2014 Team Previews: Tinkoff-Saxo

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Who are the sponsor?  Tinkoff Bank is Russia’s only bank that specialises in Credit cards, owned by team owner Mr Tinkov. Saxo Bank are a Danish investment bank who’s website is full of words I don’t understand about liquidity and the like.

Nationality: Danish.

2013 Ranking: 6th

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Past Stars: Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Jens Voigt, Tyler Hamilton, Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre, Nick Nuyens, Fabian Cancellara, Laurent Jalabert.

Selected Team Palmares: 1st, 2007 Tour de France, 2009 Tour de France, 2008 Giro d’Italia, 2008 Vuelta a Espana, 2012 Vuelta a Espana, 2007+2008 Paris-Nice,  2008+2009Vuelta a Pais Vasco, 2007, 2008 and 2010 Vuelta a Castilla y Leon (all Alberto Contador), Stages, Tour de France (Alberto Contador x 3, 2007, 2009×2, Daniele Bennatix2, 2007) World Time Trial Champion x 3,(Michael Rodgers, 2003-05), Tour of Lombardy 2011, Oliver Zaugg, 2013 Amstel Gold Race, Romain Kreuizger.

Brief Team History: Around since when they were Memory Card Jack and Jones in 1998, Saxo-Tinkoff were best known as CSC, when they had stars such as Laurent Jalabert, then moved to Tyler Hamilton and Ivan Basso in the Arsmtrong years. They won the Tour as CSC-Saxo Bank in 2008 when they had an absurdly strong team in winner Carlos Sastre, Andy and Frank Schleck, then when Sastre left Schleck junior was second twice in the Tour, although he’s now down as winning in 2010 after Contador was DQed. In an odd twist of fate, when Schleck and buddies left and tore most of the talent from the team to go set up Leopard Trek, Contador went to Saxo Bank, as cyclings longest drawn out doping case began. He won the Giro, was stripped of that, turned up at the Tour and then was eventually banned. Riis must be missing old chums Voigt and Cancellara, who won him plenty in their Saxo years, although Cancellara’s replacement Nick Nuyens snatched the Tour of Flanders from him in 2011. 2012 saw Contador out for most of the year after his doping ban was back dated, meaning he missed the Tour, and you would have thought Saxo bank did as well, although they did win the combativity award, before Contador poached the Vuelta from Joaquim Rodriguez on the Fuente De climb to win what he said was his 7th Grand Tour, but is really his 5th.

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Last year: Given the whole bunch of talent they had signed, and with Contador back and hungry for revenge, you would have expected Saxo-Tinkoff to be a powerful GC machine and to wrap up at least one Grand Tour. Contador was even installed as favourite for the Tour ahead of Froome by some, although the Brit beat him at the Tour of Oman and at Tirrenno Adriatico, where Pistolero’s trademark accelerations seemed to be non existent. The team took just 8 wins all year, and Contador’s sole win was in January in Argentina, before they had to wait three months for Romain Kreuziger to win Amstel Gold to make things look up. Unfortunately they had to wait until August until there next WorldTour win, as Contador was almost outdone by his teammate Kreuziger at the Tour, slipping off the podium on the penultimate day, although he did make it onto the podium as the best team. Perhaps if Kreuziger had been given more support, the result might have been different. Nicholas Roche salvaged some pride in the Vuelta with a battling 5th place, a stage win and a day in the Red jersey, and Michael Morkov won a stage that, unfortunately for him, will only be remembered for Tony Martin’s solo break being caught metres before the line. The team’s off road battles were more interesting to be honest – Oleg Tinkov bought the team from an investigation threatened Riis and promptly changed the name to Tinkoff-Saxo, as well as sheepishly making up Contador, who he had spent most of July moaning about. Michael Rogers also tested positive for Clenbuterol, and may or may not be on the team in 2014.

Tour de France 2013 stage-20

Transfer dealings: After last years splurge, they’ve taken a rest, because according to Tinkov, 2015 is the year for big buisness. Essentially, they’ve brought in young, unknown riders to replace the retiring older chaps they still had on the roster, and the core team remains the same.

Who are the star riders? Last year I characterised them as a one man team, and that is still broadly true – Alberto Contador, the 2/3 time Tour winner, 1/2 time Giro winner and 2 time Vuelta champion is the main man, but he has Romain Kreuziger, Nicholas Roche and Rafa Majka on his tail. Still technically a Danish team, although Tinkov want to make it Russian, they have Nicki and Chris Anker Sorensen, Michael Morkov and classics and world championships nearly man Matti Breschel on the team, with Daniele Bennati and Matteo Tossato to give some flat lands support. They also have Tour of Lombardy ex-winner Oliver Zaugg, but he has only won one race – the Tour of Lombardy. Michael Rogers may or may not be on the squad, and adds TT bulk.

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Fashion police: Pretty much just a mirror image of last years kit, Tinkoff now takes pride of place, and yellow is the main colour, which means a change kit might be required for the Tour. It does stand out in a increasingly dark peloton though, which means it’s all well and good even if it is garish.

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What are their targets? Win the Tour with Contador. It’s a simple as that. However, they should probably try and win some other things as well – coming 4th and 5th is good, but no one really notices.

What are they likely to achieve? Post 2012 Contador is not 2009-2010 Contador, and after his climbing skills deserted him several times in the 2013 season, let alone the Tour, it has to be asked whether it is realistic to expect him to win the Tour against Nibali and Froome. The podium is still a good shout though for a rider who is always dangerous and unpredictable. It would be interesting to see Kreuziger unleashed however – he was reborn under Riis last year and should now be in his prime – could he start living up to his early promise as a GC contender?

Tour of Oman - Day Five

Components: One of three teams to use Specialized, Tinkoff-Saxo also use SRAM Red, as well as Zipp components.

The Big Question(s): Is Contador finished as a Tour contender?

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