“We have been very pleased with the team’s performances throughout the past year,” said Technical Director Martin Barras. “Because of this, we were keen to have stability in our line up for 2014. We’ve added an extra rider to our team in order to allow us to transition from the Spring Classics to the summer tours more comfortably.”
Emma Johansson returns as the team leader after ending the season ranked as the number one female rider in the world. The Swede earned her ranking with victories at one day races and major tours in France, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and the Basque region of Spain. She capped off her consistent season with a silver medal in the road race at the Road World Championships after leading ORICA-AIS to bronze in the team time trial.
“Emma’s first season with us was a win-win for everybody,” said Barras. “We found the leadership and performance we wanted, and she was able to improve on her results to eventually move into the world’s number one rank. She is a natural fit with the team, and we’re thrilled to have re-signed her for another season.”
Already announced as a returning rider, Loes Gunnewijk shares in the leadership role with Johansson. The Dutchwoman has been with ORICA-AIS since its inception and happily embraces the team’s Aussie spirit. Gunnewijk assumes the role of captain on the road with ease and revels in mentoring her younger, less experienced teammates.
“Loes plays such an important role within our squad,” said Barras. “She is our eyes, ears and brains on the road and shapes our racing style. I was actually ready to offer her a managerial role within the team until we learned that she is nowhere near ready to hang up the bike.”
Australian National Road Champion Gracie Elvin re-upped with ORICA-AIS after her first full season in Europe. The first rider to join us from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) program, Elvin’s grit and tenacity was on constant display as she provided crucial support to her teammates on the world stage. Elvin is quick to tell you that she aspires to classics greatness. Her team hopes to help her hone these ambitions in the upcoming seasons.
“Gracie has fit in so well this year,” said Barras. “It was natural for us to continue on together. We always have to remind ourselves how new she is to the road game. Although she raced as an elite mountain biker previously, this year was her first full season at this level. We have high expectations for Gracie’s ongoing development, particularly in the classics.”
During the past season, Australian National Time Trial Champion Shara Gillow found success against the clock and in the hilly tours. She repeated as time trial national champion for a third time, won the time trial in Thüringen en route to her second place finish, won a road stage at Giro del Trentino and rounded out the podium in three individual time trials (as well as two team time trials).
“Shara replicated her best season this year,” said Barras. “We will look to her to provide us with an alternative in the tours and hillier races during her third season with the team.”
Melissa Hoskins and Nettie Edmondson have both re-signed with the team. The duo split their time between the track and the road. Both medaled at the Track World Championships in Belarus last February before joining their teammates on the road in the spring.
While Hoskins continues to show her prowess in the sprint, Edmondson has begun to show signs of her versatility. Both won the Tour of Chongming Island (Hoskins in 2012; Edmondson in 2013). Edmondson backed up the mid-season win with an exciting victory on the hilly queen stage of the Lotto Belisol Tour.
“We are keen to give Mel more opportunities to earn the sprint leadership within the team,” said Barras. “Despite her track commitments, she will join us earlier in the season. We expect she can confirm the promise she has showed as a developing sprinter.”
“Like Mel, Nettie will continue to juggle her track and road commitments,” Barras added. “2014 sees the Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow, and Nettie is a medal favourite on the track. Her stage win at Lotto Belisol Tour this year has really shown her promise as a roadie. We are happy to be patient and allow her time to fullfill her track ambitions whilst she develops into a world leading road rider.”
Former Australian National Road Champion Amanda Spratt returns as part of the team’s core group of returning riders. The consummate teammate, Spratt is always willing to spend the day in the break, on the front of the bunch or hauling water bottles from car to peloton. Spratt’s loyalty, consistency and determination epitomize the team’s values.
“Spratty has formed part of our core group since the team’s inception,” said Barras. “We rely heavily on her professionalism and consistency to set the tone we strive to meet every day. I am keen for her to take more chances next season and help us broaden our tactical options.”
Jessie MacLean has re-signed for a third season with ORICA-AIS. The Australian plays an important role in the team’s sprint train in addition to fulfilling domestique duties. MacLean’s cheerful disposition and quick wit have made her a fan favourite.
“Jessie has had a difficult year with illness and crashes galore,” said Barras. “Despite her personal difficulties, she has remained one of the pillars on which our races are built. We are really pleased to have her for one more year.”
Our eight returning riders are happy to welcome three new teammates into their fold. The trio is expected to strengthen the team’s performances in the Spring Classics and World Cups.
Valentina Scandolara joins ORICA-AIS from MCipollini-Giordana. The talented 23-year-old has shown promise in the hills and from small breaks. Last July, she took her first professional win on stage six of Thüringen Rundfahrt from a late race solo move.
“In a departure from our established policy to recruit only experienced non-Australians who can guide our younger riders, we are happy to welcome Valentina Scandolara to our team,” said Barras. “Her exuberant racing style is a natural fit for our squad. Also, she has spent so much time with Spratty in breakaways this year that we thought it simpler to have both on the same team: they will probably end up rooming together on the road!”
Carlee Taylor joins her Australian teammates from Lotto Belisol following her second full season of racing in Europe. The 24-year-old has developed into a crafty climber with the ability to support her team leaders in the hills. Taylor played a significant role in Tiffany Cromwell’s top ten result at the Road World Championships.
“Carlee is a product of the AIS program,” said Barras. “As such, we have kept a keen eye on her and her maturation this year. Her continued developed coupled with our desire to get more climbing support made Carlee a great choice for us.”
Grace Sulzberger rounds out the 11-rider squad. The youngest of the three children from a remarkably talented cycling family in Tasmania, Sulzberger follows the path paved by her brothers Bernie and Wesley in her leap up to the elite level. The 24-year-old has spent the past two seasons racing for the AIS.
“We are pleased to welcome Grace Sulzberger into our fold,” said Barras. “Although her season was cut short with a nasty injury when she fractured her femur shortly before Worlds, she demonstrated the know how and consistency we crave in a developing rider. I foresee a very fruitful future for her in the sport.”
Looking ahead to the 2014 season, Barras has reason to believe that his team will continue to build upon the success they’ve achieved during their first two seasons. With options for the cobbled classics, flat finishes and hilly terrain, he expects the 11 riders that make up the 2014 ORICA-AIS squad to earn results in a variety of scenarios.
“Next year, we will look to maintain our performance standard in the stage races while improving our performance in the classics and one day events,” said Barras. “We’re very motivated to challenge for the world title in the team time trial as well. The squad we’ve assembled is more than capable of meeting these goals.”
ORICA-AIS for 2014:
Amanda Spratt (AUS)
Annette Edmondson (AUS)
Carlee Taylor (AUS)
Emma Johansson (SWE)
Gracie Elvin (AUS)
Grace Sulzberger (AUS)
Jessie MacLean (AUS)
Loes Gunnewijk (NED)
Melissa Hoskins (AUS)
Shara Gillow (AUS)
Valentina Scandolara (ITA).