‘Aussie’ Chaves to shine at Tour Down Under

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    Just three years ago, Esteban Chaves was a promising Colombian cyclist with a badly-damaged right arm who spoke no English.

    This week, he will rival cycling’s rock star Peter Sagan and Australians Richie Porte and Simon Gerrans as the most popular riders at the Tour Down Under.

    His undoubted ability, a fierce determination and an endearing personality, combined with a timely move to the Australian Orica-Scott team, have taken Chaves to the top.

    He has spearheaded Orica-Scott’s development into a team that can now contend in the three Grand Tours – the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana.

    His breakthrough season last year featured second overall at the Giro, third at the Vuelta and an historic win at the Il Lombardia one-day classic.

    “Sometimes I need to pinch myself, because finishing second at the Giro, winning Lombardia, third at the Vuelta … it’s unreal sometimes for me,” he said.

    “We can do it, the team can do it.”

    Orica-Scott had long identified Chaves as a potential recruit, given his potential.

    But he fell off the cycling map thanks to an horrific race crash in early 2013.

    The Australian team made contact, convinced him to sign and set him up with a rehab program for his injuries.

    And his brilliant personality meant there was never a language barrier.

    “This is a special industry – I can’t speak (English), but all the time I am part of the group, part of the team, part of the family,” he said.

    “Now I can understand, I can speak, it’s more fantastic.”

    Once Chaves was able to recover properly from his injuries, his career blossomed.

    Chaves and the British twins, Adam and Simon Yates, will spearhead Orica-Scott’s Grand Tour ambitions.

    The team will reveal the trio’s race programs after the Australian summer races.

    Chaves will also compete at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Rd race and the Herald Sun Tour, where he will go head-to-head with Tour de France champion Chris Froome.

    On Monday, Chaves was in his element as Tour Down Under organisers gave him a massive lamington cake.

    He turns 27 on Tuesday, when the Tour opens with a 145km stage from Unley to Lyndoch.

    When asked about Froome, he joked that he could not eat any of the cake because it would add to his weight for their climbing duels.

    But the gesture of a birthday cake was much appreciated.

    “It’s beautiful, no?,” he said.

    “It’s a good feeling that my birthday is here in Australia, with special people.

    “I feel like my home is here.”

    Asked if he could win his first Tour Down Under, Chaves replied “why not?”

    A key stage for Chaves and the other climbers in the field will come on Wednesday.

    Stage two from Stirling to Paracombe in the Adelaide Hills is particularly difficult and, depending on how it is raced, it could prove a showcase for the Colombian’s skills.

    “If the race is going really, really hard, it’s good for the climbers,” he said.

    “But if the race is going normally, one breakaway and it’s ‘easy’ – cycling is never easy – it’s more for the sprint guys.”

    © AAP 2017

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