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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion
Monday, October 13, 2014

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Tinkoff-Saxo Three Grand Tours Challenge

This came from Tinkoff-Saxo:

Tinkoff-Saxo is convinced the idea to have the world's best four riders compete head-to-head in the three Grand Tours will be beneficial to the sport of cycling. Right now, all teams have the unique opportunity to take the challenge and shape their team and riders programs accordingly.

What if the world's best riders battled it out against each other in all three Grand Tours in 2015? What started as a simple idea by Tinkoff-Saxo's CEO, Stefano Feltrin, a few months ago, could very well become a turning point in cycling.

The motivation behind the idea to have the world's top riders competing together was to bolster interest, not only among cycling fans but also well beyond. Given the absence of major international sports events in 2015, the “Three Grand Tours” proposal by Tinkoff-Saxo will undoubtedly benefit the sport of cycling, putting it in the spotlight of the world's media.

It will be first time ever that audiences around the world will be able to watch a clash of all four cycling titans across the season, in the world's three most prominent races. Very few riders have tried it before and its appeal will certainly go beyond the novelty factor. It might even be the biggest sports story next year and capture the attention of audiences that don't usually follow cycling. If this is standard practice in all major sports why shouldn't it be as well in cycling?

According to Feltrin, “this isn't a joke or a publicity stunt. We are very serious about it and we feel it is a proposal that will help cycling move forward. The fact our team owner Oleg Tinkov is putting on the table an important financial incentive is further proof of our intentions. The offer of €1 million by Tinkoff Credit Systems could also be matched by other sponsors.

We first approached the other teams during the recent Vuelta and we are encouraged by the recent positive reaction to our idea. We look forward to further discussing it with the key stakeholders.

Team Movistar manager, Eusebio Unzué, has stated the idea was good while Team Sky manager, David Brailsford, thinks it has a lot of merit. They both agree it is a question of making the right program, so we invite them to make this in the interest of evolving cycling.”

There is no doubt this will be physically a very demanding undertaking and Tinkoff-Saxo is well aware of that. Its captain, Alberto Contador, has publicly stated he would be gunning for the Giro-Tour double and the last victorious rider in that attempt was Italy's Marco Pantani more than 15 years ago. Tinkoff-Saxo considers very encouraging the fact that Vicenzo Nibali, winner of the 2014 Tour de France, has also announced he would be taking the Giro-Tour double next year.

The routes of the Tour de France and Vuelta a España still haven't been made public but the recently-unveiled Giro makes that attempt still difficult but feasible. As Oleg Tinkov noted, “the Giro d'Italia course in 2015 is hard and impressive, but not cruel. There are very few transfers, short stages and a mild final week.”

Recent developments in the recovery of the riders between each stage and the attention they receive will certainly help towards achieving the goal. With 30 riders in their squads, the big teams can schedule their season in order to have a fresh group that will help its captain in each Grand Tour. In addition, training is done much more scientifically now compared to the past and even if they aren't at 100% of their potential, the world's top riders can have a serious shot at winning. In addition, the current very stringent controls will ensure that riders stay within legal limits and no doping incidents tarnish this incredible endeavor.

For Bjarne Riis, Team Manager, “racing in the three Grand Tours isn't an issue in itself for the world's best riders, they will not have any problems with that. However, winning or going for a podium place in all three is another thing and that will narrow it down to very few people. I think there is a very small number of riders that are able to accomplish such a remarkable feat and we still don't know who they might be, because it hasn't been done before. That's the beauty of this challenge.

I believe Alberto Contador can aim at the podium in all three Grand Tours in one season and I think he has the capacity to do it. Nevertheless, I think that extraordinary physical capacity alone will not be enough. It is a very important factor but a rider needs three more crucial elements: The ability to recover between races, the mental strength and a perfect preparation and planning of the season.

As I said, maybe just a handful of riders combine all the elements to undertake such an extraordinary challenge. Do we know who they are? Not yet, because we have never had the opportunity in the past, so it would be excellent to see it happen, as soon as next year.”

Aiming at three Grand Tours might leave the door open for other riders to prepare for just one and claim it. It is a risk Tinkoff-Saxo acknowledges and is willing to take as it can only help the sport of cycling evolve.

Historical perspective on Tinkoff-Saxo Challenge:

No rider has won all three Grand Tours in a single season, but several have won two in the same year: Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Giovanni Battaglin, Miguel Indurain, Marco Pantani, Alberto Contador.

Six riders have won all three Grand Tours at some point in their careers: Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali. Of the six, only Contador and Nibali are currently racing.

Thirty-Two racers have completed all three Grand Tours in the same year. According to the BBC, of those 32, only three have won a stage in each tour in the same year.

I continue to hold that a Grand Tour is now so difficult and forces a winner to go so deep that it is difficult to believe that a rider can win sequential Grand Tours.

Fauto Coppi

Fauto Coppi, the first rider to win the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in the same year.


Paris-Tours was Sunday.

Lotto-Belisol sent this note:

With Paris-Tours the last classic of the season took place today. Jelle Wallays, a man of the early breakaway, could triumph on the Avenue de Grammont. Not much later Jens Debusschere won the peloton sprint for the third place.

Only five kilometres after the start in Bonneval five riders attacked: Benedetti, Paillot, Van Asbroeck, Voeckler and Wallays. Duval and Gouault could join them. The escapees had up to a seven minute lead. 55 kilometres from the finish the lead had gone down to less than 2’30”. In the meantime Pim Ligthart and his fellow countryman Maarten Tjallingii had jumped away from the bunch. They caught Benedetti, who got dropped in front because of a puncture. Afterwards the peloton reeled them in.

