Are Tinkoff-Saxo working too hard at the Giro d’Italia?

Rival teams delighted to see Alberto Contador's team leading the peloton so early in the Italian Grand Tour

Tinkoff-Saxo has one job and one job alone at this year’s Giro d’Italia: deliver Alberto Contador to Milan on May 31 in the race leader’s pink jersey.

The Russian/Danish team is clearly taking the earliest stages of the Giro seriously for ‘El Pistolero’. Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael Matthews leads the race, but it is Tinkoff pulling at the front of the peloton during these long days in the saddle.

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With such a high work-rate so early in the race – today was the third of 21 days of hard riding — some say the team is unwise to be expending so much energy.

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“They can keep grinding away, that’s fine by me!” 2012 Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) said. “I don’t know why they are pulling like that all day.”

“They want to be safe in the front position of the peloton, and they want to keep the race under control,” added former world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing).

“I can understand, but it’s a lot of work for them, and the Giro is a long three weeks.”

Tinkoff’s Mick Rogers defended the team’s tactics, saying that the extra energy spent at the front is worth the outlay.

“These days are crucial,” Rogers said after warming down on his turbo trainer. “We have a clean road when we are on the front, and risk is minimised.”

Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso and Mick Rogers congratulate each other after Stage Three of the Giro d'Italia (Brown)

Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso and Mick Rogers congratulate each other after Stage Three of the Giro d’Italia (Brown)

Rogers helped the yellow train on the twisting roads through the valleys and over the two categorised climbs to Sestri Levante in stage three. Before reaching the town, Italian contender Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) crashed and abandoned with a head trauma.

There were many more crashes on stage two in Genoa, and contenders Belgian Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Soudal) and Hesjedal were left behind chasing.

These early days in the Liguria region are just as important as the high Alpine passes in the third week, explained Rogers, who used to pull the Sky train in the Tour de France for Bradley Wiggins.

“These are some of the biggest days in the race,” Rogers added. “You’ve seen that it the past — all it takes is a crash and then six months’ of work is gone. We try to minimize that.”

“Not every stage is the same,” Tinkoff Sports Director Steven De Jongh explained. “Today was one where it was better to work rather than sit in the wheels. We are not going do this every day to Milan!”

Tinkoff-Saxo has earned the right to make its own decisions, however, and Astana Team Manager Giuseppe Martinelli refused to criticise the team’s strategy.

“They are used to doing this work,” Martinelli said at the Astana bus. “Tinkoff-Saxo knows what it is doing. The riders are here to win the Giro for Alberto, and they are strong. Alberto showed in his career that when he does something, he can pull it off.”