Friday, March 9, 2012

The one with the rifle shoots!

It's a new world at Team Saxo Bank. Alberto Contador is out until August and that means the Danish team now needs to find another rider ready - and able - to step up and try to fill Contador's shoes. Seems like Mission Impossible right?

And if we stay in this movie-theme, I think a specific scene from Enemy at the Gates actually fits the situation very well. Preparing for battle the Soviet officers are given out one rifle per two men with the second man getting a clip of ammunition.

Handing out the rifles the officer says: "The one without a rifle, follows him with one! When the one with the rifle gets killed, the one who is following picks up the rifle and shoots!"

Alberto Contador has been sidelined so now it's time for the second guard to pick up the rifle. Riders like Dani Navarro, Jesus Hernandez, Chris Anker Sørensen and the Polish youngster Rafal Majka, who is set to the team in the Giro, all have potentials to do great things and now it's time to show it.

At Team Saxo Bank they feel the cold wall against their back these days, but that doesn't mean they give up. "We have certain expectations that they [the mentioned riders above] have the class to bring in results", Team Saxo Bank PR-manager Anders Damgaard tells me.

Navarro working hard on the climbs
for  team lader Contador last year.
No one expect a rider like Dani Navarro to win the Tour, of course not, but according to Navarro himself the chances of an overall top10 place isn't that far off. "If I don't have to help out Alberto I could try to go for a top10 spot myself, even though it would be hard", Dani Navarro told back in December last year. Especially the one-week stage races are a good chance for the strong Spaniard to show himself. "If I could get my own chance in those races, I could do top5 or top10", Navarro claims.

So far Dani Navarro already showed his class in Tour Méditerranéen where he ended 3rd overall after a good performance on the mountain stage where he took 2nd after season sensation Jonathan Tiernan-Locke. In the ongoing Paris-Nice, Navarro was in the first group on stage two, but got caught up in the crash. He lost the GC that day, but has been showing good signs, especially in the uphill section,s ever since. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends off with a great performance on Col d'Eze the last stage, even though time trialing isn't one of his strong suits.

Jesus Hernandez is a bit of a mystery. In training he is one of the absolute strongest uphill, just ask Lance Armstrong, but as soon as he gets that race number on, something changes. He is 100% dedicated to his captain, that often being his best friend Alberto Contador, and it seems difficult for him to change focus and try his own luck. Even with Contador sidelined Jesus Hernandez admits that he by instinct still looks for him in the peloton to see how he is and if he needs something.

Jesus Hernandez as always just
next to team mate and friend Contador.
In the past Jesus Hernandez has done top20 in the Vuelta España and the one day he tried to go in a breakaway he managed to take 8th on stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia last year. Jesus Hernandez has the potential of doing big things in the mountains, for himself, and if Bjarne Riis [and Alberto Contador for that matter] can get him to understand that and believe in that, I think he could take home a beautiful mountain stage win in the Tour de France.

Just yesterday Jesus Hernandez came back home from a mini training camp with Alberto Contador, who according to himself is doing better in tests than ever before, and it sounds like Jesus Hernandez is getting in pretty good condition for the up-coming races. "Training with him [Alberto Contador] is harder than the races", he wrote on Twitter.

Chris Anker Sørensen taking his first
Grand Tour stage win in the Giro 2010.
Chris Anker Sørensen has for a long time been a huge talent in the mountains and to be fair he has already taking great stage wins in races like Giro d'Italia and Dauphine Libéré, as well as coming very close in the Vuelta España. Still it never seems to work out for Chris Anker in the Tour de France. Now he has the chance to change that!

At the team presentation last year Chris Anker Sørensen said that he saw himself at the same level as Chris Froome [sensational 2nd overall in the Vuelta España last year] and if he can prove that on the road, the Danish climber could reach new highs this year.

Last up is Rafal Majka. According to Bjarne Riis the team has a plan for the young Polish rider in the Giro this year with hopes of a good place in the overall classification. Last time Riis had a similar plan was when Andy Schleck ended 2nd in the Giro d'Italia. Majka did very well last year in his first pro-season and at the team presentation he said that he think he has good time trial skills as well as strong climbing legs on the long steady climbs. It's difficult to know what to expect from Rafal Majka in the Giro this year, but don't be surprised if this Polish youngster ends up fighting for a spot in the top10.

It's time to pick up the rifle and shoot!

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