Riis gets a ticket to ride in cycling’s equivalent of injury time

Dramatic month culminates with Team Saxo-Tinkoff being awarded a WorldTour licence for next season on a technicality rather than merit

December 11th, 2012 11:24 am| by admin

First it changed its name, then it brought in a former world champion, and finally it was snubbed for a WorldTour licence before being given one anyway due to another team being kicked out. All in a month’s work for Team Saxo-Tinkoff.

The Danish team was awarded a WorldTour licence on Monday evening in stunning fashion after being handed the spot of Russian outfit Katusha, which was controversially kicked out for unknown reasons.

Team Saxo-Tinkoff had looked to be the odd man out after Argos-Shimano, earlier on Monday, was given the last remaining spot on the 18-team WorldTour licence roster, but then came the UCI's dramatic exclusion of the Russians and a reprieve.

Trey Greenwood, the managing director of Team Saxo-Tinkoff, was relieved that his team was granted a spot, while Danish rider Anders Lund was slightly less diplomatic in his analysis of the debacle.

“It would have been insanely wrong to deny us a place. But I thought that there has to be some logic behind the decision,” Lund told Ekstra Bladet tabloid. “If you look at our team, rider for rider, which looks so strong next year, and the company behind it, then not giving us a ticket would be like pissing all over our hard work.”

The UCI wrote in its press release that its decision came as a result of the hearings held on November 19, 21, 22 and 28 and December 7. Team Saxo-Tinkoff’s WorldTour licence will be valid for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Back in September, when owner Bjarne Riis and his Team Saxo-Tinkoff assessed the future of the team, things were looking good. Alberto Contador had just won the Vuelta a España, Oleg Tinkoff had poured his sponsorship millions into the team’s famished coffers, and a plethora of new quality riders were on their way.

But there was just one problem. Team Saxo-Tinkoff hadn’t been granted the WorldTour licence that would ensure its participation in next season’s major races: the Tour de France, Vuelta a España and Giro d’Italia.

To make matters worse, Riis failed to endear himself to the sport's governing body, the UCI, by criticising it for implementing a new law retroactively that would deny his team any points acquired by Contador, including those from the Vuelta triumph, until the Spaniard has cycled for a full two years following his drug suspension.

Furthermore, pundits speculated that Riis’s strained relationship with UCI chief executive, Pat McQuaid, could also have been a stumbling block to a new licence.

But despite the dramatics, Team Saxo-Tinkoff looks poised to enjoy a solid 2013 season. It has done away with the jumbled Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank name; Nicolas Roche, Roman Kreuziger, Matti Breschel and Daniele Benatti are among the high-profile riders that have joined Riis’s squad recently; and on Friday, it announced that it had added former Australian time-trial world champion, Michael Rogers.

“It’s an amazingly strong team, especially for the stage races. Roman Kreuziger is probably among the top ten stage riders in the world and he’ll be helping the number one rider, Contador,” veteran Team Saxo-Tinkoff rider Nicki Sørensen told Ekstra Bladet. “And backing them up are quality riders like Nicolas Roche and Chris Anker Sørensen. It’s a very tough tour team and it will be exciting next year.”

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