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Contador and Tinkoff-Saxo heading to Mount Kilimanjaro

Nearly 80 Tinkoff-Saxo riders and staff members will attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa as part of a team-building camp

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It seems everything Oleg Tinkov does is over the top, so it shouldn’t be a total surprise that the Russian businessman is bankrolling an ambitious, potentially hazardous team-building camp to Africa next week.

Boot camp-style training camps have become the rage among many top teams. Cyclists and staff typically decamp to some remote corner of Europe, undergo some moderate, albeit muddy rigors that would make any Outward Bound instructor proud, and come out of it more unified. That’s the idea, at least.

Bjarne Riis pioneered the notion more than a decade ago, often dressing up in fatigues, doing his best General Patton impersonation, and putting his troops through the ringer in the woods of Sweden, in the warm waters of Lanzarote, or, two years ago, in Israel.

The rational is that riders and staff create a bond that will carry them through the intensity and stresses of the racing season. Other teams have picked up the idea, but Riis and Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov are taking the plan to new heights — quite literally.

Alberto Contador, newcomer Peter Sagan, and the other nearly 80 riders and staff are heading to Africa later this week for an intense, weeklong trek to try to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, towering at 5,895 meters, high above the African plains.

“Team members have been asking me to organize a team-building trip. I talked to the management, I got the green light from Oleg Tinkov, and I started planning it,” Riis said in a release announcing the trip last week. “This will be a very good challenge for everybody, and I look forward to see how the team reacts under this kind of stress and difficult situations, climbing in such high altitudes.”

No easy feat

The itinerary itself is quite ambitious by any standard. Not only must all the riders and staff travel to Tanzania in East Africa, they will eventually gather at Machama Gate at 1,828 meters above sea level, inside the Mount Kilimanjaro National Park.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is no easy feat. As the highest point on the African continent, it is also the tallest, freestanding mountain in the world, meaning climbers must endure dramatic elevation gains in just a few days. The route includes a demanding trek of six to eight hours per day for four days through deep forests before tackling high altitude and ice fields near the summit. The idea is to reach the Kilimanjaro summit on November 5 with all staff members and riders.

Some have wondered if the camp is simply too risky or dangerous for Tinkoff’s payroll, estimated to top $25 million annually. Is it worth the risk to Contador or Sagan falling ill or suffering serious injury, perhaps jeopardizing their 2015 season, to build team spirit? Riis certainly seems to think so in his and Tinkov’s quest to build the “world’s best team.”

“For me, the [best team] is the team that has a bit of everything: points, victories, but also members that are proud to be part of it,” Riis explained. “We want a team that has values and works with the values, and such a trip as this one [to Africa] will help us create a very strong and united group.”

Tinkoff has closed out its roster for 2015, with a total of 30 riders for next season. Six new faces join the team, including Peter and Juraj Sagan, Macej Bodnar, and Ivan Basso (all from Cannondale), as well as Pavel Brutt (Katusha) and Robert Kiserlovski (Trek). Sean Yates and Bobby Julich are expected to join the sport director staff as well.

The core of the team remains intact, with five departures. Nicki Sorensen and Karsten Kroon are both retiring, with Nicolas Roche going to Sky, Rory Sutherland to Movistar, and Marko Kump to Adria Mobili.