Yes, I want Riis back.
From day one of Alberto Contador’s overly ambitious announcement, the critics have said bad idea. Try to win both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in the same year? That’s insane, highly unlikely and Marco Pantani-impossible unless you’re working with both Dr. Ferrari and Eufemiano Fuentes and Motoman.
Now there’s a new wrench in the plans and an incremental drop in the already low odds. This time it’s not the prospect of battling a fresh Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana up the French Alps after a grueling Giro. No, the obstacle is internal and disruptive and Russian: Contador’s own team owner Oleg Tinkov.
Public disappointment with his expensive play-toy has now led to the temporary removal of team manager, race strategist and Contador confidant Bjarne Riis. According to the team press release, this isn’t about performance or money, it’s about … well, nobody is quite sure other than “disagreements” between the two men.
Contador has already won a Tour de France with major internal strife and stress — read, Astana, Machiavellian teammate Lance Armstrong. The Spaniard is known for his mental toughness as much as his climbing legs. Still, a Tour squad without direction from Riis will be a weaker match for Sky and Movistar.
Tinkov’s twitter management style has been problematic — an unpredictable and volatile mix of praise and blame written in 140 characters or less. He doesn’t manage, he insults, humiliates, rules by chaos, motivates with fear. That’s no way to build a winning culture and team camaraderie — unless the formula is an old school version of “us against asshole boss.”
We’re feeling sorry for Contador and have to wonder if he wishes he hadn’t backed himself into a corner by insisting on the Giro-Tour double. The mental fatigue of doing one grand tour and going right into a second is massive. Now factor in the exhaustion of dealing with a boss who is dismantling your team and lowering everyone’s motivation. Opposite of marginal gain, shit mist of negativity.
That said, there is often an internal battle for team leadership of some kind. Froome fighting to keep Wiggins off his Tour roster last season, Valverde trying to stay top gun when Quintana should be the clear leader. Ambition and greed is not always a pretty thing to watch — read, Radio Shack, Lance Armstrong.
Twisted Spoke says if Contador has any hope of the Giro-Tour double, then he calls Oleg Tinkov with an ultimatum. Riis gets his job and all his powers back or Pistolero refuses to ride Giro in protest. This is no time of year to deal with turmoil and political intrigue. No way is the Spaniard racing grand tours with some old buddy of Tinkov’s issuing orders from the team car.
That would be sad and pointless and stupid but not out of the realm of possibility. This is high stakes poker and Tinkov can’t resist playing psychological games no matter what cards he has in hand. Better to call the bluff now.