NICE, France (VN) — Team Tinkoff cried foul in Sunday’s exciting finale at Paris-Nice, alleging that TV motorbikes helped pace Team Sky back to the attacking Alberto Contador.
“That’s not sour grapes, that’s the truth,” Tinkoff sport director Sean Yates told VeloNews. “The motorbikes were a disgrace once again, and they ruined the race.”
Starting the final stage 15 seconds in arrears, Contador opened up a gap of about one minute to leader Geraint Thomas (Sky) over the top of the first-category Cote de Peille with 47.5km to go, but that evaporated on the long descent to the first-category Col d’Èze with 15.5km to go as the leaders regrouped. Tinkoff pointed a finger at the TV motorbikes, which Yates insisted paced the chasing Thomas group back to the attacking Contador.
“It my opinion, if the motorbike didn’t help tow that group back, Alberto would have won the race,” Yates continued. “We were screaming at the [UCI] commissaires to do something. There’s no way they [Sky] would have shut that down.”
On the Col d’Èze, Contador attacked four more times before finally gapping Thomas, but the Welshman was able to regain contact with other chasers coming into Nice, and managed to hang on to victory by just four seconds. Thomas scoffed at suggestions the motorbikes might have helped the chase to close down Contador’s early surge.
“They can say what they want. We won,” Thomas said. “You can also say that they had bikes in front of them on the climb.”
Frustration aside, Contador was impressive in Sunday’s final stage, and made a daring, long-distance sortie in an all-in bid to win. It almost worked. Thomas finally became unglued on the Col d’Èze, and he admitted he thought he was cooked.
“When Alberto went, I thought I just need to keep my tempo, then my legs just exploded. I thought the whole race had gone tits up,” Thomas said. “I just had to keep fighting. I had put on a 54-ring because I knew it was a descent that I could pedal down. That came in handy.”
Yates ticked through the small differences that decided the race. He pointed out that the cancellation of the short but steep Mount Brouilly summit finale in stage 4 worked against Tinkoff, but also admitted that Contador was on the wrong side of a split when the group fractured in the bunch sprint in stage 2.
“Losing that stage chipped away at one of our opportunities to win the race, and the prologue favored Thomas and [Richie] Porte,” Yates said. “Alberto lost four seconds in that split. When that happened, I said, ‘let hope that doesn’t come back to bite us.’ And that’s exactly what the winning difference was — four seconds.”
The thrilling and acrimonious Paris-Nice battle is a preview of what lies ahead between Sky and Tinkoff all season long. Contador promises to go down swinging in what could be his final professional season, and Sky is his main opponent. He desperately wants another Tour de France victory, and Sky’s Chris Froome is standing in the way. Froome and Contador will square off for the first time this season at the Volta a Catalunya.
“There is a rivalry between us and Sky,” Yates said. “They’re a great team, and today we showed we’re a great team, especially Alberto. We all want to see. Both teams are very equal. It should be a big battle in Catalunya.”