Aussies at ready to support Yates Giro bid

Simon Yates, Herald Sun Tour

Mitchelton-SCOTT has revealed its long lists, as well as its ambitions for the first two Grand Tours of the season, the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.

While the Tour de France squad boasts Esteban Chaves and Adam Yates, alongside a variety of intermediate sorts of riders to go in breakaways and perhaps support as best they can if Yates or Chaves prove to be in hot form, the Giro d’Italia is where the real game is for the Australian squad, and the Australians within it.

Simon Yates, Vuelta A Espana 2018 winner, will head into the race as the sole leader of a team that has publicly stated that they’ll be going all in for him to win. Defending champion Ricardo Carapaz (INEOS), Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) are shaping as his main opposition at the moment.

What remains to be seen is exactly who will join S. Yates on the start line in Palermo to help the British rider conquer the top step of the podium.

Matt White, head sports director of Mitchelton-Scott, offered his analysis of the team’s composition for the Giro d’Italia.

“The focus for us at the Giro d’Italia will be to support Simon Yates as best as possible,” said White, “to help him achieve the optimal result we can as a team and ultimately try to win the race.

“For me, the Giro d’Italia is the most physically demanding Grand Tour, so having a strong team around you certainly makes a difference.  The team we will send will be a deep one and I’m confident Simon will have great support across all facets of racing.”

There’s currently a long list comprising 10 riders outside of Yates; Edoardo Affini (ITA, 24), Brent Bookwalter (USA, 36), Jack Haig (AUS, 26), Lucas Hamilton (AUS, 24), Michael Hepburn (AUS, 28), Damien Howson (AUS, 27), Chris Juul-Jensen (DEN, 31), Cameron Meyer (AUS, 32), Nick Schultz (AUS, 25) and Andrey Zeits (KAZ, 33).

Of those, the big-name support climbers are Australian with Jack Haig and Lucas Hamilton both proven as some of the best in the world in the high mountains in recent years.

Haig has been threatening that big breakout win that announces him as a GC threat in his own right after a number of close calls. He was as good as anyone in the early season climbing races in Spain, finishing second overall in both Volta a Valenciana and the Vuelta Andalucia. He was the main man for Simon Yates in his Vuelta victory, and it would be no surprise that the British Grand Tour star would want Haig along for the ride.

Hamilton has long been a prodigy within Australian cycling and while his approach once he reached the WorldTour has been to go softly and learn behind the leaders at Mitchelton-Scott, the time is coming where the 24-year-old should be starting to get some responsibility for his own results at Grand Tours. His performance at last years’ Giro was so good that Matt White was recently raving about it on the Zwift Cycling Central podcast, more than 12 months after the fact. Has the potential to be one of the best.

With the Vuelta a Espana overlapping with the Giro d’Italia this season, if they go to the Italian Grand Tour as workers this year, it will be another season that they go without a leadership role in a three-week stage race.

Not being selected for the Giro could actually be good news for either one of the pair, as they’ll almost definitely head to the Vuelta in the alternative. Normally, the Spanish race is used by Mitchelton-Scott to give a bit more freedom to younger riders, but this year, it might be a bit more Tour de France 2.0 with the way the schedule has turned out.

It’s a sacrifice that the pair will have to make, and surely they will do so, as both have consistently ridden for teammates in their early years, and signed extensions to stay with the squad.

The rest of the supporting cast is also Australia-dominated, from climbing reserves to engines for the flat.

Howson is the oldest looking 27-year-old in the world, but has positioned himself as a key lieutenant for the GC talents at Mitchelton-Scott. He’s the dependable rider that can be counted upon to finish a Grand Tour, having completed six out of seven raced. He has the ability to absolutely empty himself for his leader as well, notably when positioned up the road during the Vuelta earlier in the stage, he drove an attack by Esteban Chaves until he pulled to the side of the road and vomited. Happily the attack was succesful and moved Chaves up to third overall in Madrid.

Cameron Meyer isn’t the next Grand Tour hope like Australians once thought he may be after his encouraging Tour de Suisse performances but he is still the consummate professional and a brilliantly versatile rider.

Nick Schultz’s isn’t regarded as an out-and-out climber, but there’s little reason to question his credentials on the climbs, with impressive results when he’s been given the chance.

Michael Hepburn has been a consistent workhorse for years for the Australian squad. While he won’t wow on the climbs, his TT results and presence at the front of the race in service of team leaders highlight his underlying power. In a race like the Giro, slated to have nine stages over 200 kilometres, you need riders like Hepburn in those circumstances where things go wrong, or if you have the pink jersey and need to hunt down the break.

Not all of the Aussies will make the journey to Italy, one would expect that Affini would race his home Grand Tour and likely be a force on the flats. Bookwalter carries a wealth of experience in readying teammates for win, Andrey Zeits is an underrated climber and Chris Juul-Jensen is both a good rider and a great guy to have on the team bus.

Absent from the Grand Tour squad announcements are Aussies Robert Stannard, Kaden Groves, Callum Scotson and Luke Durbridge. Durbridge will race the world championships with an eye on forcing Cycling Australia to pick him for the time trial in Tokyo, and then likely pursue a cobbled Classics campaign from there.

The rest are all quite young, with Scotson at 23 the oldest, and Mitchelton-Scott tends to keep its younger riders away from Grand Tours as a general rule. However it plays out, it will be exciting to see the Australians back in action on the WorldTour scene.

By Jamie Finch-Penninger