By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian pro cycling team Orica-BikeExchange believes Team Sky's stranglehold over the Tour de France may be loosened by the unconventional 2017 route and are relishing the prospect of a battle of "aggression" on the road.
The course unveiled this week, which starts in Duesseldorf on July 1 and ends in Paris on July 23, is peppered with a number of steep climbs occurring early in stages.
Organizers hope it will reward attacking riders and prevent top teams like Sky and Movistar from locking down stages with tactical group riding.
Sky's meticulous organization has propelled champion Chris Froome to the title in three of the last four races and prompted criticism that cycling's showpiece has become a dull spectacle.
But Orica-BikeExchange sport director Matt White is optimistic the new route will bring badly needed suspense back to the Tour.
"I like it. Obviously, I'm thinking of it greedily for us and our particular team but it couldn't be much better," the 42-year-old Australian told Reuters in an interview.
"The style of riding will have to be aggressive. It's hard against some of the teams like Team Sky and Movistar who can control the race quite well.
"But there will be certain times and stages where we can get stuck into it."
Although all-rounder Froome and his formidable support train will have no fear of the climbs, White sees the two short individual time trials as opening the door slightly for the also-rans of recent years.
"Chris Froome is such a good time trialler," White said.
"With less time trialling kilometers, it won't be won and lost in the time trials. It'll be decided a little bit more out on the road."
Orica-BikeExchange, formerly Orica-GreenEdge, suffered an embarrassing blow mid-season with British rider Simon Yates handed a four-month ban for a positive test for his asthma medication.
The team claimed responsibility for an "administrative error", saying it had failed to apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), and the former track world champion was forced to sit out the Tour de France.
His twin brother Adam's impressive fourth place finish in the general classification raised the team's spirits, however, along with the rapid improvement of Esteban Chaves.
The 26-year-old Colombian finished second in the Giro d'Italia and third in the Vuelta, then capped off a fine year with victory in the Tour of Lombardy classic earlier this month, the last 'Monument' race of the season.
Chaves recently signed a contract extension until the end of 2019, giving White hope his five-year-old team can clinch a maiden podium at next year's Tour.
White will ponder his options for each of the Grand Tours after the full Giro route is released next week but already feels confident of consolidating the gains next year.
"The team has evolved over the last three-four years. We were really hunting for stagers (initially) and that's the only thing we could really do," the Spain-based director said.
"That's changed now that we've got such young talent who are capable of challenging.
"If we can repeat the results of this year, we've done well but I think the difference is that we're going in to the next year knowing we have the guys that can do it.
"Our challenge is to keep them there and try to improve on those results."
(Editing by John O'Brien)