Contador Signs For Saxo Bank

Friday, 8 June 2012

It’s official, Alberto Contador has signed a three and half year contract to ride for Saxo Bank. He will rejoin the Danish team in August and ride for them until the end of 2015.

Contador is like a corner piece in a jigsaw puzzle. Once he is in place with Saxo Bank other riders in the market can now be placed with different teams.

With Vincenzo Nibali leaving Liquigas for Astana we will see who else is on the move. There are likely to be some changes to the rosters of other big teams, notably Omega Pharma – Quickstep, Team Sky and BMC Racing. The latter is going to find its Swiss roster pillaged by the creation of the new Swiss team IAM for 2013. It is peak time for rider agents who are out in force at races to negotiate with team managers and riders alike.

We’ll see what Saxo Bank does. Hiring Contador is one thing but as we’ve seen the team is light without him. Contador himself was grumbling about a lack of support. So he’ll likely want some extra help for the mountains and perhaps for the flat, even for the team time trials which can be advantageous in a grand tour. The team itself needs more points to stay in the UCI World Tour and this can only come by hiring new riders as for now a UCI rule prohibits Contador from winning points but….

  • As I’ve argued on here before Saxo Bank don’t need a ProTeam licence because Contador will ensure invitations to many races. The problems of not being in the elite are secondary. The sponsor does not know which races they will get exposure in. It matters for the team’s development of riders as riders will want or even need to ride a grand tour every year. Since only a few will make the selection for the Tour, the Giro and Vuelta offer experience and mileage for others.
  • The UCI rule to block riders returning from a doping ban from winning points smacks of extra punishment above and beyond the WADA Code. The full explanation was first set out on this blog and now it seems Riis is ready to take on the UCI with an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Note the two bullet points offer plenty to undermine the UCI. First you don’t need a pricey UCI licence and second you can dismantle a UCI rule. Bjarne Riis isn’t going to be popular in Aigle.

Are Saxo sponsoring until 2015?
The contract until 2015 appears to imply a sponsorship commitment but it is possible there are legal issues here. Simply put Contador could have a contract with Riis Cycling, the corporate entity behind the team which is contingent on continued support from sponsors. If the funding for the team dries up, Contador is free to move. But Contador is one of the few riders able to attract sponsors given his ability to win the Tour de France.

In addition Contador is linked to Anfi, a Spanish holiday resort firm which could well join up with the team.

What about the merger with Liquigas?
There have been reports that the Saxo Bank team could merge with the Liquigas team. We’ll see, it is possible but it would be carnage with two large squads being merged into one. Teams are capped at 30 riders so the combination of two teams would mean losing many riders. Some would go if their contracts are up, some would have to be paid and released. It would be expensive and destablising. Plus each team is run by an identifable leader in Bjarne Riis and Roberto Amadio, both appear to want to stay in the sport. Stranger things have happened but the costs surely outweigh the benefits?

Specialized
The Californian bike company has a contract with Contador and so the Saxo Bank bank team are likely to ride Specialized bikes, indeed a share of the cash behind Contador will support the team too.

Sky Ride
Reports in L’Equipe say Specialized is going to sponsor Team Sky for 2012 too. We’ll see. Pinarello had a firm deal with the British team but when this runs out at the end of the year the choice is open. It’s possible Specialized does link up but I don’t think anything has been signed.

It’s worth stating these choices are usually financial, when you see an advert saying a team or rider has “chosen” a particular bike, shoe or saddle it is because money has changed hands, not after the rider has conducted an extensive search to find the ideal product.

Talking of equipment manufacturers, I gather Giant is looking to back another team, either to replace or complement the sponsorship of Rabobank.

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{ 30 comments }

Reno June 8, 2012 at 5:26 pm

velonation mentioned the other week that Contador’s deal w/ Specialized ends this year.

Larry T. June 8, 2012 at 5:44 pm

If the BIG S ends up sponsoring pretty much all the big teams- will that make it STANDARDIZED instead of the current moniker? No more bogus claims that rider X won race Y because he was racing on a bike with a certain decal on the downtube if they ALL are riding the same brand. I think Il Pistolero really had nowhere else to go for the big euros he wanted. Spanish sponsors are all feeling the effects of the euro crisis, as are the Italians, while the “clean” teams want nothing to do with the “it was the steak” champion.

inopinatus June 9, 2012 at 5:40 am

+1 for “Standardized”. Very droll, minister.

Pave June 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm

I can’t discount that Leakygas and Saxo are tossing around the idea of merger, but why any two big teams would seriously consider a merger after seeing how badly the Nissan-Trek-Radioshack-Leopard thing has gone is beyond me. I understand the business side of the idea, that it may be financially attractive, but it seems that this sort of merger kills your “product,” namely the success of the team the merger was supposed to support.

MarcL June 8, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Sky on Specialized bikes in 2013 may be part of a deal struck when Cavendish joined Sky. There was much talk back then – including on this blog – of what would happen to Cavendish’s close ties to Specialized once he made the jump to Sky.

