New-look team rank outsiders after management’s spit and polish
Team Saxo-Tinkoff (TST) were full of surprises last weekend when they released their rider list for the first major cycling race of the season, the 2013 Giro d’Italia, which starts on Saturday in Naples.
Team owner Bjarne Riis settled on young Polish starlet Rafal Majka as the man who will captain the charge for his team in the overall standings, his first lead role in a major race, while Danes Matti Breschel and Mads Christensen will be among the riders battling for individual stages.
“Our protected rider is Rafal. Even though he is still very young, we believe he can finish among the top ten to 15 riders in the main competition if he peaks and he is also in contention for the youth jersey,” TST sporting director Lars Michaelsen said in a TST press release. “I know that Rafal is excited about the last tough week of the race, and I hope that he can show his huge potential in the mountains like he did last year in the Vuelta a España.”
The remaining cyclists in the nine-man team are Karsten Kroon (Netherlands), Daniele Bennati (Italy), Manuele Boaro (Italy), Rory Sutherland (Australia), Bruno Pires (Portugal) and Evgeny Petrov (Russia).
“Aside from protecting Rafal, the team will also be aiming for a stage win, and riders like Manuele, Matti, Mads, Karsten and Evgeny must take the chances that come their way,” Michaelsen said. “We know that Daniele can win Grand Tour stages, but his primary goals come later this season. Rory and Bruno will be Rafal’s key support in the mountains.”
TST’s roster is an untested and intriguing one to be sure, but the fans who had been yearning to see some of TST’s recently-added firepower finally pound their pedals, particularly given that the tour is the first major race of the cycling season, are pointing to the names which were left off the roster.
Along with the glaring absence of Alberto Contador and Chris Anker Sørensen, there were also no sign of the high-profile riders who are expected to thrust TST back up into the upper echelons of the cycling world.
Exciting new signings such as Nicolas Roche, Michael Rogers, Oliver Zaugg and Roman Kreuziger are all absent, despite some good results early on this season – Kreuziger won the Amstel Gold Race just two weeks ago.
One can’t help but think that Riis has decided to sacrifice the Giro this year in order to focus on the Tour de France in July − another hint that TST’s ambitions this season hinge on the most important race of the season. That notion is further supported by TST’s declaration of ambitions for the Giro.
“We will start this year’s Giro d’Italia will two primary aims for the team. We are riding for a stage victory and a solid placement in the overall standings,” Michaelsen contended.
TST’s designs look akin to that in the 2010 edition when a young Richie Porte (Australia) burst on to the scene by finishing seventh in the overall standings and capturing the youth jersey.
Clearly, they hope 23-year-old Majka can pull off a similar feat, and he has been showing promise recently. At the end of last season, the Pole finished third in the Japan Cup and then performed strongly in the Vuelta, finishing 32nd overall whilst providing excellent service to his captain and the eventual winner, Alberto Contador.
Breschel and Christensen won’t be the only Danish contingency lining up to start in Naples this weekend, as they will be joined by Lars Bak, who is lining up for Lotto Belisol Team, and Alex Rasmussen, who is suiting up for Garmin-Sharp. Bak, who won a Giro stage last year, is looking forward to competing in the first major of the year.
“The team wants me to be in peak form for the Tour de France, which is the pinnacle race of the year. The Tour is the primary goal for my season, but the Giro is the second-largest stage race, and it is there that I can race for my own chance,” Bak told TV2.dk.
Following the Saturday start, the Giro riders will dismount for the final time three weeks and 21 stages later in Brescia. They face a gruelling last eight days that features four high mountain stages, one medium mountain stage and a time trial.
The entire race will be covered by TV2, but even the nation’s biggest optimists will hold little hope for a Danish victory of any kind. While TST are 100/1 to finish top team, Majka is 150/1 to win (Bet365) and 25/1 to win the youth jersey.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky Procycling) is a firm 11/10 favourite with Ladbrokes to win the overall standings and garner the pink jersey, followed by Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Pro Team) at 7/4 and last year’s champion Ryder Hejsedal (Garmin-Sharp) at 10/1.