massive impact he had on the team as a loyal de luxe helper of the highest caliber.
Top Three Highlights
Well not just only Gerrans' monument win but his season long consistency really. Clearly the Ardenne rider of the year after smart win in Liege and dominance in Canada. He doesn't set the world alight with inspiring rides but he is perhaps the most clever and resourceful rider in peloton today and Orica are getting full mileage out of him.
- Early Giro-days
Two stage wins and six days in the Maglia Rosa for Matthews was a pretty brilliant haul in Orica's best GT of the year.
- The "wrong" Yates brother wins Tour of Turkey
Everyone was pretty adamant that Simon would be the one with the immediate WT success but while he was nursing a broken collarbone brother Adam stepped up and turned his climbing prowess into a win in Turkey. Suddenly we're all confused who the most talented is. To be determined.
Bottom Three Lowlights
- Goss the Loss
Thinking back on all the hoopla concerning Goss' signing is almost comical when considering how little he has done on the Aussie team. He's MTB-Qubeka's
- Anonymous TdF
With Matthews crashing out days before the start and Gerrans getting steamrolled by Cav before the race had begun for real the aussies gave their most disappointing summer performance to date.
- Gerrans Worlds
Technically not a team day but this was Australia's best shot at a World title and it would have made Gerrans the man of the season. Instead he just missed it. When fortunes favor the brave, Gerrans isn't going to come out on top.
Who's coming and going?
In: Magnus Cort, Adam Blythe, Jack Haig , (Caleb Ewan)
Out: Matt Goss, Aidis Kruopis
What Happens Next?
I have to say I've seldom been very excited by Orica (their men's team anyway, their women's team kicks ass).Maybe I'm not aussie enough? Maybe I just haven't been paying enough attention? But all that might be about to change. The team still has the same core of riders but the big story in 2015 and years to come will be the development of some of the most exciting talent around. We've already seen that the Yates-brothers are no joke. Adam is a worldclass climber and Simon is going to be a big factor in Ardennes type races, this is more or less established fact even if they might struggle in the difficult second pro-season. Chaves is already a climbing superstar when he is performing at the level he is since he's clearly no more than 13 years old judging by photos. He is clearly at the forefront of what looks like a brilliant new generation of true pure climbers, a breed we haven't seen much of in a while.
So that's three young superstars already. Then there's tiny Caleb Ewan who showed in Beijing that he is probably going to be a prolific sprint winner and he has the added bonus of being a local aussie boy. The kid is an interesting type, something of an outlier among the big sprinters but he is also a lot more versatile than the standard "pocket rocket" type. Probably one of the five most interesting names to follow in 2015. Last but not least there is the danish arrival Magnus Cort Nielsen. He's been winning big races for two years as a U23 now and along with Tinkoff's Michael Valgren he is the new wave of danish classics riders. Unlike the others he's more of an unproven card at WT level but he is definitely one of the most interesting neo signings of the year. My guess is he is a size too small for the really big races still and will take a little time to mature into a great rider but time will tell. At any rates he's come to a great team as an Ardennes type rider, with Gerrans, Simon Yates, Weening, Albasini, Clarke and Cort there really are few teams that can match them in depth and options.
As fun as neo-pros are though, to really make for a successful season some of the older guys who have gone past the talent-stage need to start putting numbers on the board. Durbridge needs to find ways to turn his fantastic TTing into results. He should be a fantastic resource if he does. Guys like Hepburn, Howard and Cam Meyer also probably have to start showing something if they are to have a future on Orica. The more likely producer of course is Darryl Impey who has moved on from being Gerrans' most useful sidekick to being a very serious threat in his own right. His instant comeback in the fall was one of the more impressive feats o the season. If he picks up where he left off he will be a formidable weapon in the arsenal of a team that really a few more profiles to step up and make it more than a one-trick pony on the big stages.