Tinkoff-Saxo, the WorldTour team owned by Russian entrepreneur Oleg Tinkov, issued a statement Monday defending its “Three Grand Tours” proposal, which would pit the sport’s top general classification riders against one another at all three grand tours — the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a España — with a €1 million prize on the line for the winner.
The proposal has been met with mixed reactions. Tinkoff riders Alberto Contador, the recent winner of the Vuelta, as well as Michael Rogers, have been, understandably, supportive of the concept.
“I feel it comes along at the right time. I feel we need to change the sport. I feel we need to simplify. [Cycling] needs a fresh voice, like Oleg’s. It’s pulling cycling out of its comfort zone. That’s probably the best way I can put it,” Rogers told VeloNews last week.
According to Tinkoff-Saxo, Movistar general manager, Eusebio Unzué, who manages Giro d’Italia champion Nairo Quintana, has said the idea “was a good one,” while Team Sky manager, David Brailsford, who directs 2013 Tour champion Chris Froome, “thinks it has a lot of merit.”
Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali, the reigning Tour de France champion, has been the highest-profile rider to dismiss the idea, saying it would require an entire shift of goals and lifestyle.
“It’s not a question of money, but programming, goals, and a lifestyle choice. Already to prepare for a big race like the Tour requires a lot of self-sacrifice and a lot of work,” Nibali told Italian website Tutto Bici last week. “Cyclists are away from home often. We neglect our family to go race or to train for long periods at camps. Fitting in three grand tours would not be humane, at least for me.”
The team, however, believes its proposal is not only attainable, but necessary to bolster interest in pro cycling, putting it in the spotlight of the world’s media.
“Racing in the three grand tours isn’t an issue in itself for the world’s best riders, they will not have any problems with that,” said team manager Bjarne Riis. “However, winning or going for a podium place in all three is another thing and that will narrow it down to very few people. I think there is a very small number of riders that are able to accomplish such a remarkable feat and we still don’t know who they might be, because it hasn’t been done before. That’s the beauty of this challenge.”
Full text of the team’s statement below:
Tinkoff-Saxo is convinced the idea to have the world’s best four riders compete head-to-head in the three grand tours will be beneficial to the sport of cycling. Right now, all teams have the unique opportunity to take the challenge and shape their team and riders programs accordingly.
What if the world’s best riders battled it out against each other in all three grand tours in 2015? What started as a simple idea by Tinkoff-Saxo’s CEO, Stefano Feltrin, a few months ago, could very well become a turning point in cycling.
The motivation behind the idea to have the world’s top riders competing together was to bolster interest, not only among cycling fans but also well beyond. Given the absence of major international sports events in 2015, the “Three Grand Tours” proposal by Tinkoff-Saxo will undoubtedly benefit the sport of cycling, putting it in the spotlight of the world’s media.
It will be first time ever that audiences around the world will be able to watch a clash of all four cycling titans across the season, in the world’s three most prominent races. Very few riders have tried it before and its appeal will certainly go beyond the novelty factor. It might even be the biggest sports story next year and capture the attention of audiences that don’t usually follow cycling. If this is standard practice in all major sports why shouldn’t it be as well in cycling?
According to Feltrin, “this isn’t a joke or a publicity stunt. We are very serious about it and we feel it is a proposal that will help cycling move forward. The fact our team owner Oleg Tinkov is putting on the table an important financial incentive is further proof of our intentions. The offer of €1 million by Tinkoff Credit Systems could also be matched by other sponsors.
We first approached the other teams during the recent Vuelta and we are encouraged by the recent positive reaction to our idea. We look forward to further discussing it with the key stakeholders.
Team Movistar manager, Eusebio Unzué, has stated the idea was good while Team Sky manager, David Brailsford, thinks it has a lot of merit. They both agree it is a question of making the right program, so we invite them to make this in the interest of evolving cycling.”
There is no doubt this will be physically a very demanding undertaking and Tinkoff-Saxo is well aware of that. Its captain, Alberto Contador, has publicly stated he would be gunning for the Giro-Tour double and the last victorious rider in that attempt was Italy’s Marco Pantani more than 15 years ago. Tinkoff-Saxo considers very encouraging the fact that Vicenzo Nibali, winner of the 2014 Tour de France, has also announced he would be taking the Giro-Tour double next year.
The routes of the Tour de France and Vuelta a España still haven’t been made public but the recently-unveiled Giro makes that attempt still difficult but feasible. As Oleg Tinkov noted, “the Giro d’Italia course in 2015 is hard and impressive, but not cruel. There are very few transfers, short stages and a mild final week.”
Recent developments in the recovery of the riders between each stage and the attention they receive will certainly help towards achieving the goal. With 30 riders in their squads, the big teams can schedule their season in order to have a fresh group that will help its captain in each grand tour. In addition, training is done much more scientifically now compared to the past and even if they aren’t at 100 percent of their potential, the world’s top riders can have a serious shot at winning. In addition, the current very stringent controls will ensure that riders stay within legal limits and no doping incidents tarnish this incredible endeavor.
For Bjarne Riis, team manager, “racing in the three grand tours isn’t an issue in itself for the world’s best riders, they will not have any problems with that. However, winning or going for a podium place in all three is another thing and that will narrow it down to very few people. I think there is a very small number of riders that are able to accomplish such a remarkable feat and we still don’t know who they might be, because it hasn’t been done before. That’s the beauty of this challenge.
I believe Alberto Contador can aim at the podium in all three grand tours in one season and I think he has the capacity to do it. Nevertheless, I think that extraordinary physical capacity alone will not be enough. It is a very important factor but a rider needs three more crucial elements: The ability to recover between races, the mental strength and a perfect preparation and planning of the season.
As I said, maybe just a handful of riders combine all the elements to undertake such an extraordinary challenge. Do we know who they are? Not yet, because we have never had the opportunity in the past, so it would be excellent to see it happen, as soon as next year.”
Aiming at three grand tours might leave the door open for other riders to prepare for just one and claim it. It is a risk Tinkoff-Saxo acknowledges and is willing to take as it can only help the sport of cycling evolve.