Roadie61 June 8, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Good point. Wasn’t the Venge created for Cav? As INRNG says the bike choice is usually financial and not the choice of a particular product, but riders like Cav have much influence. I also remember Cav really liking his Scott bike while on CHR. Regardless, he wins on any brand, though Specialized seems to go quite far with designing bikes for particular specialties.

The bike does not make the man, though I do believe that particular designs may suit some riders and not others. He who thinks their bike design/brand will make a difference will likely ride better, right? The placebo effect in action:) We’re a superstitious bunch, aren’t we?

The Inner Ring June 8, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Yes, confidence helps. But so does design. Note when Scott launched a new model Cavendish didn’t use it and kept to the old one, a source of frustration for the sponsor.

Some riders to take an interest in the bikes but most have been used to being told what to ride for years so they are not like those who buy their bikes, who must make choices and spend money.

Roadie61 June 8, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Speaking for myself and likely many of us who spend time demo-ing the most appropriate bike class, design and fit for our needs, it’s hard to imagine not paying much attention to “the ride.”
But as you point out with Cavendish, specific models for specific specialties really matters.

I was a traditionalist, riding chro-moly steel for so long because I liked the feel of it and it worked well for me. I don’t race and when aluminum became so popular for its stiffness and lightness, I had no interest nor need for it.

When full carbon fiber bikes hit the market I initially couldn’t afford one, so I didn’t test-ride one because I knew I’d want it. That’s when I started pitching my pennies into the pig and finally started test-riding these bikes which were famous for softening the rough roads. Life-changing. I had to have it. After 29 years of road riding in 2009, I finally had my first (and maybe last) carbon fiber bike.

In last year’s Tour of Utah (or USA PCC?), Sergio Henao and his Gobernacion team were actually sharing bikes for the prologue and one rider even borrowed a by-stander’s bike. Talk about riding on a budget, but also, riding with heart! Henao won the short prologue in Utah with the steep, uphill finish, exploding in the high altitude! His teammate Oscar Sevilla took 3rd.

Henao beat Leipheimer, Tejay VG, Danielson and CVV that day, and between Utah and CO, Team SKY obviously took notice!

Heart trumped bike brand/design/fit that day!

Owen June 9, 2012 at 11:12 pm

What were Cavendish’s “close ties to Specialized?” They are the manufacturers of top quality cycling shoes, worn by many in the peloton. Cav wears Nike.
As far as I can see he rode (and won quite a lot) a Specialized bike because his team rode them. Then the team died and he moved on.
All the while he wore Nike shoes.
So, what are Cavendish’s “close ties to Specialized?”

Roadie61 June 8, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Glad to see Contador return to Saxo Bank and not go with JB and RNT. Rumors of Saxo merging with Liquigas would leave a lot of riders without jobs (plus the cost vs. benefit factor), but Sagan and Szymd and others with AC would be a big boost to “Saxo light.”

Riis will need some truly key choices with AC back in action. More and more, it’s obvious that having strong TTers on a team is essential for GTs and stage races; once the top TTers lay down fast times, the big gaps often carry these riders far in many races.

With so many changes on the horizon, it’s hard to speculate who might go where, but the formation of a new Swiss team makes things yet more interesting. Could this be a new home for the Schlecks, Cancellara, Voigt (for his swan song) and some strong domestiques from BMC?

BMC the “super team” didn’t work out well at all. Gilbert just can’t find his form this year and Hushovd’s chronic illness has ruined his season thus far. Without wins and a big ego, how much loyalty will Thor have for Evans in the TdF, and Gilbert? Stage hunting might be the name of the game for them, as last year was remarkable for both. Not sure if either will find form, though. BMC doesn’t pressure riders like Gilbert and Hushovd, which during an off season is really cush.

Where Spartacus lands will be exciting as he brings so much to any table!

Jared June 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm
OxChris June 8, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Just speculating – if SaxoBank did lose its ProTeam licence how guaranteed is their place at the Tour really? Obviously on purely sporting criteria with Contador they’re a sure bet but Christian Prudhomme might not fancy running the risk that he’s going to have to give the yellow jersey to someone else two years later if Contador eats a bad piece of steak again. He’s not invited teams before remember – and to Contador when he was defending champion no less.

The clenbuterol case was terrible PR for the tour (and cycling in general) and if ASO didn’t have to invite SaxoBank maybe they wouldn’t want to run the risk of it happening again. Particularly when, if things continue as they are, they’ll very likely have a squeaky clean defending champion next year in Evans or Wiggins, plus maybe Hesjedal will fancy a go next year (if he doesn’t have a serious attempt at the Giro/Tour double this year). Why spoil the cleanest three-way battle for the yellow jersey ever by inviting someone with a doping ban in their past?

What could SaxoBank do about it? Huff and puff and call it a travesty, continued punishment etc etc but if they don’t have a ProTeam licence then that’s all they can do.

channel_zero June 8, 2012 at 7:50 pm

FYI: Specialized is partly owned by Merida. Merida also owns some other brands found in distribution like Diamondback in the U.S. and probably one or two other names found regionally. This explains why Merida has a brand presence in many parts of the world, but none in the U.S.

