Giro d'Italia

Tinkoff-Saxo: Contador’s Giro the winning ticket?

Alberto Contador is primed for the Giro d'Italia, and it may be just what his Tinkoff team needs to return to its winning ways

SANREMO, Italy (VN) — Alberto Contador won every grand tour there is, but this Giro d’Italia, starting Saturday on the Italian Riviera, would count for something more given his Tinkoff-Saxo team’s dreary 2015 season to date.

The Russian/Danish outfit sits near the bottom in terms of wins for 2015, a poor place given its large budget, staff, and stars like Contador and Slovakian Peter Sagan. Sagan flopped in the classics and left Contador to pick up the pieces.

Contador typically wins a stage or claims the overall in a short stage race by this point in the season, but he has had to settle for placings so far. That should change during the three weeks in Italy. And for the team, and its Russian owner, Oleg Tinkov, the timing would be perfect.

“I’ve done all I can,” Contador said at a press conference. “I put in all the training miles I’ve needed to be ready for this race.”

It is music to Tinkov’s ears.

Tinkov bought the team from 1997 Danish Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis at the end of 2013 and appointed Riis as team manager. They celebrated the 2014 Vuelta a España win, but after beefing up the team over the winter with Sagan and staff like Sean Yates and Bobby Julich, the festivities have fizzled.

During the classics, Tinkov shook up the team by firing Riis and lampooning him the next day in a press release. Sagan, who only joined from Cannondale/Liquigas over the winter, may have found it unsettling. However, Contador has lived through worse.

He suffered from a brain condition that required doctors to open his head from ear to ear and operate, he dealt with internal team attacks from Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel to win the 2009 Tour de France, and bounced back after a doping ban in 2011.

If anyone can turn around Tinkoff-Saxo’s season, it is ‘El Pistolero’ or ‘The Gunslinger’ from Madrid’s outskirts.

“If Tinkov wants me to win the Giro d’Italia, well that’s what I want too,” said Contador. “I’ve been doing the grand tours for nine years. I’ve always [had] a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. Tinkov wants a Giro win as much as I do.”

Contador came prepared to the Ligurian coastal region in Italy’s northwest corner on the border with France. He met the press today at the team’s hotel in Santo Stefano al Mare, along the course in Saturday’s team time trial to Sanremo.

“This Giro is a bit different if you look at the past years because you don’t have big summit finishes like the Marmolada or Zoncolan. I miss those,” Contador said.

“We have climbs at five to seven percent and big stages where the major climb comes before the finishing one. Maybe that will change the race.”

The famous Mortirolo climb with its 18 percent grade comes ahead of the Aprica finish in stage 16, and the Colle delle Finestre, this year’s highest point at 2,178 meters or 7,145 feet, precedes the Sestriere finish.

Contador previewed the long 59.4-kilometer Valdobbiadene time trial with Italian teammate Ivan Basso before going traveling to train at altitude.

“The key thing is going to be [riding] just as strong in the end of the stage as in the start of the stage, once you are on the road there’s no time for resting,” Contador added about the TT.

“It’s important, but we also have a hard week of high mountains to come afterwards.”

He named Richie Porte (Sky) as a contender because of his winning season to date, Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step) because of his time trial as well as climbing ability, and Fabio Aru (Astana) because of his third place in the Giro and fifth in the Vuelta in 2014.

However, Contador should count himself as favorite number one. He won the Giro in 2008 after being called up at the last minute from vacation. He won again in 2011, but saw that title stripped due to his doping ban.

Contador also counts two wins in the Tour de France and three from his home grand tour, the Vuelta a España. Porte, Urán, and Aru are each still trying to win their first grand tour.

With stages wins and another overall win, Contador would turn around Tinkoff’s tough season.