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“It is far too much to take on. That is why I said every four years maybe have a goal like that. It would probably be better for that year that the Grand Tours are cut down to two weeks, but that is never going to happen. And a Grand...

Photo: Tinkoff-Saxo/Jacinto Vidarte












15.11.2014 @ 16:02 Posted by Joseph Doherty

Despite Oleg Tinkov’s Grand Tour challenge being postponed in 2015, the Russian who owns Tinkoff-Saxo is determined to see the sports top riders compete against each other in all three Grand Tours.


CyclingTips spoke to several people who were both for and against Oleg’s Grand Tour challenge, with some seeing it as necessary for the sport and others seeing it as detrimental.


Former pro Marco Pinotti agrees that on some levels, the idea has some appeal.


“Like every challenge, it is fascinating. You can compare it with winning the Grand Slam in tennis in one year. Only two men and three women have achieved it. That was in a time where that sport wasn’t as global as now and probably not as competitive. Yet keep in mind in tennis the time between the tournament is bigger and tournaments are two weeks long.”


His opinion is shared by Giant-Shimano rider Koen de Kort: “In general, I think the thought is really good. For the normal audience, the people watching TV, for them the current system doesn’t really make any sense,” the Giant Shimano competitor said.


“There are so many races and there are all different riders racing in these races. There are not always the best riders in the biggest races. I do understand a little bit of that.”


Still, he has concerns. “This is not the time. I think the calendar has to change first before we will be able to achieve anything like that.


“At the moment, with all three Grand Tours being three weeks, it is just impossible. There is also so much in between that I think it will be physically impossible to be in good shape for all three of them.”


For him, it’s one thing to ride the Giro, Tour and Vuelta in one year, but quite another to do so at a high level day in, day out. “I am quite sure you can race all three of them,” he explained. “I have raced a couple of Grand Tours in a row as well. But I think you can’t actually go for GC in three Grand Tours. It is just physically impossible.”


Pinotti echoes this. “I think it is simply not possible with the current calendar with four weeks (even less, 27 days) between them,” he said.


“Especially if all of the main competitors in cycling are not obliged to start in all three Grand Tours. We have seen many cases in the past of riders doing the Giro and then the Tour and we know how it went.


“Even in the case all start, I think someone will prevail in one of them, then other one in another race. And it’s not only a physical thing; it’s also mental. You’d need to have a team with the strength to support the leader for all the three Grand Tours. I don’t think any of the GC riders will think about it seriously.”


One man strongly against the Grand Tour Challenge is MTN-Qhubeka Interim General Manager Brian Smith, who thinks three Grand Tours are far too much for some riders to compete to win each year.


“It is far too much to take on. That is why I said every four years maybe have a goal like that,” he told CyclingTips. “It would probably be better for that year that the Grand Tours are cut down to two weeks, but that is never going to happen. And a Grand Tour is a Grand Tour because of the third week.”


The latter point is echoed by De Kort. “I do really like the setup of the Grand Tours being three weeks, and it is quite possible to do a three week Grand Tour. It is hard, but physically it is quite possible,” he said.


“But if you want to get to the stage where you want to have more of the best riders doing more of the bigger races, then something is going to have to change in the calendar. I suppose then shortening the Grand Tours is an option that could actually work well in that regard.”


However, like Smith, he recognises that the Grand Tours are precisely that because of their length. He accepts that things would be different if those races were shorter. “They are getting pretty dangerously close to a ten day Tour of Switzerland then, aren’t they?” he said.


Smith believes it’s possible to do all three of the races, but underlines that there is a difference between participation and overall contention. “Adam Hansen rides all these Grand Tours, but he is not competing every day to stay in front and to lose minimum time,” he pointed out.


“The big GC riders are fit from the start of the season. If you had to be fit for the Giro, fit for the Tour and fit for the Vuelta, then I don’t think people are capable of that."


“Bradley Wiggins said before that he wanted to do the Giro/Tour double and he thought it was physically possible. I had my doubts about it. I still do. These guys are fit…it’s not like they start the Tour slightly underweight. The GC guys are so thin, they are very prone to illnesses. And also to injuries if they crash. I don’t think they are capable of racing at such a high level for all three Grand Tours.”


Smith also thinks that if the stars ride all three Grand Tours, it could have a huge effect on the calendars other big stage races, such as Tirreno-Adriatico, Paris-Nice, the Dauphine and the Tour de Suisse.


“If the Grand Tour riders are riding all three Grand Tours, what does it do to all the other races where they will never make an appearance?” asks Smith.


It is becoming hard in modern, clean cycling to even do the Giro/Tour double. Marco Pantani did so in 1998, but many people accept that he did so on EPO and other performance enhancing drugs. In the era of the biological passport, is it still possible to do the double let alone a triple?


There is also the question of whether 250,000 Euros for each of Froome, Contador, Nibali and Quintana is enough of an incentive to ride all three in one years. There is a 450,000 Euro prize in Paris if you arrive with the Yellow Jersey alone. So why target all three and receive less money than if you target and win the Daddy of them all, the Tour de France? Also, anti-doping expert Robin Parisotto points out that there would be more than four riders involved in the project.


“It would require a whole team effort to get the same rider over the line in the three races,” he said. “Splitting a quarter million euro among a team (assuming support riders would want a cut also) over three Grand Tours doesn’t really amount to much in the end in any case.”


Parisotto also worries that an effort from a GC rider to hold his form for three Grand Tours could send cycling back into the darker times in its history as riders look to performance enhancing drugs to keep them going at their peak fitness.


“Surely Tinkov would expect more from them [the top riders] than just going through the motions,” he said, commenting on the proposal. “Is he doing out of the goodness of his heart? What’s his game?


“If it’s about winning the Grand Tours, the idea itself is ridiculous in the extreme. To think that a rider could pull something off that is unprecedented in the history of the sport (and physiologically impossible) without some major ‘intervention’ is unthinkable.”


“If anyone was moronic enough to take up the challenge they would need more than ‘bread and water’ to get through each tour. The added temptation could push them into, or further deeper, into drug-fuelled territory. Enough to perhaps result in fatal consequences. When EPO doping was totally out of control no-one came close to performing such a feat. With the passport firmly in place these days any attempt to dominate even one tour race through illicit means, let alone all three Grand Tours, is impossible."


“In terms of blood doping there is insufficient wiggle room to provide someone with the physiological benefit/advantage to dominate over another cyclist without it being apparent in their passport. I truly don’t believe that there is anything out there that would be a ‘game changer’ which is undetectable, so for me it would be the tried and tested drugs which would be more likely to be abused. That would be very dangerous.”


He also believes it could have a knock on effect to other riders. “The top cyclists are arguably well remunerated already. One could feel for those in the peloton who are not quite there but have to do the hard yards as well. Such an inducement could tempt other top riders to dope and risk being caught and disqualified. The word ‘entrapment’ comes to mind.”


Unsurprisingly, Parisotto is dismissive of the Grand Tour Challenge. “This is an irresponsible act in my view, let alone impossible. You’d wonder whether the sports ruling body – as well as the respective team owners – will have something to say about this as well. Importantly, also, who would then have duty of care here?"


“If it was up to me I’d be saying to Oleg Tinkov, ‘on your bike!”




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