I think Merida’s deep pockets explains how Sinyard can finance all of those teams/riders.

The Inner Ring June 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm

For more on Merida and all the other brands in the industry, see http://inrng.com/who-makes-what/

Peter Lütken June 8, 2012 at 9:28 pm

I believe I read on Cycling IQ that Merida has an expressed interest in having a Pro Team-level presence too.
Seeing what sort of image boost Giant has gained from supplying bikes to teams like Once, T-Mobile, Rabobank, etc it really makes sense

touriste-routier June 9, 2012 at 12:59 am

A Pro-Conti Saxo might get invites to some Grand Tours and other stage races, but would they get invites to the classics and other 1 day races? Somehow I doubt it, unless they seriously bolster their roster. A team only getting stage race invites might not be a complete enough program to satisfy their sponsor’s needs. Especially considering Riis’ teams’ success has come more on the 1 day front than from stage races (and no, I am not forgetting Sastre).

Did anyone seriously think AC would return to Bruyneel? After the BS with Lance’s comeback, I couldn’t see him going back to JB if he had any other viable offers. It makes for great discussion, but a lot of unrealistic things do!

Kasper June 9, 2012 at 9:39 am

He also won the tour with Andy Schleck ;-).

I’m kidding… Riis team is a far cry from the best team in the world, which is and has always been is main objective since going into the sport as a manager. He reached it at one point with great results in the classics and secondary podium finishes in the grand tours and even a win in 2008.

Now he seems to have to start from scratch, although if scratch is having Alberto, that seems like a good starting point.

If he wins the tour next year with Alberto, there should be a decent chance that he could potentially have a great all round team for 2014. Like BMC this year.

Adam June 9, 2012 at 2:35 am

No real surprise here. Can’t wait for the Vuelta. Despite the clenbuterol case and the nonsense that went along with it, who doesn’t want to see the best riders competing against each other. AC, Wiggo, Evans, the Schlecks, and Giro winner Hesjedal battling it out for Tour glory would be epic and I can’t wait for next year. I can’t see anyone beating an in form Contador, but watching this years Giro was sick and Hesjedal is no longer riding under the radar anymore.

Alan June 9, 2012 at 6:52 am

I’d sell my left one for a Venge.

ToTheBillyoh June 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I ROFLD. But surely you’d then opt for a Trek, the brand of the Texan uniballer?

PeterC June 9, 2012 at 9:14 am

Given CAS’s ruling on British Olympic Team life ban you would have to think Riis would be feeling pretty confident of them ruling the points of returning riders count. Though I think I remember reading Pat felt the UCI was fine as he (AC) wouldn’t be banned from riding nor scoring points, just from having them taken into a account for PT status.

The Inner Ring June 9, 2012 at 9:49 am

If your points don’t count then you are of less value to a team and your salary will be adjusted. If a team wanted to pick between two twin brothers, one who could score points and the other who could not, they’d go for the one with the points. So it is a punishment beyond the WADA Code.

Kasper June 9, 2012 at 9:33 am

From a purely objective point of view, or however Contadors sentence was spelled out, is it then correct to say that he “was convicted for doping and is currently serving a ban for using illegal substances?”.

My friends keeps asking me (probably because of the media) if he was sentenced for doping, and I don’t know what to say?

The Inner Ring June 9, 2012 at 9:54 am

He was convicted for the “Presence of a Prohibited Substance” rather than doping.

There’s a full explanation here: http://inrng.com/2012/02/contador-corrections/

Kasper June 9, 2012 at 11:45 am

Thanks. This doesn’t seem to have sunk in completely with the media, who keeps referring to it as a doping ban.

But thanks for clearing it up.

inopinatus June 9, 2012 at 11:55 am

From the desk of the semantic policeman.

It’s a racing ban, not a doping ban. The ruling didn’t suspend him from doping.

OxChris June 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm

I think you mean pedantic policeman. Doping ban is a commonly used idiom to denote ‘banned from racing because of doping’. Whereas ‘racing ban’ isn’t used by anyone to mean anything.

inopinatus June 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm

That was irony, for the Americans in the audience.

Rooie June 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm

On Giant and Rabo. Giant recently opened five or six shops in the Netherlands. They are doing great and have the best sold cycles. They have won over Trek. So if they are planimg on backing another team, to me it seems that they will want to stay with the Dutch team too.

Anonymous June 11, 2012 at 7:29 am

A similar shop has also popped up in Sydney – perhaps they are banking on the Matthews / Renshaw / Brown factor for sales in Australia? A full-on Rabobank livery GIANT (pronounced Gyantee by the way (according to one of my Taiwanese colleagues): sounds a bit more exotic doesn’t?) is a bit OTT for me though.

Someone fairly reliable told me that Focus bikes were likely to be sponsoring Saxo next year. Not sure whether the Contador thing will upset that plan but Focus were very keen to get a ProTour team again.

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