20 June 2013

Tour de France 2013: The Teams 7 - Saxo-Tinkoff

Team Saxo-Tinkoff were always going to build their team around one man, the man who has won the Tour twice before, Spaniard Alberto Contador. So here is the team that they are hoping can deny Team Sky from winning their second Tour in a row.

Alberto Contador returns to the Tour after his suspension, although he has already won last year's Vuelta since he resumed racing. There is perhaps a little irony that the last time a Saxobank sponsored rider won the Tour de France was when Andy Schleck was promoted as a result of the exclusion of Contador. In the recent Critérium du Dauphiné Contador say he was only at 75%, that lead to him finishing 10th some 4'27" down on Chris Froome of Sky. This season Contador's best finishes have been second in the Tour of Oman (behind Froome) and third in Tirreno-Adriatico (behind Vincenzo Nibali and Froome) it means that while he is good the other two have been better. It has yet to be seen if he can find the other 25% he says he is short and even if he does whether his team will be able to overcome the persistance that Sky can produce.

First of those supporters is Michael Rogers who knows exactly how Sky turn the screw as he was part of the team around Bradley Wiggins last year doing just that. In the the Critérium du Dauphiné towards the end it was actually Contador who was riding for him. But don't forget the Aussie was actually 23rd in last year's Tour after often being the last Sky rider to peel off before Froome and Wiggins went for the final assault as was second in support of his team leader in last year's Dauphiné. It will be the 9th time in the Tour, his best finish being his 9th place in 2006 when he was with T-Mobile. As with the Sky boys last year he will be there through most of the mountain passes give Contador some much needed support and he can ride at the Team Sky tempo.

Another strong Lieutenant is another new arrival at Saxo-Tinkoff Nicolas Roche. Being the son of a famous father is never easy but apart from his first Grand Tour Nico has never been outside the top 25 in his other eight attempts, only in the 2010 did his 7th place finish take him inside the top 10. But Nico is always there or there abouts, just like his famous father you may think he has been dropped but he always manages to somehow hang on a limit his loses. This time of course he can ride for someone else without the pressure of being the best placed rider in his team.Plus he also has Rogers doing exactly the same thing. It wouldn't surprise me if Nico ends up with a top 10 finish even though he is riding to support Contador.

Italian Matteo Tosatto will be starting his 25th Grand Tour and 6th Tour. In the 2006 Tour he won his only Tour stage over a medium mountain stage to Mâcon. He is however, mainly a classics specialist coming 7th in last season's Paris-Roubaix. 

His fellow Italian Daniele Bennati is the sprinter on the team. He took the points jersey in the 2007 Vuelta and 2008 Giro and two stages in the 2007 Tour. Of course all that success was BC (Before Cavendish) because Bennati has not finished ahead of the Manx man in a Grand Tour sprint that they have both been in the top 20 since that 2008 Vuelta. The 32 year old is still going to try in the bunch sprints but he may need a little luck to overcome all the young guns who will be gunning for the win alongside him and it is unlikely that most of the team will be riding in a train for him so he will be having to follow in wheels of other trains. 

Sérgio Paulinho from Portugal has won two stages in the Tour, one a Team Time Trial the other in 2010 was the medium mountain stage into gap. Last month he came second in the Tour of Norway behind Edvald Boasson Hagen. It will be his 6th Tour his best finish was 34th in 2009, so he'll be largely riding in support on the early stages of the mountain stages.

Jesus Hernandez is the first of two Spaniards who will be riding in support of Contador. He will be riding in third tour after his debut for Astana in 2010, he appeared for Saxobank in 2011. He has also ridden in the Vuelta four times and has his best Grand Tour finish in the 2009 edition of his home Grand Tour when he came 19th.

The other is Benjamin Noval is 34 years old with a long if not distinguished career since turning pro in 2001. He has ridden in 9 Grand Tours 6 of them in France. Though he can climb which is the sort of help you need for a GC contender.

The final member of the team is Roman Kreuziger who has twice been in the top ten of the GC at the Tour, 9th in 2009, 8th in 2010. He was also 5th in the 2011 which may well have resulted in his worst result in the Tour that year. Earlier this season he won the Amstel Gold Race and was third in the Tour de Suisse, so he is a rider with form this year and another of the super domestiques that Contador can call upon in the high passes.

Saxo-Tinkoff have picked a team that should be able to maintain a high number of riders to the fore even if Sky set a strong tempo. They also have enough tough riders that they could set off attacks to try and disrupt the way Sky are doing things, whether this will be enough to help Contador or whether it will just make Sky rider harder is something that will unveil itself once we get into those mountains. We'll also then see if Contador has the acceleration we know from old, recently he has merely gone up the road and hung off the front as Sky rode back at their tempo.

- Roman Kreuziger, Tjekkiet

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