Esteban Chaves has enjoyed an impressive rise to be considered a serious contender for the Tour de France, but the Colombian is quick to remind us, despite his billing among the favourites for the 3540 km race, that he can't expect to "jump the steps" to first place on the podium on debut.
Chaves believes victory will take time and patience -- for him and his Orica-Scott team - yet the 54 kg and 164 cm rider, affectionately nicknamed 'El Chavito', but known also as the 'Smiling Assassin' for his trademark smile and combative racing flare, is confident he has what it takes to vie one day for the yellow jersey. As he should be, after last year placing second overall in the Giro d'Italia and third in the Vuelta a España. As important, Chaves is confident that his Australian team has what it takes, too. Orica-Scott began in 2012 aiming to win stages in sprints and attacks, but it has developed into a team that can now race for overall honours.
Chaves believes the team's focus shifted to racing for overall classifications when he and the British Yates twins, Adam and Simon, joined Orica-Scott for 2014. He told ESPN that it allowed the team to: "Learn [about] each other -- the directors, the manager, the staff, the riders and me. We learn [from] each other how we need to work. Every year, and every big tour it [gets] better and better and better; and every single race we have more chemistry."
Asked what he had learned from the two Giri and three Vueltas he has raced, and in which he has enjoyed spells as the overall leader, Chaves told ESPN that he wanted "to contend for the big tours now". But he accepts the need for patience, saying of Orica-Scott that "we are young, we need to continue to grow up, continue to train, keep the fight and change not many [things]".
And that patience extends to his personal prospects for this year's Tour, as he has missed several race days due to tendonitis in his left knee since starting his season at Australia's Tour Down Under in January. He proved that he was up to racing in his first event back after recovering, the Critérium du Dauphiné that finished last Sunday week, but still there is the big question if he can last a three-week contest -- and if so, what his impact on the overall result can be -- after tallying only 20 days of racing this season.
Orica-Scott are optimistic, but open minded; hence, the decision to include 24-year-old Simon Yates for a two-pronged attack against a strong field that includes Britain's defending and three-times champion Chris Froome (Team Sky), Australian Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Chaves' fellow Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Spaniard Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Italian Fabio Aru (Astana) and Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang (Astana). Yates, sixth in last year's Vuelta, will also debut in the Tour de France that starts in Dusseldorf, Germany, on July 1, and he has family honour to uphold as his twin brother, Adam, ninth recently in this year's Giro, finished fourth and the best young rider on Tour debut last year.
Orica-Scott head sports director Matt White said when he announced his nine-rider team for the Tour that the team wanted Yates to challenge for the best young rider's white jersey "and if we can beat the likes of Louis Meintjes [UAE Team Emirates] and Emanuel Buchmann [Bora-Hansgrohe] in that competition it also makes a top 10 result viable".
"Realistically, we don't know what will happen with Esteban.
"He's podiumed twice before at grand tours, but it's his first Tour de France. Everything has gone well since the injury ... we don't know how the lack of racing will impact his Tour de France, but regardless it will be a great experience and it will set him up for the rest of the season."
Chaves' dream to win the Tour de France drives him -- no matter whether he is recovering from an injury, training at home in the high altitude of Colombia, or racing in Europe - yet he knows at the age of 27 that he has time to achieve that ambition so he will not start the Tour burdened by the pressure of having to match the expectation of others.
That patience, that phlegmatic attitude, is borne from knowing his career almost ended, in February, 2013, as a neo-professional, before it had begun. Chaves, whose potential had been clear when he won the 2011 Tour de l'Avenir as an amateur, crashed at the Trophy Laigueglia in Italy -- the year before he joined Orica-Scott. Then racing for the Colombia-Coldeportes team, he sustained a severe injury to his right arm that could have left him on the scrap heap. With a trademark smile, he told ESPN the crash was "the most important moment in my life, a really tough moment" before proving his recovery and seeing Orica-Scott deliver their expressed intent to sign him for 2014.
"I keep the dream to win the Tour de France one day. But I need more experience ... The first couple of years, the first three years, I don't know ... it [will be] to take experience, take all the different situations of the Tour de France. Everyone says the Tour de France is super different from the other races. So I need to go to finish and learn ... You never know, if maybe this one [in 2017] I may go well .... But you need to keep the passion and know and understand this is a process. You can't jump the steps. Normally the people want [to] but you can't."