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2013 Report Card: Team Saxo-Tinkoff

Daniel Benson
December 24, 2013, 19:05,
December 24, 2013, 19:08
First Edition Cycling News, Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Oleg Tinkov was overjoyed with the team's victory

Oleg Tinkov was overjoyed with the team's victory

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Contador struggles for wins throughout the season

WorldTour Ranking: 6/19
Win Count: 8
Top riders: Roman Kreuziger (11th), Alberto Contador (15th), Rafal Majka (20th), Nicolas Roche (36th).

Grade: D

Although they finished sixth in the WorldTour rankings, 2013 constituted a disappointing season for Bjarne Riis and his men. Alberto Contador only managed one win all season – a stage in the Tour de San Luis – and the team’s grand haul of eight victories was overshadowed by off-the-bike headlines that reverberated around anti-doping investigations, Oleg Tinkoff’s will he-won’t he purchase of the team, and Michael Rogers’ A sample positive for clenbuterol.

There were flashes of brilliance on the road, such Nicolas Roche’s stage win and overall performance at the Vuelta, Rafal Majka’s solid ride in the Giro d’Italia, and Roman Kreuzinger’s Amstel win - although this, too, was tainted by the rider’s admission of previously working with Dr Ferrari - but the wins were few and far between for what is a essentially a team with too many riders living off former glories and past achievements.

At the head of that queue is Contador. His failure to win an overall stage race – a first in almost a decade – and his fourth in the Tour de France signified his leanest, fully-competitive season since turning professional, and although he was a top five placer on a consistent basis, there was a sense that Chris Froome, and others for that matter, consistently had the Spaniard’s number.

Daniele Bennati failed to win a race all year for the first time since 2004, while the less said about Oliver Zaugg’s failings since winning a Monument two years ago, the better.

Matti Breschel popped up with a traditionally strong ride is his native Tour of Denmark, and Michael Morkov won a stage in the Vuelta but with Contador flailing the team lacked a genuine plan B for most of the season.

Michael Rogers chipped in with second place in California, and there were podium spots for others in Lombardia, Tirreno, Oman, Paris-Tours and Milano-Torino but overall it was a season the team will want to vastly improve on.

What to expect in 2014:
So can they? Well, even if Samuel Sanchez finally signs on the dotted line it’s hard to see where Riis can conjure up anything close to guaranteed success. He’s not held a genuine sprinter at the top of his game since JJ Haedo so there’s no opportunity to alleviate the pressure on the stage racers. The fact is that too many at the core of the team, Contador (30), Rogers (34), Nicki Sørensen (38), Matteo Tosatto (39), Paulinho (33), Bennati (33) are past their best, although Roche (29) and Majka (24) are still developing.

Contador’s slimmed down racing programme may help him and even the likes of Hinault had off years that forced them to retreat, refocus and come back stronger.

Breschel will presumably lead the line in the early Classics with Bennati and possibly Tosatto to help him, while Roche will be another outside bet for the Ardennes.

Best signing:
Nikolai Trussov has been around the bloc having ridden for Tinkoff, Katusha and RusVelo in the past, and like fellow new signing Ivan Rovny, he’ll be a solid worker. However Michael Valgren Andersen is a rider with huge potential having won back-to-back editions of the U23 version of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He has a decent time trial in the bank, too.

Biggest loss:
Benjamin Noval has retired and his loss will put a dent in Contador’s Tour team but the big question marks remain over Rogers and Riis. The Australian must await the B sample of but if it were to go the same way as the principle sample, and a two-year ban is handed down, then the team would certainly miss one of their most vital riders. Riis’s problems all depend on the reach of the investigation in Denmark but his sale of the team to Tinkov certainly brings and end to an era in modern cycling. The Dane will remain onboard for three years but it certainly won’t be the same again.

Who to watch:
If Contador can return to winning ways then there are few riders capable of stopping him. If that fails, then all attention will deviate straight to Tinkov as the world watches with baited breath to see which of riders he castigates on Twitter first.

On the road, Contador remains the team’s talisman and best hope for success. His principle aim of winning the Tour de France is not impossible but in doing so he would need to return to the blistering form he displayed in 2009, and even that might not be enough to dethrone Froome. His 2012 Vuelta win papered over the cracks, somewhat, and while there’s no doubting that the Spaniard isn’t the same rider he was pre-ban, the days of rubbing the Schleck’s faces in the dirt in order to win a Grand Tour are gone. Sky is top dog and for all their inspiring guerilla tactics during the Tour, Saxo were eventually brushed aside this year.

