Three stage wins and the mountain classification lead after overall contender Alberto Contador crashed out

Tinkoff-Saxo showed over the last week in the Tour de France what could have been if Alberto Contador was still in the race. It won three stages, taking its third on Wednesday at the Pla d’Adet ski station, and positioned itself for the mountains classification title.

“When Alberto went out, I told them that it’s going to be a long two weeks if we don’t have the motivation to continue and do something,” Team Manager Bjarne Riis said. “We agreed and shook hands on it with [owner] Oleg Tinkov.”

With other super teams like Sky still winless, Riis’ troops marched ahead to wins in Risoul, Bagnères-de-Luchon and Pla d’Adet. Rafal Majka won two, including today’s, and Michael Rogers won the Bagnères-de-Luchon stage on Tuesday.

Sky general manager David Brailsford also tried to motivate his riders with a pep talk after Chris Froome abandoned and Richie slipped out of the overall classification. His remaining cyclists have made the escapes, like Vasil Kiryienka today, but he has not seen the same spark as Riis has.

That spark could have helped Contador take a third Tour de France title over current leader Vincenzo Nibali and Froome had he not crashed, fractured his tibia and abandoned in stage 10 to La Planche des Belles Filles.

“We had a tough day on the bike in the La Planche des Belles Filles stage. That wasn’t easy, but we are a good group of fighters and friends,” Tinkoff’s Nicolas Roche said.

“We were dreaming that sooner or later we could do a demonstration of how the team was. We were severely criticised in the first days, people were saying Alberto was the only man in groups of 15, that no one was around him and that Rafal wasn’t at the level. Someone asked if Rafal is worth his place, and I said, ‘Wait for the third week.’ And I’m happy I wasn’t wrong.”

“This is a super strong team, it’s very motivated, even without Alberto,” Riis added. “Three wins don’t equal a win in Paris, but we are very happy and very proud of what we’re doing.”

Nibali has been able to dominate the Tour since it left Leeds and wore the yellow jersey every day but two. No one can say what would have been if Froome or Contador were still in the race, but with the last stage wins, Tinkoff showed that it would have been able to deliver its captain to Paris.