THE BEST IS YET TO COME

Este­ban Chaves came of age in 2016, com­ing within one climb of win­ning the Giro and tak­ing third at the Vuelta af­ter a spec­tac­u­lar at­tack on Al­berto Con­ta­dor. Orica’s ex­u­ber­ent Colom­bian now thinks he can win a Grand Tour

Procycling - - Review Of The Year 2016 - Wri ter: Stephen Far rand Por t ra i t : Kristof Ra­mon

D ur­ing 2016 only three riders man­aged to fin­ish on the podium twice in the Grand Tours: Chris Froome won the Tour de France and fin­ished sec­ond at the Vuelta a Es­paña; Nairo Quin­tana won the Vuelta and fin­ished third at the Tour; and Este­ban Chaves was sec­ond at the Giro d’Italia and third at the Vuelta.

Chaves’s lack of a Grand Tour win ar­guably left him one step be­low Froome and Quin­tana but his vic­tory at Il Lom­bar­dia, the first by a South Amer­i­can rider, showed his class and con­firmed his huge po­ten­tial for 2017 and be­yond. As Al­berto Con­ta­dor fal­ters with age, and Vin­cenzo Nibali ap­proaches the be­gin­ning of the end of his ca­reer, Chaves seems des­tined to join the elite group of riders who can con­sis­tently win the sport’s big­gest and most pres­ti­gious races - both Grand Tours and Clas­sics.

The Colom­bian has reached the top de­spite a hard start to his ca­reer. In 2013 he suf­fered mul­ti­ple frac­tures, dam­aged vi­tal nerves and lost the use of his right arm in a crash at the Tro­feo Laigueglia race in Italy. For­tu­nately the Orica team, and es­pe­cially Span­ish-based di­recteur sportif Neil Stephens, be­lieved in his come­back and still of­fered him a con­tract, in­spir­ing him to over­come

his in­juries. In 2014 Chaves won stages at the Tour of Cal­i­for­nia and the Tour de Suisse and then fin­ished the Vuelta a Es­paña. In 2015 he was even stronger, win­ning the first up­hill fin­ish at the moun­tain­ous Vuelta a Es­paña. He went on to wear the leader’s red jer­sey for six days and fin­ished fifth over­all.

This sea­son he fin­ished sec­ond to Vin­cenzo Nibali at the Giro d’Italia, only con­ced­ing the maglia rosa on the fi­nal moun­tain stage to Sant’Anna di Vi­na­dio. At the Vuelta a Es­paña he fought hard for a place on the podium, at­tack­ing and dis­tanc­ing Al­berto Con­ta­dor on stage 20 af­ter a su­perb tac­ti­cal per­for­mance from his Orica-Bike-Ex­change team-mates. Three weeks later he won Il Lom­bar­dia with a mix of climb­ing abil­ity, panache and tac­ti­cal acu­men.

Chaves turns 27 on Jan­uary 17. He is in the prime of his ca­reer and feels he is ready to win a Grand Tour in 2017.

“Some­times I have to pinch my­self. It’s true. Each sea­son I al­ways set my­self a goal but al­ways try to do a lit­tle bit bet­ter. Al­ways,” Chaves tells Pro­cy­cling as he looks back on his re­mark­able sea­son.

“I think we’ve reached a great level,” he con­tin­ues. “But now we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground and keep work­ing be­cause the hard­est part is still to come. If ev­ery­thing goes okay, then we can stay at this level for a num­ber of years and even try to do even bet­ter. That would be amaz­ing.”

“I am what I am. What has hap­pened to me, my early ca­reer, my crash and re­cov­ery, and my come­back and re­cent re­sults have made me what I am”

Chaves took pink with two days to go at the Giro, but he’d lose the lead one day later

Chaves speaks qui­etly but brims with nat­u­ral en­thu­si­asm. He smiles at life be­cause he knows his ca­reer could have ended at the 2013 Tro­feo Laigueglia and he will for­ever be grate­ful to the Colom­bian sur­geons who trans­planted tiny nerves from his foot and re­paired sev­eral oth­ers in a nine-hour oper­a­tion. He will never be able to col­lect a musette at speed dur­ing races but his crash is a fad­ing mem­ory as he looks op­ti­misti­cally to the fu­ture. Many of his ri­vals in the pelo­ton could learn much from his pos­i­tive ap­proach to life.

