Giro d'Italia

Safe at the front: Tinkoff-Saxo takes control early in Giro

Alberto Contador might not be in the race lead at the moment, but his team has already spent plenty of time at the front of the peloton

SESTRI LEVANTE, Italy (VN) — It’s still early days in the Giro d’Italia, but Tinkoff-Saxo is racing like they already own the pink jersey.

The opening stages of the 2015 Giro have left no doubt as to which team is taking control of the race. With Alberto Contador riding for pink, Tinkoff-Saxo has dominated the opening road stages at the front of the peloton.

Basic racing tactics are behind the decision to put in so much work so early. When you’re at the front, you avoid crashes, and you control the peloton, keeping the GC knotted up until the decisive climbs. In Sunday’s and Monday’s technical routes, both marred by crashes, Contador was counting on his teammates to do the heavy lifting.

“The team did a tremendous job again today,” Contador said after the stage. “There wasn’t a moment of rest today. It was up and down all day, with curves, and the safest place was to be at the front. We saved the day, and the sensations are good, but this Giro is just starting.”

Tinkoff-Saxo sport director Stephen De Jongh said the team won’t be pulling for three full weeks, but said it would be when it counts. And Monday’s short, but potentially explosive 135km stage featuring some challenging climbs could have been laden with landmines.

“It’s better to be at the front than fighting for position in the wheels,” De Jongh said. “We want to stay safe. We know how these stages are hard if you don’t keep in good position. It’s better to work than be in the wheels, but we won’t do this all the way to Milan.”

More than a few in the peloton are surprised to see Tinkoff-Saxo pulling so hard. Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) said Contador’s team is setting a blistering pace in the early going.

“I don’t know why Tinkoff is pulling like that all day,” the 2012 Giro champ said. “They can keep grinding away. That’s fine by me.”

Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), who had scouted Monday’s stage because he sensed an opportunity, rode into the breakaway, but sat up when he saw Tinkoff-Saxo riding so hard.

“When I saw Tinkoff pulling so much, I knew that the break would not stay away,” Gilbert said. “Of course, they want to be safe in the front position of the peloton, and they want to keep the race under control. I can understand. It’s a lot of work for them, and the Giro is a long three weeks.”

Orica-GreenEdge played it smart Monday, slotting two riders into the day’s big breakaway group, taking the pressure off of them to do much work in the very lumpy stage.

Perhaps one reason Tinkoff-Saxo is going hot right out of the gun is the 59.4km time trial looming in stage 14. Contador could lose time to stronger time trialists such as Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Richie Porte (Sky), so Tinkoff-Saxo might be thinking to make it as hard and fast as possible to tire out their rivals ahead of the decisive race against the clock. After a strong team time trial to open the Giro, Contador already has time advantages on his key rivals.

Contador said he’s not chasing pink just yet, but he wants to do everything within his power to avoid a disastrous crash similar to the one that knocked him out of last year’s Tour de France.

“Our goal isn’t the pink jersey now, but we don’t want to see a situation where no one takes control, and someone gains 10 or 15 minutes,” Contador said. “And in a short stage like today, it’s hard to chase back a breakaway that gains a lot of time. My team did a great job today, and I am thankful to every one of them. They are giving me huge confidence so far through this Giro.”

The narrow coastal roads along the Liguria region in the opening days of this year’s Giro are among the most technical and challenging of this year’s route, and Tinkoff-Saxo is leaving nothing to chance.

The yellow and blue jerseys will be swarming again at the front in Tuesday’s hilly, complicated stage along the picturesque Cinque Terre coastline toward La Spezia.

“We know the roads through here. They’re windy, up and down, and we don’t want to take risks,” said Tinkoff-Saxo’s Michael Rogers. “These are important stages, some of the most important of the Giro. You’ve seen that in the past. All it takes is one crash, and then six months of work is gone. We try to minimize that. When we have a clean road in front of us, that risk is minimized.”

In Monday’s third stage, Dominico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) suffered a horrendous crash on a twisting descent, but luckily was not seriously injured despite a horrific impact to his chest and body. Thankfully, Pozzovivo looks to be OK, but his Giro is over even before it started.

That’s just the type of scenario that Contador wants to avoid.