Cance > TheRest 9 months ago
It's very unfair to judge Saxo only by Contadors results alone. Afterall there were breakthroughs this year. The classics was acceptable because of Kreuziger. The Giro was a huge succes, the Tdf was resultwise a failure, but displayed a super strong team which seems to be symptomatic for Saxo almost all year. After the Tour Kreuziger once against displayed great form by being arguably the strongest rider in San Sebastian, while Roche got top 5 in La Vuelta = huge succes. Majka taking 3rd in Il Lombardia and 2nd in Milan San Remo. Overall: big Stars on team incl. Breschel and Contador mainly disappoint, but new Young riders show promise. Team is one of the top 3 strongest team as a collective throughout all season, but Tdf results lack. IMO a D-rating is not a nuanced rating. C would be a better grade
olisimpson22 9 months ago
Totaly agree!
nepetalactone 9 months ago
"2nd in Milan San Remo" As I recall that rider's name began with Peter and ended with Sagan. In fact, I don't think Majka was in the top ten. Milano Torino is NOT Milan San Remo....
Cance > TheRest 9 months ago
Sorry my bad. Meant milan Torino. Was in a rush. Facepalm
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Strydz 9 months ago
C rating would have made sense, they had 8 victories for the season so it was a failure. I do think that the TDF performance was quality with winning the team classification but outside Kreuziger, Majka and Roche the rest were just poor
BarkingOwl 9 months ago
You contradict yourself. C is a pass, D is a failure. A D will do then!
Strydz 9 months ago
its more to do with the rating system than me contradicting myself, if we want to be pedantic then F would be a failure. C is a failure when you compare the ratings of the other teams that cyclingnews has given
kevinzamora 9 months ago
Milan-San Remo?? He didn't make the top 50 if I remember well...
KapurAS 9 months ago
Does Cycling News judge teams by their promise or their performance. Teams like Belkin scored low, despite outperforming what people expected suggesting a performance based approach whilst Saxo scored even lower despite a higher performance which suggests a promise approach. Some clarity on this grading system would be very helpful. Also no mention of Kreuziger's TDF who at the age of 27 put an incredible performance in the TDF to come 5th. He arguably would have done better and perhaps made a podium spot if he wasn't forced to assist Contador in much the same way Froome had to for Wiggins. He deserves a mention and to be under 'Who to watch' in my opinion.
Cance > TheRest 9 months ago
Agreed, however Belkin got the rating they deserved as I recall.
GuyIncognito 9 months ago
Agreed with most of your points, only one I disagree. Kreuziger. I wouldn't put Kreuziger as one to watch because he only thrives when there's no expectation. Put any kind of leadership pressure on him and he folds like a deck of cards. He was fine at Amstel as a rank outsider, but as soon as he won that and made the favorites lists for Flèche and Liége, he disappeared. Same story in the stage races. Smaller ones where he was supposed to lead? Nothing. Tour where he wasn't expected to do anything? Top 5! Vuelta where he had a leader role? Nothing again. It's been the story of his career, some people - Klöden being the best known example - just don't have the mentality to lead
denominator 9 months ago
I think you are too hard. Surely the lower pressure helps his psychics and results, but that is a common feature. Krueziger maried recently and it seems to have helped him to become better self-possessed. Give him one more chance, next season could decide on the matter. The results of him, Roche and Majka should have made it to "Who to watch". Saxo is not merely a one-man-show. Further they signed three young riders (two all-rounders, one sprinter) and this could prove a better investition that those solid (but no more U25) Russians, "inspired" by Tinkov.
Kokoso 9 months ago
"Put any kind of leadership pressure on him and he folds like a deck of cards. " "Smaller ones where he was supposed to lead? Nothing." Well... He was third ait TdS, what isn't exactly folding and he put in very good performance in last stage in fakt, where the pressure was biggest. And in San Sebastian he was one of favourites and he did very well. And in Vuelta he shouldn't be a leader, he wasn't preparing for that.
Strydz 9 months ago
The cyclingnews rating system is a complete mystery to everyone reading and i'm sure cyclingnews don't even understand it.
GuyIncognito 9 months ago
Noval is a huge loss. Literally, he's the size of 3 cyclists. talk about trimming the fat off a squad
benreynoldsnz 9 months ago
Were cycling news watching the same Saxo Bank team I was all year? Thought it was a bloody good showing on their behalf. Even with Contador "underperforming" they still got 4th AND 5th and the Tour. Majka, Roche and Kreuziger all had stellar years! Me thinks a Cyclingnews editor just doesn't like Contador and choosing to slam the whole team.
Raoul Duke 9 months ago
I cannot agree that Contador at 30 years of age is past his prime. Perhaps form does not come as easily as it did as a youth, but with a good training program and team tactics to disrupt mainly Sky his future is bright.
Strydz 9 months ago
What really was Contadors prime? When he was fully juiced up or are we just seeing that when racing less well "prepared" the real Contador. He can win another weaker GT but he wont win another Tour.
rhubroma 9 months ago
This is typical anglo-biased drivel. If Sky keeps this up then heads will be turning for sure.
KKelly 9 months ago
as soon as they ban that blood pressure stuff they are on which is not currently banned .. the Sky will com e tumbling down ....
Kokoso 9 months ago
Dear Daniel Benson, then name is Kreuziger in fact, no KreuziNger. It's disrespectful, as is not to mention his 5th TdF place and San Sebastian 3rd (talking about classics podiums).
plooton 9 months ago
KreuziNger :) Perhaps, he listens to Sean Kelly comments too often.
Daithic 9 months ago
So "who to watch" on the Saxo report card is "Sky", this is lazy journalism at its worst. Tell me about what Roche, Majka, Kreuziger will do to build on their good season and how that might contribute to a better overall team performance or is that too much like hard work? I guess you get to the pub quicker if you pull out the easy bylines? Though its not the "main prize" did TST not win the team competition at the Tour? Let's sweep that aside in any team scorecard analysis too as it only complicates things.