Orica-Bike-Ex­change di­recteur sportif Matt White has wit­nessed Chaves’s en­thu­si­asm first hand but also de­scribes him as a ‘hijo di puta’ (un­trans­lat­ably rude but un­der­lin­ing his de­ter­mi­na­tion) to Pro­cy­cling, point­ing out his al­most ruth­less will to win.

“In Span­ish we say ‘ser re­siliente’. In English I think you call it re­silience. I’ve had dif­fi­cult mo­ments in my life and my cy­cling ca­reer but I car­ried on, I was re­silient,” Chaves says of the ap­par­ent in­ner strength that has guided him dur­ing his come­back.

“I am what I am. What has hap­pened to me, the way my par­ents brought me up, my early ca­reer, my crash and re­cov­ery, and my come­back and re­cent re­sults have made me what I am,” he says.

Chaves uses ‘we’ when talk­ing about his success with Orica. He is good at stay­ing on-mes­sage and thank­ing his team-mates and staff. When other riders talk this way it seems they have been brain­washed by me­dia train­ing. But with Chaves it seems gen­uine. When the Giro d’Italia ended in Turin, it was Chaves and not over­all win­ner Vin­cenzo Nibali who got the loud­est cheer from the crowd. The Ital­ian tifosi recog­nised his tal­ent and em­pathised with his achieve­ments. Chaves was happy to sing along and cel­e­brate with the tifosi, de­spite los­ing out on vic­tory on the last moun­tain stage of the race.

“When I look back at the Giro, I can’t be dis­ap­pointed at not win­ning. The re­sult is what it is. I ac­cept it. I’m proud to have fin­ished on the podium in the Giro. Not many can say that,” he ex­plains.

“I was dis­ap­pointed to lose the maglia rosa but only for about two min­utes af­ter I’d crossed the line at Sant’Anna di Vi­na­dio. Af­ter that I got over the dis­ap­point­ment and was happy again. I like to keep things in per­spec­tive. It was only a bike race. It’s not a war or the end of the world. It’s not that I can never ride a bike again like I once thought, or that I’ll never seen my par­ents again. It was just a bike race.”

His par­ents and girl­friend Nathaly were at the fi­nal stages of the Giro d’Italia and shared in his hap­pi­ness. They also shared his sport­ing re­ac­tion to his de­feat: his par­ents were even seen con­grat­u­lat­ing Nibali with a hug soon af­ter he had crossed the line in Sant’ Anna di Vi­na­dio.

“That’s how they are. My dad re­ally loves cy­cling and he re­ally ad­mires Nibali and so when he saw him do a great ride he wanted to con­grat­u­late him, even though his son was los­ing the pink jer­sey in the same mo­ment,” Chaves ex­plains.

While most Colom­bian cy­cling fans were cheer­ing on Nairo Quin­tana at the Tour de France, Chaves spent July train­ing hard at home near Bo­gotá for the Vuelta a Es­paña –the sec­ond ma­jor goal of his sea­son. His success in 2015 and at the Giro d’Italia meant he was no longer a dark horse. How­ever, the pres­ence of Quin­tana, Froome and Al­berto Con­ta­dor raised the level of the Vuelta, per­haps pre­vent­ing Chaves from win­ning his first Grand Tour but adding lus­tre to his even­tual third place over­all.

Chaves lost over three min­utes to Froome in the stage 19 time trial and 1:50 to Quin­tana when the Mo­vis­tar rider am­bushed his Bri­tish neme­sis on the road to Formi­gal. How­ever, he fought back on stage 20 and gained 1:24 on Con­ta­dor to take the fi­nal place on the podium in Madrid along­side Quin­tana and Froome.

