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The thing about Oleg Tinkov?
His money is always where his mouth is.
The Russian, who owns the Tinkoff-Saxo team, has challenged the sport’s best general classification riders to fight it out in all three grand tours next season, and he’s offering 1 million Euro total ($1,267,910) — 250,000 Euro each — to Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali, and his own Alberto Contador, if the men compete against each other in the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, and the Vuelta a España.
The four men amount to an all-star cast of grand tour talent. Froome (Sky) won the 2013 Tour de France; Quintana (Movistar) won the 2014 Giro; Nibali (Astana) has won all three, including this year’s Tour, and Contador has six grand tour wins on his resume. The riders, thus far, have been mum in public on the subject, though Contador has already announced his decision to aim for a Giro-Tour double, circling the Italian contest as his first major goal of the 2015 season.
With Contador fresh off a Vuelta win at less than full clip, the Spaniard and Tinkov have to like his chances in a Giro that organizers have toasted as balanced and modern. The race features five high mountain stages and one very long time trial, at nearly 60 kilometers. It isn’t seen as an excessive course as some previous editions, aiding Contador in his pursuit.
“I’ll try to do both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, if someone can do it, it’s me,” Contador said at the 2015 Giro d’Italia route presentation Monday. “I don’t know if I can win the double, but the only way to find out is to try.”
Tinkov tweeted to Garmin-Sharp boss Jonathan Vaughters on Tuesday morning, asking if he liked the idea of drawing the best GC riders into a three-race arena. Vaughters said he did. “In every successful sport, the best athletes compete against each other, all year, in the biggest (same) events. So, yes, I agree,” the American wrote.
But all this may be oversimplified. Race calendars for riders are planned around picking and choosing; if a grand tour is very light on climbing and favored two lengthy time trials (as the 2012 Tour de France did) would it makes sense for a lithe climber to target that event? Would the focus on the huge races hurt the smaller races? What about … doping in order to make it through the three, three-week races?
Vaughters told VeloNews that while he liked the idea, the implementation would need work.
“In the scenario [Tinkov] proposes, none of those guys would have a shot at Vuelta. Or maybe even Tour de France. They’d get beaten by lesser riders preparing for just one grand tour,” he said. “But if all the top riders did it, then everyone is equally fatigued and you still get the best winner.”
Vaughters also noted the hit smaller races would take, and said the anti-doping issue based on race days at grand tours alone didn’t stack up. If the playing field were in fact level, fatigue wise, races may not need to be shortened.
“From an anti-doping perspective, I’ve never been a believer that shortening races stops doping. By that logic ultra-marathon runners would be more prone to doping than 100-meter sprinters. And that is just not reality,” Vaughters wrote in an email. “Overall, the idea of top riders in top events, all doing the same race calendar, going head to head each week, makes sense. It’s what draws more fans in and creates a season-long narrative. Not just having races stand alone makes a lot of business sense. They become part of something bigger.”
So how to get there? A man like Tinkov wants to bring spectacle to a sport that can, at times, lack narrative arc. As if to illustrate this point, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) claimed the WorldTour title over Contador after the two anticlimactically withdrew from the Tour of Beijing. It doesn’t seem impossible.
“But certain compromises need to be made for it to work,” Vaughters said. “Maybe an extra rest day in each grand tour? Teams would need to agree to sending similar make-ups of teams to the three grand tours or else an unfair advantage could be created by a team rotating more riders in and out.”
Tinkov, known for his brashness, is an alternative and wealthy owner, at times polarizing and charismatic. He spent big this year already to sign one of the market’s largest prizes in Peter Sagan for 2015, and has an unflinching free-market approach, as seen by this latest move. It is rumored that had Contador won the WorldTour points competition the team would have paid out the $1.3 million anyways.
Tinkov said he doesn’t have a budget for the team, and that its bottom line would be based on available riders. “It depends who we buy. Maybe [Chris] Froome is available tomorrow,” he joked — maybe? — at the 2014 Giro in an interview with VeloNews.
Tinkov made his money in banking after launching a successful beer brewing company and introducing racy marketing and international brewing standards. The 46-year-old is estimated to be worth $1.4 billion, according to Forbes.