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“We’ve put together a dynamic team that will target stage wins in Spain. Our objectives are very much like last year. Many of the stages suit our style of racing, and we’re capable of doing very well here," sports dir...

Photo: Sirotti


















15.08.2013 @ 22:56 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Orica-GreenEdge will enter the Vuelta a Espana with their usual objective of chasing stage wins and have selected a versatile roster to achieve that goals. With Simon Gerrans and Simon Clarke targeting the hillier stages and Michael Matthews and Leigh Howard having set their sights on the sprints, the team expects to play a role in most of the stages in the Spanish grand tour.


Having no GC contender in their ranks, Orica-GreenEdge has lived up to tradition when selecting their roster for the Vuelta a Espana. As usual their main objective is to get a stage win along the way and the team has put together a 9-rider squad that should be able to chase success in all but the high mountain stages.


“We’ve put together a dynamic team that will target stage wins in Spain,” sports director Neil Stephens said. “Our objectives are very much like last year. Many of the stages suit our style of racing, and we’re capable of doing very well here.”


The Vuelta a Espana is often seen as the perfect preparation for the world championships. With Orica-GreenEdge having strong ties to the Australian federation, the team has been in discussion with the Australian national selectors and allowed some of the key riders for the Australian national team to use the Spanish grand tour to prepare for the big day in September.


“In addition to our stage win goals, we have a couple of Australia’s strongest riders racing with us in preparation for the World Championships in Florence,” Stephens continued. “The World Championships circuit is a very difficult one, and we tend to think the preparation for Worlds will come out of the Vuelta. The riders have spoken to the national team selectors, and they’ve put their hand up to race with us in Spain to help them get ready for Worlds.”


One of those riders is Simon Gerrans who thrives in hilly one-day races. With an extremely selective course for this year's world championships, he is expected to play a leading role in Florence in September. Having had a fantastic season so far with stage wins in the Volta a Catalunya, Vuelta al Pais Vasco, the Tour Down Under and the Tour de France, the Australian hopes to add to his tally in Spain where the hilly course offers plenty of stages suited to his punchy characteristics.


“Simon is a stand-out rider who has had two fantastic years with the team,” Stephens said. “He finished off the Tour in great shape and is now doing a block of training at altitude in preparation for his final goals of the season, which include the Vuelta and the World Championships. I see several stages that suit Simon, and he will certainly look to win one of them.”


Last year the team had a highly successful Vuelta debut, taking a stage win and the mountains jersey courtesy of grand tour debutant Simon Clarke. The Australian has matured into a key rider on the squad and was part of the highly successful Tour de France squad, going on the offensive in some of the toughest mountain stages. He has now set his sights on a repeat performance in Spain.


“Simon came a long way in terms of development last year,” Stephens said. “He furthered his progression at the Tour in July. Having won a stage and the mountain classification here last year, Simon obviously has some really good memories from his first Vuelta. Like Gerro, Clarkey is going for stage wins as he continues to mature into a leadership role within the team.”


The final rider for the hillier stages is Wesley Sulzberger. The runner-up at the 2007 U23 world championships has had some difficult first seasons as a professional but has made great strides this season. He most recently had a strong showing in the Tour of Utah where he was in numerous attacks in the hard mountain stages and he will play a key support role for Gerrans and Clarke.


“Wes is in fantastic shape,” Stephens said. “It’s clear he really trained well throughout July. He’s a great helper in nearly every race situation, and I expect he’ll be especially important in the harder stages that suit Gerro and Clarkey. Wes also has the ability to finish off a stage from a breakaway, and we’d love to see him get the result he’s gone after all season.”


Orica-GreenEdge has always put great emphasis on the sprints and despite the hilly nature of this year's Vuelta course, the team will bring a number of sprinters to Spain. One of those is Leigh Howard who is likely to be the team's preferred sprinter on the really flat stages. He was set to support Matt Goss at the Giro but crashed out early on and has now set his sight on the Vuelta, using the Tour de Pologne and Vuelta a Burgos as preparation.


“Leigh was a major part of both of Jens Keukeleire’s wins at Burgos last week,” noted Stephens. “He’s used both Poland and Burgos as a bit of a strength block and an opportunity to fine-tune his sprint. With Matthews, Leigh is part of our two-pronged approach to the sprints.”


The team's other sprinter is Michael Matthews who will make his grand tour debut. The Australian made headlines last week when he won two stages and the points jersey in the Tour of Utah before going on to doing an amazing solo ride in the final tough mountain stages. Being in great form, the former U23 world champion is capable of surviving quite hilly stages which should offer him some opportunities on this year's course.


“Michael has been a very exciting young rider to work with this year,” Stephens said. “He’s shone throughout this season, and the wins in Utah should give him a big confidence boost. The way he was able to handle some of the hillier terrain opens up additional possibilities for him at the Vuelta.”


“Michael and Leigh approach the sprints differently, so it’s great that we’re bringing riders that can cover all sorts of sprint scenarios,” he added. “We have a team to support them both.”


That team includes Baden Cooke who was also part of the Tour team. The veteran has developed from his role as a sprinter into a very valued part of the lead-out train.


“Cookie is the veteran amongst this group,” Stephens said. “He is older, stronger and very experienced. He’s become adept at piloting his teammates into position in the finish. I expect him to play a major leadership role in Spain.”


The final lead-out man in the sprints will be Mitchell Docker who has been working with both Matthews and Howard earlier this season. He most recently guided Jens Keukeleire to two stage wins at the Vuelta a Burgos and hopes to be a part of similar successes in the Vuelta.


“Mitch is an upcoming lead-out guy, and we’ve seen him become even stronger in that role this year,” Stephens said. “He did a great job at the Vuelta last year, and he’s played an important role in a lot of the team’s wins this year. I’m hoping there’s a bit of an opportunity for Mitch to go for a personal result. If not, he thrives on his work for the team.”


The final two riders on the team are Sam Bewley and Christian Meier who will mostly work as domestiques. Orica-GreenEdge won the team time trial at the Tour de France and hopes to win the world championships in the discipline in September with Bewley in a key role. Hence, the Vuelta is primarily important preparation for the New Zealander.


“Sam is a very important element in our team time trial squad for the World Championships,” Stephens said. “At this stage, we plan to race Sam for the first two weeks where he will do some essential support work for the team. We hope the racing gives him that final edge for the TTT in mid-September.”


Meier is a trusted domestique who has a habit of going on the attack and recently announced the extension of his contract with the team.


“Many of the races we’ve won are thanks to guys like Christian," Stephens said. “If we’re lucky enough to pull off a stage win in Spain, we know that Christian will have put his heart into that result. He’s the kind of guy that we can always count on to do his work. I have told him that we’d really like to find a way to pay him back for the support he provides. We’d like to give him a little help to chase a result. He tells us not to worry about it. He loves for riding for the team.”


Stephens underlines the fact that his roster is extremely versatile.


“This is a group that is capable of pulling off a stage win on a number of different days,” he said. “We have guys for the sprints, guys for the punchy little uphill finishes, guys that can win from a break and guys eager to help out all three groups. We won one stage and the mountain classification jersey last year with Simon Clarke. We hope to leave our mark on the race again this year.”


The Vuelta starts on August 25 with a team time trial in Galicia.


Orica-GreenEdge for the Vuelta a Espana

Simon Gerrans, Simon Clarke, Wesley Sulzberger, Leigh Howard, Michael Matthews, Mitchell Docker, Baden Cooke, Sam Bewley and Christian Meier



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