It was the blockbuster trade of the season. Peter Sagan’s move to Tinkoff-Saxo gave the already-loaded team another deadly weapon.
Cycling’s latest super-duo will match up for the first time this season as Tinkoff-Saxo will bring Alberto Contador and Sagan together in the same jersey in the same race for Tirreno-Adriatico next week.
Contador made his season debut at Ruta del Sol, where he went mano-a-mano with Chris Froome (Team Sky) in a gripping battle that saw the two grand tour favorites separated by two seconds. Sagan, meanwhile, opened his season in the desert, with seven top-fives during the tours of Qatar and Oman, but no wins. Sagan lines up this weekend in Italy at Strade Bianche to make his European debut before linking up with Contador for Tirreno-Adriatico (March 11-17).
With Contador as defending champion, Tinkoff-Saxo will bring an ace squad, but Sagan will have his chances.
“Alberto is in good shape, and we, like him, believe that he can target the overall win. He’s of course using the race to build shape ahead of the Giro, but for a rider like Alberto, it doesn’t mean that you can’t target Tirreno as well”, said general manager Bjarne Riis in a team release.
“It’s a versatile route, where some of the days definitely suit Sagan. We have a strong team, so I see it as a great opportunity to have Alberto and Peter in the same race.”
Many are wondering how Tinkoff will balance the strengths and ambitions of two superstars such as Contador and Sagan. Cycling has been full of stories of riders bashing egos on and off the bike. So far, it seems like that won’t be a problem, primarily because Tirreno could well be the first and last race they’ll take on together until the Tour de France in July.
After Tirreno, Contador will race the Volta a Catalunya in late March in Spain ahead of the Giro d’Italia. From there, it’s unlikely he will race again until the Tour. Sagan, meanwhile, will have a heavy classics schedule, before a likely return to the Amgen Tour of California, the Tour de Suisse, and the Tour.
The big question is how the team will balance Sagan’s quest to win stages with Contador’s goal of the overall title. Again, team management insists that won’t be a problem. At Tirreno, any potential conflict of interests likely won’t play out during the weeklong race across Italy. Tinkoff-Saxo will want to control the race to set up Contador for the GC, so Sagan will be able to catapult off the team’s work and freelance in his hunt for stage victories.
At the Tour, that scenario could play out along similar lines, but with a chance of more friction over the long, three-week battle. Contador is desperate to win another yellow jersey, while Sagan will want to win what would be a fourth-straight green points jersey.
Are those two goals realistic under the same house? Lotto couldn’t work it out between Cadel Evans and Robbie McEwen, nor could Telekom with Jan Ullrich and Erik Zabel. Team brass says the two goals are not necessarily incompatible.
“Both [Contador and Sagan] have said it’s possible to achieve both. It can beneficial for the two of them to each chase their own goals,” general manager Stefano Feltrin told VeloNews in an earlier interview. “Ultimately, it’s a sporting question, and Riis will have the final answer, but we don’t see it as a problem at all. In fact, it’s a bonus for us.”
For Tirreno, most of the media attention will be focused on the season’s first showdown between the “Fab Four,” as Contador faces off against Froome again, with defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and 2014 Giro champ Nairo Quintana (Movistar) also at the line.
“It will definitely mean that we’ll see the intensity of the race increase, not least from the media. It will be interesting for everyone to follow, but you can’t compare it to the Tour, where they’ll all meet again, as they are in different stages of their preparations,” Riis said in the team release.
Riis said this year’s course is not nearly as challenging as last year’s, and suggested that the team time trial could prove decisive.
“It’s a versatile parcours, where there’s terrain for different kinds of riders. It, of course, requires a strong rider to win, but also a strong team,” Riis said. “We’re focused on the team time trial, as this is an important discipline for us in general, and it could also prove decisive for the GC, if the time gaps are small on Terminillo.”
One thing is sure. Sagan will get his chances. Or, to put it more bluntly, he will take his chances. He wants to win, and if he cannot claim his first victory this weekend in Tinkoff colors in Italy, he will be even more motivated for Tirreno.