SUNGAI PETANI, Malaysia (VN) — Orica-GreenEdge’s grand tour future looks bright if you base it on Johan Esteban Chaves. The Colombian’s results may not be impressive yet, but his smile and friendliness give the indication that everything is going to be OK.
“Everyone asks me what my dreams are. I’m confident that I can win the Tour de France,” Chaves told VeloNews.
Freckles dot his brown skin. His dark green eyes did not blink when he explained his goal. Why not? He won one of the biggest amateur races in 2011, the Tour de l’Avenir. In 2012, the then 22-year-old showed promise by winning the GP Camaiore and placing third in Vuelta a Burgos. However, he had a bad season last year. He broke his collarbone in Trofeo Laigueglia and raced little.
Alvaro Crespi and Neil Stephens wanted to sign him from team Colombia despite last year’s woes. And perhaps it was because of the early rumors saying that he would sign for Orica that he raced so little last summer.
Orica plans to develop him as part of a young crop of stage racers with the Yates twins, Adam and Simon. Adam placed second overall in the Tour de l’Avenir last year. Brother Simon won two stages and finished 10th. A month later, Simon won a stage and placed third in the Tour of Britain behind Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
“Orica wants to race for the classification in the three-week races,” Chaves continued. “Now, they do it with Pieter Weening but in seven- or 10-day tours. The team wants to race for the classification but with a young group. They want to build up a group, instead of buy champions like [Alberto] Contador or Purito [Joaquím Rodríguez].”
Chavez shies away from speaking English. He is more at home speaking his native tongue with the team’s Spanish staff or sport director Julien Dean. He also talks comfortably in Italian, which he learned from his time with Colombia’s general manager Claudio Corti. It comes in handy when he wants to ask Simon Gerrans or Brett Lancaster for advice.
He said he will improve his English, which will be the common language speaking to the team’s twins from England. Since they are all young and in the same age group — the Yates brothers are 21 — they will potentially race many tours together.
Chavez started in Mallorca, Spain, and began the Tour de Langkawi last week. He will race the Volta a Catalunya, Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), and maybe one-day races Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April. He will return to Colombia for some time at home and high-altitude training before racing in the Amgen Tour of California or the Tour de Suisse in the summer. The three-week Vuelta a España sits on the horizon in mid-August.
“I’m a virgin!” he said, referring to the grand tours. He was unable to ride the Giro d’Italia with Colombia. Orica will give him his grand tour chance in Spain.
“The Giro is too soon and the Tour de France team is spoken for. The Vuelta is more relaxed and a better place for me to start grand tours,” he said.
The Vuelta is a step toward his Tour de France dream. And Orica’s dream grand tour dream. Along with the Yates twins, Orica planted a crop that should bear fruit. Judging by Chaves’ smile, anything is possible.