Orica’s Tour hopes start with Gerrans, Goss as it seeks first stage win

Australian squad is searching for its first Tour de France stage win after debuting last year

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There was only one jewel missing in the crown of last year’s phenomenal debut season at Orica-GreenEdge, and that was a stage victory at the Tour de France.

The first-year, Aussie-backed team won plenty of races (32 to be exact), including a monument with Simon Gerrans at Milano-San Remo, and stage victories in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, with Matt Goss and Simon Clarke, respectively.

Throw in a few national titles, wins at UCI WorldTour events such as the Volta a Catalunya, the Tour de Suisse, the Vuelta al País Vasco, and the GP de Québec, and Orica couldn’t have hoped for a better debut season.

The Tour, however, proved a harder nut to crack. The squad came loaded with sprinters and stage-hunters, yet fell short of taking home a victory. Goss was the main man, knocking on the door with two second places and three third places in bunch sprints.

This year, the Aussies hope to break through to a Tour stage win.

Orica captain Simon Gerrans said the team will enter his year’s Tour intent on challenging in breakaways and sprint finishes.

“That’s the big goal,” Gerrans told VeloNews via telephone. “That’s the one thing missing out on our season last year.”

Although Orica’s official Tour lineup has yet to be announced, the team’s hope will be pinned Goss in the bunch sprints, with riders such as Gerrans, Daryl Impey, and Michael Albasini having freedom to attack for stage victories.

Goss is hoping to hit the Tour firing on all cylinders. He snagged his lone win on the 2013 season at Tirreno-Adriatico, and since then, he struggled with illness through the spring classics, and notched a handful of promising results, but no more victories

A second place in stage 4 at the Tour de Suisse last week seems to indicate things are moving in the right direction.

“He was right up there at Tour de Suisse,” Gerrans said of Goss. “The team is pretty happy with that result. To be right there shows he’s on good nick right before the Tour.”

Gerrans said while Orica will bring a strong train to support Goss, it’s likely the team will not try to dominate the sprint finishes unless it’s a finale ideal for Goss’s qualities.

“There are a lot of big sprint trains out there right now,” he said. “The most important thing is protecting Gossie and putting him on a good wheel for the sprint. He can get around most people on a good day.”

The sprints should be especially competitive this year, so Goss could find choppy waters in the mass gallops. Not only will Goss and Orica be searching for its first Tour win, so will Marcel Kittel, the big German engine on Argos-Shimano who pulled out sick of last year’s Tour.

Ahead of them are André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Peter Sagan (Cannondale), all of whom won three stages each in last year’s Tour.

This year’s lumpy course should see more opportunities for stage hunters, which is just fine for Gerrans.

The punchy, two-time national Australian champion can win sprints out of small groups and can make it up and over heavy climbs yet still pack a punch up short, steep finales.

Gerrans will be looking for his chances in the transition stages that fit neither the sprinters, the time trial specialists nor the climbers.

“You know there are a limited number of possibilities for a guy of my characteristics, but that sort of takes the pressure off on other stages,” he said. “The Tour breakaways are harder and harder to get into. There are more guys trying to do that. You have to pick and chose your day, and give those days 100 percent.”

Gerrans knows what it feels like to win a Tour stage. His win came in 2008 out of a four-man breakaway across the Alps into Italy at Prato Nevoso while riding on Crédit Agricole.

Spaniards José Luis Arrieta and Egoi Martínez were dropping Gerrans, but he hung on, countered, and won ahead of Martínez, with American Danny Pate crossing the line third.

“It was the biggest win at that time of my career. It still ranks right up there of the biggest wins that I hold close to my heart,” Gerrans said. “To win a stage at the Tour, especially the way that I did it, it’s a real achievement to get that win.”

Gerrans, of course, went on to win the 2012 Milano-San Remo and came close to winning the Clásica San Sebastián last year, riding to second in the popular post-Tour Spanish classic.

So far in 2013, he’s been quietly picking up victories throughout the season, including a win at the Santos Tour Down Under, the Volta a Catalunya, and the Basque tour.

“My season’s been solid so far. I’ve been pretty consistently right up there around the mark,” he said. “I am missing that big win. I’ve been up there, I’ve been competitive, but I didn’t get that classic I was gunning for this year.”

At this point of Gerrans’ career, it’s hard to top what he’s already accomplished. After winning stages in all three grand tours as well as a monument, there’s not much he hasn’t done. The only thing bigger would be another spring classic, ideally in the Ardennes, or the world title.

Another Tour stage win would come nicely as well.

“I’d love to win another Tour stage. It’s a question of just keep plugging away at it,” he said. “That’s what we’re all working toward.”

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