Tinkoff-Saxo team manager Bjarne Riis shrugged off suggestions that Alberto Contador was left isolated in the finale of stage 2 to Sheffield at the Tour de France, insisting the team will be able take on Team sky and Astana as Contador fights for the overall victory.
Only 21 riders finished in the front group behind stage winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Most of the overall contenders had one or two teammates with them but Contador was alone. Nicholas Roche finished in the chase group at 16 seconds back but everyone else was further back. Michael Rogers finished 2:34 down, with the other six Tinkoff-Saxo riders in the gruppetto at close to 15 minutes.
Rafal Majka, who reluctantly came into the Tour team to replace Roman Kreuziger after his UCI Biological Passport problems, was expected to help Contador in the mountains and decisive stages. However, he finished the stage in 162nd place, 15:39 back, the last placed Tinkoff-Saxo rider.
Riis claimed that he told the riders to ride in and save their energy if they were dropped.
"It was the plan that when we hit the small roads in the finale, that some of the guys would take it easy. Alberto was safe up front, there were no problems," Riis told Cyclingnews.
"I think you always have to consider that the stage to Sheffield was a special day. It wasn't the high mountains but it was hard. There were 21 guys in the front group at the finish but others were there before the last climb."
Contador made a brief attack on the front as the overall contenders tested each other on the steep but brief Jenkin Road. Riis dismissed the attacks in the finale and even Nibali's stage victory as just a battle for the best team car position in the race convoy.
"Alberto didn’t really attack, he just set the pace for a moment but he was good," Riis said.
"The finish wasn't really a moment to attack. It was more important to stay safe. I think people are putting a little bit too much importance into what happened. It was just the riders and teams playing for car position in the convoy, nothing else."
Thinking of the cobbles
As the riders and teams head to northern France, their thoughts and concerns began to turn to Wednesday's fifth stage from Ypres to Arenberg. The nine sectors of Paris-Roubaix pavé have been giving riders and team managers like Riis nightmares ever since the Tour de France route was revealed last October. A risk of rain is compounding their concern.
"I think the weather can have a big influence, especially if it's wet. Then it's dangerous," Riis predicted.
"But I think most teams are well prepared. For sure it'll be hectic. I've seen the parcours and there are a lot of corners. I think positioning will be more difficult and so a bigger factor, than the actual cobblestones."
Team work and protecting Contador will also be vital. Riis is hoping he can count on Classics rider Daniele Bennati, experienced domestique Matteo Tosatto, who is riding his 29th Grand Tour and Michael Morkov.