Tour de France

Tinkoff turns to Sagan with Contador lacking

Tinkoff-Saxo's Tour strategy appears to be changing as the yellow jersey looks out of reach, while the green jersey is in its grasp.

RODEZ, France (VN) — Alberto Contador ruled the grand tours over the past half-decade, but with his inability to match Sky’s Chris Froome in this 2015 Tour de France, Tinkoff-Saxo is turning its attention elsewhere.

When the Tour began in Utrecht, Tinkoff-Saxo said that the priority was to help Contador win the Giro d’Italia/Tour de France double. Contador won the Giro in May, and the team wanted to help the Spaniard become the first to pull off the double since 1998 when Italian Marco Pantani won.

Contador said that having such a feat in his palmarès would stand out, much more so than just another Giro or Tour win on its own.

With the lashing that he took Tuesday at La Pierre-Saint-Martin, Tinkoff appears to be changing ideas. Instead of yellow, it wants green with Peter Sagan.

Sagan won the points classification in the last three editions of the Tour de France while racing for Liquigas/Cannondale. Tinkoff signed the Slovak over the winter to focus primarily on the classics, but it bought him to the Tour to support Contador and to aim for stages, and possibly the green jersey.

It became evident today during the hot and sticky stage through France’s southwest to Rodez that Tinkoff has changed plans. The Russian team pulled to control the early escape and set up Sagan for the stage win. He finished a close second, his fourth such placing so far in the Tour, and added points to his green jersey. He now leads by 285 over André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) with 261.

“The opportunity to win stages is there. A stage like today with an uphill finish, it’d be crazy not to take advantage of that,” sport director Sean Yates said next to the bus in the baking Rodez sun.

“The goals in the team are to get results whether that be green jersey, podium, stage wins, or otherwise. Obviously at a certain point, if [Froome] continues as he is, we realize it’s going to be hard to beat him. And we are not going to throw away a chance at stage wins.”

Contador lost time in the team time trial to Froome’s Sky team, but the big hit came on the stage to La Pierre-Saint-Martin. He was one of the first big riders to be dropped, before Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and lost 2:51 to Froome. The seven-time grand tour winner now sits sixth overall at 4:04, with eight stages remaining.

Sport director Steven De Jongh told VeloNews this morning that the Tour win is unlikely and that it is “disappointing.” That realization could have made the team decide to put more weight behind Sagan winning stages and a fourth green jersey.

The team had explained in a pre-race press conference that Contador would come first and Sagan would have to work on his own for stages and green jerseys. It is unsure whether this change could help or hurt Contador’s confidence as he tries to claw back time on Froome.

“If Peter [Sagan] has success, it’s great for the team,” Yates added. “He is pressuring himself; he wants to perform as well as possible. We will keep chipping away on all fronts.”