James Oram came away with the KOM win in the Tour de Korea, photo Mitchelton-BikeExchange

James Oram has his first classification win of the 2019 season.  The Mitchelton-BikeExchange rider took the jersey on stage 3 and successfully defended it through to the end of the Tour de Korea.  Afterwards we got to catch up with him.

2019 has been an unusual year for James Oram, but after getting off to a slow start with Mitchelton-BikeExchange coming to the rescue at the last minute, the race miles are well and truly topping up.  Four stage races have seen a gradual crescendo in form; leading him to this point in the season.  At the Tour of Taiyuan he took his first top ten since finishing 9th at the New Zealand Cycle Classic.  Then at the Tour de Korea he won his first king of the mountain classification sine the 2017 New Zealand Cycle Classic.

Taking the win in Korea has been great for Oram after a gradual beginning to the season.  “It’s been great for the confidence to finally see some progression after a slower and later start to the year than normal.  After a top 10 in Taiyuan, I knew the form was coming along, but with Korea traditionally being a sprinter’s course, I knew it would be hard to finish it with a result,” Oram told RoadCycling.

Mitchelton-BikeExchange enjoying continuity together

Together with a brand new team at Mitchelton-BikeExchange, it’s been a season of gradual progression that started at the Tour de Langkawi.  Oram recognises that just as he has moved on up with confidence and form, so has the team.  “It definitely felt like the boys have made the same progression, and really stepped up a level when it came to helping defend the jersey.  Our ability to communicate on the road has also improved – language barriers aside – which has shown on paper too. The boys even joked that I’m slowly becoming more Chinese due to the added Red spots of the KOM jersey ha!”

“It’s been great for the confidence to finally see some progression after a slower and later start to the year than normal.

James Oram – Mitchelton-BikeExchange

Mitchelton-BikeExchange is a small team of eight riders and there has been a continuity amongst them between the three stage races that has built them into a strong unit.  “Fortunately through all 3 races we’ve had the same core group of riders and staff, which has helped us all gel well,” Oram explained.  “As I’ve mentioned before, communication can be quite hard due to the language barrier, but most of the boys have picked up a bit more English, and we’re starting to get them to open up to discussion.

“In their provincial teams, it’s very regimented, what the boss says they do. So it’s been great to see them start to think about what to do themselves, and what they’d like to achieve at each race.”

At the Tour de Korea the race, which typically draws the fast finishers, targeting a strong general classification position would consist of targeting intermediate sprint opportunities as well as high stage finish position.  “With Korea normally being a sprinter’s race, I knew sneaking a few time bonuses where possible would be key to a good GC ride. The aim for the team was a top 10 GC for myself, and a podium placing on a stage for all riders,” James said.

Taking on climbs in a sprinter’s race

While compatriot Corbin Strong got off to a flying start with 6th place in stage 1 and 3rd in stage 2, Oram’s race came alive in stage 3; but not so much from a GC perspective.  “I’d done a bit of research the night before, and without getting ahead of myself, knew that if a breakaway went, it’d be worth taking the KOM, along with pushing on so the group would stay away for the time bonus, as not only would I have moved in the top 10 on GC, I’d also take the KOM jersey due to being ahead on GC,” James told us.

“I was fortunate to have good legs, as I was very active during the first hour, almost too much so.  It took a while for the break to go, and with it only being 4 of us, they let us get a gap fairly easily. But once we hit the KOM climb, the bunch behind ramped the pace, and I had to push on to take the KOM by a narrow margin from the front group.

“I didn’t actually know I’d took the lead in the KOM until after the stage, which was a nice bonus for feeling like I’d missed the chance for GC.”

James Oram – Mitchelton-BikeExchange

“I was then joined over the top by 7 more riders, as the peloton split and chased hard from behind. We really had to press on to make the bonus sprint without being caught, and the efforts of the start caught up with me, rolling an annoying 4th in the sprint.

James Oram overcame the challenge of KSPO Bianchi Asia Procycling’s Soon Young Kwon and Hyeong Min Choe of Geumsan Insam Cello, photo Mitchelton-BikeExchange

“Basically as soon as our group was caught, the winning break of 2 attacked, and I didn’t have the legs to follow after a long time up the road. I didn’t actually know I’d took the lead in the KOM until after the stage, which was a nice bonus for feeling like I’d missed the chance for GC.

The stage ended with Oram not going up in the general classification, but shooting to the top of the leaderboard in the king of the mountains classification.  But there was still work to be done.  The end of stage 3 saw Oram and KSPO Bianchi Asia Procycling’s Soon Young Kwon level on points and with work to do if Oram was to make secure the classification on more than just a higher GC position.

Best form of defence is attack 

Oram’s opportunity to win outright came in stage 4.  With no KOM climbs to tackle on the final day the only KOM climb featured after 36km.  As with defending a general classification lead, defence of the KOM classification became a team effort too.  “Fortunately enough for us, the final KOM was 35km into the next road stage. So the simplest way to put it, our first finish line of the day was at 35km, then we would have to reset for the finish and go again,” James said.

“Like a lead in any other jersey, you’re looking for the right breakaway to form that has little to no threat to your lead. The ideal scenario for us would have been riders with no KOM points getting away, so we wouldn’t need to contest the sprint.

“Unfortunately the break hadn’t formed by this point, so it was a 3 up race against the riders who could have won the jersey on the KOM.”

“I knew the form was coming along, but with Korea traditionally being a sprinter’s course, I knew it would be hard to finish it with a result.”

James Oram – Mitchelton-BikeExchange

Kwon and third placed Hyeong Min Choe of Geumsan Insam Cello both contested the KOM points alongside Oram, but Oram took maximum points on the climb; virtually guaranteeing his KOM classification victory by 2 points. 

Oram has had little time to enjoy his KOM win in Korea.  Europe now beckons before returning back to the UCI Asia Tour.  “The night after the final stage in Korea I was on the plane to Spain. After attempting to catch my breath in Girona for a couple of nights, I headed up to Andorra. I’ll be up here for 2 weeks before heading back to Asia for the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China.  After Qinghai it’ll be time for a much needed mid-season break before a busy second half to the season.”

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