With Contador out back-up rider becomes main course for Tinkoff-Saxo in Tour de France

Cheered on by team owner Oleg Tinkoff from the team car in the last climb, Rafal Majka delivered for Tinkoff-Saxo, taking Stage 14 ahead of overall leader Vincenzo Nibali a day after taking second behind the Italian at Chamrousse.
With Alberto Contador's withdrawal, Poland's Rafal Majka has been pushed into a different position with Tinkoff-Saxo.  ERIC FEFERBERG / AFP
With Alberto Contador's withdrawal, Poland's Rafal Majka has been pushed into a different position with Tinkoff-Saxo. ERIC FEFERBERG / AFP

RISOUL, France // On the first rest day of the Tour de France this week, the whole Tinkoff-Saxo team went for a ride with the sports directors and manager, Bjarne Riis.

They pulled over and sat in a field to reflect on the loss of Alberto Contador, who crashed out in a descent the day before. Riis asked the riders to speak up as they looked to decide on a new strategy.

On Saturday, cheered on by team owner Oleg Tinkoff from the team car in the last climb, Rafal Majka delivered, taking Stage 14 ahead of overall leader Vincenzo Nibali a day after taking second behind the Italian at Chamrousse.

The Pole, a late inclusion in the squad after Czech Roman Kreuziger was left out after problems with his biological passport, was there to help Contador in the mountains.

“Before the Tour I had a discussion with Riis and the sports directors,” Majka said. “The plan for me was to take it easy in the first week to hit top form to help Alberto in the mountains. But then Alberto crashed and the plan was to win stages.”

So Majka tried his luck on Friday, but he lacked the final kick to stay on Nibali’s wheel.

On Saturday, he benefited from team mate Nicolas Roche’s help.

“The plan was to have Rafal and Nico in the break and they managed excellently,” sports director Philippe Mauduit said.

“Rafal executed the tactics brilliantly and he was still very strong on the final metres after a very long day in the front group, and it was a magnificent piece of teamwork that provided him with the extra power.

“A big day for Rafal and a big day for the entire team.”

Meanwhile, Joaquim Rodriguez said he is confident he can win the King of the Mountains title after reclaiming the polkadot jersey.

The Spaniard was third last year but came to this Tour short of form after crashing during the Spring Classics and Giro d’Italia.

He had not raced since pulling out of May’s Giro and spent the first week at the Tour just trying to hang on to the peloton. But since the race reached the mountains, he has been on a mission to pick up points in the polkadot jersey competition.

After getting into yesterday’s breakaway, he gained 35 points and took back the jersey he lost to race leader Nibali on Friday.

“I had to go with the breakaway because I can’t do anything in the overall standings,” said the 35-year-old Katusha climber. “The only thing I can do is pick up [mountain] points. I went from a long way out and I swept up a lot of points today.”

He had held the jersey since getting in the breakaway on Monday’s 10th stage and was a kilometre from winning that stage when Nibali overhauled him. The Italian then took the jersey on Friday when he won that summit finish, too.

Rodriguez only just took it back as Majka moved level on points with him after winning yesterday, with Nibali just two points behind.

“Rafal and Vincenzo are my big rivals in the Pyrenees but I got a lot of points in the Alps,” said Rodriguez. “For me the Pyrenees are easier and I’ll feel better there.”

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Published: July 19, 2014 04:00 AM

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