Across the plains of France, Italy and Spain, the men on a mission

The riders at Bjarne Riis’s Team Saxo-Tinkoff are gearing up for a season that could prove to be their most exciting ever

Bjarne Riis and Team Saxo-Tinkoff (TST) have embarked on perhaps their most exciting season in several years, and with the early part of the season in full motion, Danish cycling fans are expecting big things this year.


December feels like a long time ago. Back then, things had looked less promising when TST still weren’t even guaranteed a place in this year’s UCI World Tour despite winning the Vuelta a España as recently as September.


The international governing body, the UCI, was dragging its feet over handing TST one of the last few Tour licences, and it wasn’t until December 11 that Riis and his team could finally release a sigh of relief, and only then because another team had been kicked out. It finally ended a rollercoaster ride that had begun last summer.


Following the end of the 2012 season, TST announced that, with the aid of sponsorship funds mostly obtained from its new main co-sponsor, Tinkoff Bank, it was planning to make a series of high-profile signings in order to force its way back to the top of the cycling word’s elite. It wasn’t lying.


One after one, they joined the TST ranks. Nicolas Roche, Michael Rogers, Roman Kreuziger, Matti Breschel and Oliver Zaugg were among the names that boarded ship. The new signings, combined with top riders Alberto Contador and Chris Anker Sørensen, look to be a solid group primed for success.


And now that their season is guaranteed, there is absolutely no doubt that Riis and TST will be poised to snatch as many tour victory points as possible. And it is particularly the big three races that matter most: Italy’s Giro d’Italia (starts May 4), Spain’s Vuelta a España (starts August 24) and of course the most prestigious and important, France’s Tour de France (starts June 29).


“I personally think that this [to win the Tour de France] will be the mission of Riis’s season and perhaps even of his time as a team owner,” Ole Kristensen, the news editor at Danish cycling magazine Cykelmagasinet, told The Copenhagen Post. “To win the Tour de France with the best bike rider in existence and to once again have the best team in the world.”


However, despite the marked improvements of the TST squad, the competition is going to be intense in every single competition, from the small one-day races to the large stage races. And given the competition elsewhere, this year could be one of the most exciting in a long time.


“The competition is going to be fierce with the participation of Chris Froome/Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans/Tejay Van Garderen, Andy Schleck and likely his Vuelta rivals ‘Purito’ Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde, so the ingredients for a classic season are present,” Kristensen said.


And while cycling fans have a couple of months to wait for the Giro d’Italia to begin, the spring season of this year’s edition is in full sprint already with the eight-stage Paris-Nice race, won by Wiggins last year, which is to be decided this weekend, followed by Spain’s second biggest tour, Volta a Catalunya, which begins on March 18.  


You can be sure that Riis will have one of his crew in the mix for a podium place in both races.



There are over a dozen smaller spring races to be battled through before the Giro begins in early May. Here are four of the best coming up soon.

Milan-San Remo (March 17): This 298km one-day race in Italy has seen some memorable races in previous years that nearly always feature a wild and chaotic finish on a mountain. The race will be shown on Eurosport.

Volta a Catalunya (March 18-24): This stage race around the Catalan area is the second most important race in Spain after the Vuelta. The race started way back in1911, making it the fourth-oldest stage race in the world. Alberto Contador won it in 2011 but was later disqualified because of his doping ban. Previous winners include Miguel Indurain, Laurent Jalabert and Alejandro Valverde, so you know that the race has prestige. Eurosport will show this one.

Paris-Roubaix (April 4): This 254km one-day race in France is loved by cycling fans but despised by many of the riders due to its devious stretch of cobble road that winds through the Arenberg forest, causing a number of spectacular crashes every year. The race will be on TV2 and Eurosport.

La Flèche Wallonne (April 17): The one-day race in Belgium may be less than 200km, but it features inclines on Mur de Huy in the Ardenne Forest that are nearly ten percent on average, and with a few inclines of 26 percent, one of the hills has the rightful nickname ‘The Absurd Hill’. Shown on TV2 and Eurosport.