Did Saxo-Tinkoff take out the Danish trio from the grassy knoll?
This year’s Tour de France is expected to be the biggest ever as the legendary cycling race celebrates its centenary, but from a Danish perspective, it could be less than special.
Last year, the Danes from Team Saxo-Tinkoff (TST) filled the newspaper columns with their aggressive cycling and excruciating climbing, despite the team entering one of its weakest ever line-ups. Michael Mørkøv rode in breakaways on an unprecedented three days in a row, and who can forget the bloodied and bruised Chris Anker Sørensen battling his way to third in the King of the Mountains category despite his hand gushing with blood after he caught it in his own wheel. His steely determination saw him win the most combative rider award.
But this year, there will be no repeat heroics for Sørensen or Mørkøv, or any other Dane on TST’s team for that matter. There were no Danish names on the nine-rider Tour de France squad list that TST unveiled last week. Not one. Nul.
TST’s squad list consists of Alberto Contador (Spain), Michael Rogers (Australia), Roman Kreutzinger (Czech Republic), Nicolas Roche (Ireland), Matteo Tossato (Italy), Daniele Bennati (Italy), Sergio Paulinho (Portugal), Jesus Hernandez (Spain) and Benjamin Noval (Spain).
Danish fans will instead have to hang their hopes on the riders who have been confirmed so far: Brian Vandborg (Cannondale), Lars Bak (Lotto-Belisol) and Jacob Fuglsang (Astana). Alex Rasmussen (GarminSharp) could join that list if he makes his team when its tour list is announced this week.
Ole Kristensen, the editor of Cykelmagasinet, believes that TST’s decision to leave out the Danes could have negative consequence for TST and for the tour’s popularity this year.
“With Anker Sørensen, Mørkøv and Nicki Sørensen missing from the team, it will have a negative effect on the Danish coverage of the tour and it will be bad for TST and for [team manager] Bjarne [Riis],” Kristensen told The Copenhagen Post. “Anker Sørensen was sick for a while, so his omission was perhaps not the biggest surprise, but Nicki Sørensen and particularly Mørkøv getting cut was a shock.”
The trio still have a chance of appearing in the tour as they are listed as TST’s three reserves. But this means they must rely on the unlikely scenario of one of their colleagues succumbing to injury before Saturday – the day the race begins in Porto-Vecchio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.
Oleg Tinkoff, the owner of TST’s co-sponsor Tinkoff Credit System, fully supported Riis’s picks for the tour, stating that he was 100 percent behind the choices, despite the lack of Danes.
“In modern sports there is no time for national loyalties; it’s the sporting aspect that is important,” Tinkoff told MetroXpress newspaper. “The team was chosen based on sporting criteria, and I am sure that it is the strongest team in the race. I am convinced that we’ll win Le Tour with Alberto.”
During the off-season, TST brought in a number of high-profile riders, including Kreuzinger, Rogers and Roche, in a bid to propel itself back into the upper echelons of the pro cycling world, but it was still a surprise that no Danes managed to make the team. According to Kristensen, it may not just have been for purely sporting reasons.
Kristensen maintained that the controversial choices could be down to TST’s captain, Contador, having a big say in the choices and preferring his trusted Spanish teammates Noval and Hernandez to the Danes.
“TST’s team is immensely strong, but the Danes could have done the job as well as riders like Sergio Paulinho and Noval,” Kristensen said. “Fuglsang will fill much of the Danish media’s subplot now, and while Contador will remain a popular figure, Fuglsang is going to be a big deal – especially if he lives up to his promise.”
Finally, Kristensen has a third theory. The Danish media have been lambasting Riis for years for his links to doping, and Kristensen speculated that the omission of the Danes could be “a big payback” for the years of media hounding.
Ekstra Bladet’s sports editor, Allan Olsen, contended last week that the move “could be construed as a cold shoulder to Danish cycling and a ‘fuck you’ to all the criticism that has plagued the former tour winner in connection with his doping use”.
Historically, Riis has on average chosen two Danes for the tour every year since 2003, although he didn’t use any in 2006 and 2007 either. And in 2008, when Contador won the race, he only sent Sørensen.
Whatever the reason may be, there is even more pressure for Riis and TST to perform after discarding the Danes, because failure to do so will mean facing intense criticism from the Danish press and public.
Sky’s Chris Froome is favoured to win the overall standings. He is 4/6 (Ladbroke’s), followed by Contador (11/4 with Bet365). Other TST riders include Kreutzinger at 300/1 and Roche at 400/1. The top Dane is Fuglsang at 150/1.
The tour begins on Saturday and ends on July 21. The race can be seen live on TV2 and Eurosport.