In His Own Words: DS Neil Stephens Previews La Rioja & Vuelta al Pais VascoSat 5 Apr 2014
Last year Michael Matthews was one place short of victory at the Vuelta Ciclista a la Rioja. Twenty four hours later Simon Gerrans stood atop the podium after he scored a win on the opening stage of the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco. Following in his teammate’s footsteps, Daryl Impey notched another win for ORICA-GreenEDGE on day two of Pais Vasco – his second win on the second stage in two straight years.
Undoubtedly, the Australian outfit has set a benchmark for itself in Spain. In the early part of the season, ORICA-GreenEDGE has spent valuable time developing its young riders, possibly at the expense of procuring big results but all for good reason. For La Rioja and Pais Vasco, the roster inserts several mature riders back into the mix for the intended purpose to win races.
In his own words, Sport Director Neil Stephens previews the one day La Rioja and the six day Pais Vasco.
Our young guys have done an excellent job this season growing as professionals in a number of big races. As a team, we have been very clear that we are focused on developing our young riders in the early part of the season. Our lack of results in the short term is a trade off for achieving long-term success. We are practicing our patience and biding our time.
Now it’s time to win. Teams come here with their A teams to prepare for the Ardennes week and to gauge fitness ahead of the Grand Tours. We are bringing a strong squad to capable of competing.
For this block of racing, we are back with some of our more experienced riders like Gerro [Simon Gerrans], Albasini and Weening. Making up part of the support group, we still have two 21-year olds and two 24-year olds. Michael Matthews is an example of one our young guys who is already winning races and who will get the nod to go for results here.
La Rioja is necessary preparation for our goals in Pais Vasco. It’s a very explosive first stage of Pais Vasco and we need to be ready. Several of the riders are returning to racing after a break. They will use Sunday to get back into the race rhythm without going too deep before stage one of the tour on Monday.
At La Rioja we are looking for a result based around Michael Matthews. We’ll support him, but we will also keep in mind that the main objective is a stage win at the Basque Country, which starts the next day.
Last year the first stage of Pais Vasco was a big target. This year it is even more so. The team has already assembled in San Sebastian so that we can recon stage one before racing begins. This is a reflection of how serious we are taking this race. It suits our style of racing. We are taking the bull by the horns and going for it.
Stage one of Pais Vasco is even harder this year than it was last year. We are looking at eight categorised climbs on day one. The last climb is between 15-20% just six kilometres to the finish. It will be much harder and a very intense stage. The intensity of it will suit our style of racing more than anything.
An interesting note: the town where we finish stage one, Ordizia, is where we won with Daniel Teklehaimanot at Villafranca last July. As a bike rider, I have won there four times. As a director, I have won twice. Hopefully I’ll make that three wins as a director on Monday.
I have great hopes for the first three stages. Days two and three suit us well. It is the third stage, though, that’s another big target for us. The finish is in Vitoria. It used to be the finish for stage two, and it is where we claimed back to back victories with Impey.
Vitoria is the capitol of the Basque country. They call it the ‘Green City’. GreenEDGE winning in the Green City has been the headline the last two years.
I am really excited about this year, and I think I have every right to feel that excitement. We’ve won a lot of bike races in Spain and a lot of those have been in the Basque country. We are capable of doing a lot here. I would love to repeat that headline for three years straight.
For me personally, this is home ground for me as I live near the first two stages. The mountainous terrain is really scenic. It’s a great part of the world if anyone is inclined to get over here for a visit.
ORICA-GreenEDGE for Vuelta Ciclista a la Rioja:
ORICA-GreenEDGE for Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco: