Tinkoff-Saxo has now published an expanded version of the 'three Grand Tours in one season" idea floated by its billionaire owner Oleg Tinkov, and even with some extra meat on its bones, it still isn’t a good one for the riders.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

If you haven't been following the story, Tinkov wants an injection of excitement in men's professional road cycling via head-to-head matchups during the 2015 season with the four best Grand Tour cyclists.

The big four, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Froome (Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) would have their pumps primed, so to speak, with an incentive of $363,000 each.

Tinkov wants to take advantage of a seasonal gap in the global sporting calendar and place cycling in the limelight, which is smart thinking for what in context remains a minor international sport.

Money aside, this a motherhood and apple pie idea. Everyone wants to see the best of the best riding against each other regularly (we almost had that at the Tour de France), but the devil is always in the detail. Its not just about the nominated four fronting up and hammering away at each other over three weeks times three.

The big issue is not about doing all three Grand Tours in a single season or looking for a marketing window of opportunity. Riders like Adam Hansen, now at a remarkable 10 tours on the trot, have proved that that can be done. So it remains about the standard of competition if and when it happens.

History has not been kind to riders who attempt to win the Giro-Tour double, let alone a possible triple at the Vuelta a Espana. The entire idea comes crumbling down when you begin to seriously factor in the ability of a rider to recover from each three-week effort. Something Tinkoff-Saxo itself acknowledges is hugely important, but better expanded on by Dr. Ross Tucker at the excellent Science of Sport blog.

"Now, what is not known is how long it takes post a race for the body's recovery/hormonal axis to return to normal function," writes Tucker. "That's the key in this discussion – can an elite rider continue training in the gap between Tours, while still allowing these physiological systems to recover?

"My short answer is no, unless they don't race the GT at a very high level. Then it's possible. But the first paper I gave a link to suggests that a rider can do it, but they'll simply pace themselves, which is to say, control the intensity to get through the task. That's not unlike a marathon runner who has to slow down compared to when they run a 10km race. A basic physiological outcome.

"So what would it mean for Tinkov's series? Well, my guess would be that the rider would still have to choose to focus on one or the other. Let's say they have great intentions and hit the Giro in their best shape – all four of them. It would be a great race.

"By the Tour in July, all four are below 100 per cent because of the accumulated fatigue, and so then it becomes a question of who is best able to hang on to that level for the longest (which we would hope does not involve doping, as one fears it might). Because the four of them are so superior to the rest, the Tour may well still come down to those four (the fifth guy is far enough behind that even with the "advantage" of freshness he might not win), so you'd perhaps see a Giro-Tour double winner, by virtue of the fact that the big four are all compromised equally.

"By the time of the Vuelta, however, the accumulated fatigue is so severe that if I was a betting man, I'd be looking down the list and picking the guys who might normally come fifth or sixth to win the race. Again, we don't know this for sure, but all signs point that way.

"So is it possible? Yes, and no."

What Tucker has not yet expanded on is the long term effects on riders if they did attempt the triple with full competitive intensity through the season.

If the big four do decide to do the triple full gas in 2015, then 2016 could very well see a struggling quartet of burned out riders and their domestiques, and that would be very bad for the sport.

If this idea is to be properly conceived then a more patient forward thinking approach which looks at the entire global cycling calendar is needed, with the physical, mental and ethical health of the riders paramount.