“I’m hon­estly sat­is­fied with my Vuelta this year. When I got to the fin­ish of ev­ery stage I was dead, so that means I did my very best. We did as well as we could as a team, too. My ri­vals were sim­ply stronger than us,” Chaves says sport­ingly, and again proud of the way his Orica-Bike Ex­change team-mates worked for him dur­ing the race while also win­ning three sprint stages with Jens Keukeleire and Mag­nus Cort Nielsen and an early hilly stage with Si­mon Yates. The Orica-Bike Ex­change Back­stage

Pass videos of­ten re­veal the in­side story of the team’s per­for­mances. The video pro­duced af­ter stage 20 of the Vuelta a Es­paña tells how the team planned their at­tack on Con­ta­dor, how they over­came fears it might blow up in their faces and how they then ex­e­cuted their strat­egy as a team, with Chaves fin­ish­ing ev­ery­thing off with a huge solo at­tack on the climb to the fin­ish. It is an ex­am­ple of the essence of team­work in pro­fes­sional cy­cling and shows why the ca­ma­raderie at Orica-Bike Ex­change seems to make up for the lack of the huge bud­gets that some of their WorldTour ri­vals en­joy.

Chaves has ex­tended his con­tract with the team un­til the end of 2019 and team man­ager Shayne Ban­nan is grad­u­ally re­cal­i­brat­ing his team around the Grand Tour tal­ent of Chaves and the Yates broth­ers. All three could have chased big­ger offers and moved to ri­val teams af­ter their success of 2016 but all three have opted to stay. Con­sid­er­ing the team started out with a mot­ley as­sort­ment of sprint­ers and ex­tremely young GC hopes, they have come a long way.

“A jour­nal­ist once told me that I could not win a Grand Tour be­cause I don’t have a strong team. I said: ‘You’re right, I do not have a strong team but I do have a fam­ily.’ That makes the dif­fer­ence and makes up for what we might lack as a team,” Chaves says.

Chaves’s out­go­ing and up­beat char­ac­ter is markedly dif­fer­ent to that

Chaves at­tacks his ri­vals in Il Lom­bar­dia, where he’ll go on to win the race in a sprint

“It’s ex­cit­ing to be at Orica- Bike Ex­change and I’m ex­cited about the fu­ture. We’re all pretty young, so if we can con­tinue to de­velop and im­prove to­gether then we’ll slaugh­ter them all!”

of Adam and Si­mon Yates, who have also shown their Grand Tour po­ten­tial in 2016 with fourth over­all and best young rider at the Tour de France (Adam) and sixth at the Vuelta (Si­mon). Yet there are no signs of in­ter­nal ri­valry at Orica, even if all would no doubt like to lead the team at the moun­tain­ous 2017 Tour de France. In­deed Chaves seems to help the Yates broth­ers en­joy rac­ing in the spot­light, while he has no doubt picked up on their de­ter­mi­na­tion and work ethic.

“It’s true that they’re English while I’m Latino and Colom­bian; we’re dif­fer­ent for sure. But we are also friends and team­mates and we’re all in­tel­li­gent,” Chaves says.

“If you look at stage 20 of the Vuelta, Si­mon did an in­cred­i­ble job for me by split­ting up the pelo­ton and then dis­rupt­ing the chase. If he didn’t do that he could have fin­ished fifth over­all but he sac­ri­ficed him­self to help me fin­ish on the podium. I’ll never for­get that. If one day I need to sac­ri­fice my chances for Si­mon or Adam, I’ll do it, no prob­lem. And I’ll be happy to do it be­cause I’m sure that they’d do it for me. It’s ex­cit­ing to be at Orica and I’m ex­cited about the fu­ture. Not think­ing just to 2017 but fur­ther ahead than that. I’m talk­ing about my own ca­reer and my own am­bi­tions and also that of the Yates broth­ers, Jack Haig, Damien How­son, Michael Hep­burn and oth­ers. We’re all pretty young, so if we can con­tinue to de­velop and im­prove to­gether then we’ll slaugh­ter them all!”

Chaves laughs out loud at his own ex­ag­ger­a­tion and con­fi­dence, flash­ing a pearly white smile.

“Write that,” he in­sists. “We know we can be an in­cred­i­ble team in the next few years.”

Chaves thanks Si­mon Yates for his help in Spain

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