Like all Australian cycling fans, I’ve been tuning in to this year’s Giro with increased anticipation every day, such is the momentum that the Australian riders have produced.
2010 saw Australians take three stage wins (Evans, Lloyd, Goss) and fill three of the four final classification jerseys (Porte in White, Lloyd in Polka Dot, Evans in Red) and was probably our most successful Grand Tour effort to date, surpassing, on balance, even Cadel Evans’ Tour de France win the following year.
This year we have already had three stage wins (if we include Orica-Greenedge’s team time trial win), and are still in for a chance of claiming the jersey that has thus far eluded Australia: the Maglia Rosa.
Of course it’s a long way with many very challenging climbs get to Trieste, and last night’s TT was a small blow to Evans’ standing, but he still looks like he’s returned to some of his best form. He looked confident and calm in the first week and that has shown in the way he has always been at the front of the peloton when he’s needed to be, sometimes as the only GC contender capable of it.
It will be a huge challenge to make up the time he lost to Rigoberto Uran, but on the upside for BMC the pressure to defend for two whole weeks has been alleviated. This could actually improve the racing for us watching at home.
Unfortunately the departure of a number of Orica’s key riders including Luke Durbridge and Michael Matthews means that the chance of further stage success for Orica is looking slim, but that shouldn’t detract from the stellar first week they’ve had.
On the other hand, by taking a step up this season, Orica has put on display just how lacking in GC strength they are. They’ve come to specialise in small tours and smart riding to maximise time in leader’s jerseys, but have left everyone wondering when they are going to take the next step and become relevant at the highest levels of the sport.
Everyone was looking forward to something of an Aussie showdown with Richie Porte and Cadel Evans focusing on the Giro, but it wasn’t to be. It’s certainly a shame that Porte couldn’t ride this year’s tour but perhaps his fans will be rewarded with a good showing at the Tour de France instead.
There have been murmurings that Porte may be dissatisfied with Team Sky excluding him from the Giro and that this may lead him to seek a place on a team more supportive of his personal ambitions.
To be honest I think this talk might be overrated but we’ll have to wait and see.
The importance of a strong team to build slowly to GC aspirations shouldn’t be underestimated. There’s no point in jumping ship if it means fighting for a few years on a second rate team that can’t mount a serious threat to the big names.
Recent articles in the cycling press have suggested that Porte is a logical fit to fill Orica’s shortcomings next year. Failing that, another theory put forth has been that Evans could ride for one more year, moving to the Australian outfit after his current contract expires.
Unfortunately it seems extremely unlikely that either of these situations could eventuate.
For one, Orica GreenEdge’s budget does not appear to stand up to the requirements of a proper GC campaign. I’ve already mentioned how important this is for a rider serious about stepping up to Grand Tour leadership level.
Secondly, anyone familiar with the system of Australian cycling will also know that at times there is quite an inside club at work. Unfortunately for us, neither Evans nor Porte have ever been a part of this club and have both repeatedly fallen victims to the negative effects of such an exclusive culture.
Neither has come through the Australian system in an orthodox way, and both have an element of the outsider to them as a result.
Evans has obviously been around for a long time but he started from less than conventional roots in mountain biking.
It’s well known that he has been a polarising figure in his various teams, including the Australian National Team, which reputedly lacked faith in his ability to lead the team prior to his world-championship victory in 2009.
Porte was also a latecomer to cycling and missed the support of the Australian Institute of Sport and its associated benefits, including national team starts in UCI races.
He fended for himself for years in the Italian Amateurs along with some racing in Australia with a local team, but was repeatedly overlooked by national selectors early in his career and his potential was clearly underrated for far too long.
Many of the same people responsible for selection and institute funding allocation back then are now involved with Orica Greenedge Pro Tour team, and the same exclusive club mentality appears to pervade the new venture. Despite appearing to be fresh and independent, GreenEdge is basically an extension of the traditional national system.
As much as we’d all love to see Porte racing with the full support of an Australian Team, I have to say that if I were him, at his age, I wouldn’t be at all interested in being welcomed into the fold so late in the piece, and as a professional would focus on my own career.
At the inception of the GreenEdge campaign for pro-tour status there was pressure to sign Aussie riders and a lot of money was on offer to them. Many teams in Europe were shaking their heads, unable to compete on that market. Euro teams had to let riders go as they could no longer afford Aussie domestiques.
In my last years as a pro I rode for Motorola, which evolved from 7-eleven, an all American team built on similar lines as GreenEdge. By the end of my time at Motorola most of the Americans were gone as they were just not good enough and the salaries paid at outset were just far too high for the return they actually gave.
The team ended up folding under the financial pressure, the remnants moving across to US Postal Service who let go of the national approach to filling every spot in the team. The old management of Motorola are now the driving force behind BMC.
Once again, we can only wait and see, but I think it very unlikely that the current crop of Australian riders to be part of Greenedge will ever be capable of taking leadership at the biggest races on the calendar.
Meanwhile, those who might have the talent to do so, such as Porte or Evans, are not likely to ever be involved with our national Pro Tour team, and that’s a real shame for Australian cycling fans.
Written by Phil Anderson