There were other attempts, but FDJ, Giant-Shimano and Tinkoff-Saxo seemed to have the situation under control to end the race with a sprint. After the Côte de Crochu three leaders were left: Van Melsen, Voeckler and Wallays. Sep Vanmarcke accelerated on the Côte de Beau Soleil. Behind him a group could get away from the bunch. Tiesj Benoot and Jonas Van Genechten were part of it. Van Melsen was distanced in front, so there were two men ahead. The chasers were caught and Lotto Belisol led the bunch, but it was too late. The two early escapees would battle for the victory. In the sprint of two Wallays beat Voeckler. Twelve seconds later Jens Debusschere crossed the finish line as third.

Bart Leysen, sports director: “A third place is a good result. The attack of Pim Ligthart wasn’t necessary when you look at it afterwards – he and Tjallingii didn’t make it to the leaders – but you never know beforehand and at that moment we could relax in the bunch. Tiesj Benoot and Jonas Van Genechten were part of the group that took off on the Côte de Beau Soleil, so that was good for us again. Unfortunately the cooperation wasn’t as it should be. Apparently not all riders knew that there were still two riders in front. Then we pulled the peloton and came close, but not enough. The trainees did a great job again.”

Jelle Wallays

Jelle Wallays races in the 2012 Eneco Tour. Photo ©Sirotti

This release came from Tinkoff-Saxo:

The time had come to launch the final race on European soil and the 237 kilometer long French one-day race, Paris-Tours created the perfect autumn surroundings for the event. Thomas Voeckler and Jelle Wallays made it to the finish line ahead of a chasing bunch and Wallays outsmarted the experienced Frenchman and took the win. Unfortunately, the Tinkoff-Saxo riders were struck by crashes.

While an early breakaway containing eight riders was established, the Tinkoff-Saxo riders gathered around Matti Breschel and Michael Mørkøv to keep them crisp and ready for the finale. The relatively flat course has historically been a treat for the sprinters but with an altered and hillier finale, the punchy riders were given a fair chance to shine today.

Entering the final 30 kilometers of the race, Tinkoff-Saxo took part of the chasing in the pack and the first of three climbs took its toll on the peloton while the breakaway also started to fall apart. A front trio hit the second climb but only two remained in the front on top of the climb as Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) picked up the pace with Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen) on his tail.

However, Giant-Shimano were eager to close the gap and they ripped the pack to pieces but cresting the final climb with 6 kilometers to go, the gap was still 30 seconds. The front duo eventually maintained the gap and on the finish line, Wallays stayed behind a very verbal and gesticulating Voeckler who finally opened the sprint. But on the final meters, Wallays went past the experienced Frenchman to take the win.

Unfortunately, the Tinkoff-Saxo riders were struck by a number of crashes and Matti Breschel finished 14th.

"Our strategy was to support Matti through the long race in order to set him up for the event of a bunch sprint and the boys did a solid piece of work around him. Unfortunately, he hit the deck in one of the many crashes in the finale and even though he was fairly unscathed and brought back up to the first chase group, the crash and the chase combined took the top speed out of him. That's what happens and we can finish the European calendar with our heads held high," says DS, Tristan Hofmann.

GP Bruno Beghelli

The last race of the Italian season was the GP Bruno Beghelli.

This press release came from the very happy Lampre Merida team:

2014 ended in the best way  for the Italian Lampre-Merida team, with the beautiful victory of one of the most interesting young rider in the formation of Saronni.

Valerio Conti has prevailed in a race really fought from the early km, he was together with 4 other riders the promoter of the first flight, then undone, but giving a demonstration of the search of a results from the early stages of the race.

The flight of the day took off immediately after the first attempt, with Fabio Duarte (Colombia), Ricardo Pichetta (Team Idea) and Kyrill Podznyakov (RusVelo) promoters of the attack, their maximum advantage came close to 8 '.

The group has left to do until about 40 km from the end, when from the platoon several athletes have tried to attack, to go back on the escape of the day.

At 20 km from the conclusion, Conti threw himself to the attack in a group of pursuers, but again for the young athlete of Lampre Merida no chance to take the lead. At 5 km from the end, the situation changes for the umpteenth time and the group was back full. Manuele Mori for Lampre Merida tried along with Lagutin, but they were taken over 2.5 km from the finish.

Just at this point Conti tried again the escape with Koren (Cannondale) and Zakarin (Rusvelo), he have had the better of the whole group and took advantage with a sufficient gap than let them in order to play the race in a sprint to 3.

Conti then won the sprint with only 1 "ahead of the rest of the group to complete the party of Lampre Merida also the 6th place of Bonifazio.

The impressions of Conti: "I am very happy, win in the first year as a professional makes me very proud, also it's even nicer to be able to do it at the end of season for me very good. I can spend a quiet winter now, with so many reasons to return next season already at high level.

"The victory has an even higher value to me because it has reached the end of a race where I ran very well, respecting the tasks assigned by the DS Maini.

"I had to take care on the initial leak and I did, then I had to be careful to play my cards in the final and I was able to become the protagonist following before Formolo, then Vilella and finally entering into the sortie of three riders.

"I knew I was fast in comparison with the other two riders, I saved the energy I needed to assert my cue and I ended better than a great performance. "

Valerio Conti

Valerio Conti wins the 2014 GP Beghelli. Photo ©Sirotti

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