A brave move from Jesus Ezquerra during the Vuelta a Espana.
When Orica-GreenEDGE entered the UCI World Tour last year they did it with a bang and with immediate success. But it was quickness of its first victory that took everyone by surprise.
Unlike Team Sky, which did not get its UCI World Tour victory until February, Orica-GreenEDGE secured its first World Tour victory at the Tour Down Under when Simon Gerrans took out the general classification jersey.
Success on the European continent was also not very far away as Gerrans backed up his early season success by winning one of cycling’s five monuments – the Milan-San Remo – in a sprint finish against Fabian Cancellera and Vincenzo Nibali.
This early season success at a number of World Tour events also translated into victory at their debut Grand Tour when Matt Goss won stage three at the 2012 Giro d’Italia.
While there were no podium finishes at the Tour de France, Orica-GreenEDGE was back in the Grand Tour winning circle when Simon Clarke won the fourth stage of the Vuelta a Espana and then went on to win the mountains classification.
Overall, 2012 was an extremely successful first year for the Australian-owned and run team. The team managed to finished 12th on Cycling Quotient CQ Team Ranking with 32 victories and sixth on the UCI World Tour Team ranking.
In comparison, Team Sky finished its debut season also with 32 victories, but in 13th spot on Cycling Quotient CQ Team Ranking.
If Team Sky is seen as the professional benchmark for all World Tour teams, then based on 2012 form, the future looked very promising.
Fast forward to June 2013, Orica-GreenEDGE racing strategy seems to be in disarray as the team shows signs of second year syndrome.
Things were not helped when earlier in the year the Team suspended Matt White after it was revealed that he has doped while at US Postal Team with Lance Armstrong.
As at 1 June 2013, the team has slipped to 14th on the UCI World Tour Team ranking, some 650 points behind Team Sky, and 13th on Cycling Quotient 2013 CQ Team Ranking. While the team had secured 17 victories to date, four of those victories were in National or Oceania championships.
The 2013 Giro d’Italia was a failure for GreenEDGE, which set their team up around Matt Goss, attempting to replicate the previous year’s performance. Goss withdrew on Stage 16 and the team left the Giro empty handed.
It is difficult to see where a Grand Tour victory will come from after analysing their Giro performance. In fact, if both Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan head to the Tour de France, it is hard to see Goss, or any other Orica-GreenEDGErider beating them.
Furthermore, GreenEDGE is unlikely going to match the likes of Team Sky is a team time trial or individual time trial. Therefore, the rest of the 2013 season is not looking too bright for Australia’s first UCI World Tour team.
I can understand why Orica-GreenEDGE focussed on stage wins in its debut season. The team had to get immediate runs on the board to get exposure and secure a team sponsor, which it did when Orica, the Australian mining services and explosives company, came on board just before the Tour de France. The new team also had to justify why it was given a World Tour licence at the expense of other established cycling teams.
It was clear that 2012 success meant the team was going to follow a similar strategy in 2013 – chase more stage wins rather than general classification jerseys. The team brought in Michael Matthews from Rabobank to bolster its sprinting stocks, a team that already had Goss, Howard, Alan Davis, Aidan Kruopis and Baden Cooke in the ranks.
Team Sky objective was to deliver Britain’s first Tour de France winner. It achieved that in three years.
With the lack of big wins in 2013 it is time for team management to re-assess their racing strategy. Orica-GreenEDGE should take a leaf out of Team Sky’s racing manual and develop a similar objective and shift its focus to securing general classification podium wins at one of the three Grand Tour events.
But if GreenEDGE was serious about winning a Grand Tour it would have secured Richie Porte at all cost – the next likely Australian winner of a Grand Tour – rather let him re-sign for Team Sky in May.
Surely, it would not be too hard to convince Porte to switch teams given his limited chances at Team Sky because of the presence of Wiggins and Froome in the team. I am sure Porte’s manager would have held discussions.
Did Porte views his prospects were better staying at Team Sky? He was likely concerned about the level of support that he would get from the team. There are not many super domestiques in Orica which can drive the peloton like Team Sky.
That leaves Orica-GreenEDGE to use its team resources to have a tilt at the general classification victory. It is often reported that Cameron Meyer is a future general classification winner. It is time for the team to back Meyer and build a stage race around him, and not just around a sprinter like Goss or Howard.
If Orica-GreenEDGE is going to compete against Astana, Team Sky, BMC or Movistar then it needs to develop a genuine general classification rider and build a squad around a rider to allow them to compete at the highest levels in a Grand Tour.
Fans are eager to see their heroes on the podium wearing the yellow jersey or the maglia rosa. Not after one stage, but after 21 days of racing under the toughest conditions a Grand Tour can throw at them.
Unfortunately, this will not happen at Orica GreenEdge, for now. Not until the owner and team management shift their focus from stage wins to building a Grand Tour squad that can support a truly general classification contender.