Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Explanation - Why Saxo Bank haven't signed a new star to help Contador

Contador really needs a strong climber - but who?
As everybody who read my interview with Jesus Hernandez knows, Alberto Contador really wants one more strong climber to help him in the mountains next year. Many could argue that Jesus Hernandez himself or team mate Dani Navarro should be that rider, but as shown during the 2011-season, that’s just not the case. And when Richie Porte decided to leave the team together with Gustav Larsson, it seemed clear Bjarne Riis had to get some reinforcements.

So far the newcomers who can help in the uphill sections are the two Portuguese riders, Bruno Pires and Sergio Paulinho. Even though they are both solid climbers, they are nowhere near the level requested by Contador. So how about a rider like Juanjo Cobo who has just won the Vuelta España and right now is without a team for next year after GEOX had pulled the plug on their sponsor deal or the other former GEOX-captain Denis Menchov? Well, the answer is simple: Riis has neither the money nor the desire to do so.

Let me explain:

First of all, it’s a common mistake to think that just because Saxo Bank boss Lars Seier Christensen said the Danish bank is willing to pump more money into the team if they come up with the right name, Bjarne Riis has a blank check waiting for him. “There is a clause in the contract saying that we will release more money for the team if Bjarne finds the right rider”, it was said at the press conference back in July this year.

Therefore, the real question is, what exactly does “the right rider” mean? Does it mean Bjarne Riis can just pick any available rider on the market and then turn to Saxo Bank for extra money? Or does it mean that if Riis manages to find the rider he is looking for Saxo Bank will help out with the salary? I back the latter…

Riis wanted Hushovd to join Contador
Think about it. During this year’s Tour de France, Bjarne Riis made no effort in hiding how interested he was in signing Thor Hushovd for 2012. Normally, the team may not have the necessary means but with Saxo Bank’s additional financial support this may change. Unfortunately for Riis, the BMC team had a lot more capital to operate with and Hushovd therefore chose to sign with them instead.

In fact it seems like Thor Hushovd wasn’t the only one Riis was chasing. At the 2012 Tour presentation he said: “There have been some riders I would have liked to sign, but financial problems and other stuff got in the way”.

It’s understandable that Bjarne Riis doesn’t have the same capital as a team like BMC but if Saxo Bank really was ready to pump more money into the team in order to get another ‘name’ on the roster, how can it be that a rider like Juanjo Cobo (who signed a €800.000 contract with GEOX just before the sponsor left) isn’t an option? Well, remember what I said about desire?... the same applies for Denis Menchov. Rumor has it he requests €1.80 million a year - not exactly desirable taking into account Saxo Bank already pays Alberto Contador around €5,00 million a year.

I talked with Team Saxo Bank’s press officer Anders Damgaard about it but unfortunately he couldn’t elaborate further since “that specific deal between the cycling team and Saxo Bank is confidential”.

Martin remains an opponent for Contador
Still it doesn’t take a genius to see that if Saxo Bank was willing to pay for the right rider, and Bjarne Riis has been chasing specific riders since July, well then the Dane’s mission hasn’t really been very successful, has it?

Tony Martin is another rider Bjarne Riis had hoped to get on the team with the extra bag of money from Saxo Bank but, like Hushovd, Martin decided elsewise.

So to answer the headline’s question, ‘why hasn’t Saxo Bank signed a new star to help Contador’. There are three reasons:

1. The extra money from Saxo Bank isn't just for 'any rider'.
2. Bjarne Riis hasn’t managed to close the deal with the riders he wanted to use the extra money for.
3. No ‘desirable’ riders are left on the market.

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