Ralph Dink has had to think about 2012 a lot these days. This was the season that Bora-Hansgrohe – still NetApp at the time – participated in the Giro d’Italia for the first time. The cycling team was still in the works, and we went to the Tour of Italy with a wildcard and a borrowed buggy. Because of the financial situation, not much was to be lost, and this first major tour in the country was also the last.
Exactly ten years later, Bora ascended to become the great master of the Giro d’Italia. On Sunday evening, Captain Jay Hindley defended his pink jersey against Richard Carapaz (Ineos) one last time in Verona, to claim the team’s first overall victory in a Grand National Tour. This is the temporary end of the team’s history – and the result of a remarkable step taken at the beginning of the year when the team was significantly restructured. “Of course there is a lot of heart and soul in it, and it was also a brave decision or another. But in the end the plan worked,” says Dink, 48, by phone on Sunday.
Nearly a decade and a half ago, the former amateur driver founded this team in Raubling/Upper Bavaria – actually at the wrong time. At that time, the great doping quagmire kicked all German teams out of the peloton and public television stopped broadcasting the tour live. He didn’t care about your religion. Little by little, his team has grown more since the days of charter campers in 2012, more powerful financiers have been involved, and above all, the commitment of three-time world champion Peter Sagan in 2017 proved to be an accelerating factor. Over the years, there have been many wins in classic races, sprints, and smaller multi-day races. But the class advantage in the big rounds, the desire of the heart of your great religion, has remained open for a long time.
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So before the season he did some serious team reconfiguration. Sagan’s success factor went, as many others did, “one or the other smiled at it,” Dink says, but he really wanted to go to the “higher disciplines,” the gyro, the tour. Instead, many of the riders like Russia’s Alexander Walsu, Dutchman Wilko Kieldermann or Giro leader Jay Hindley came from Australia. But at the same time there was a second change – in the management of the team. Previous sports management had to go, and Rolf Aldag, 53, was hired as the new strongman.
This was a double-edged transition. Because Aldag’s successes during his management positions at Dimension Data, Quickstep or most recently the Bahrain Victorious have been unmistakable. But at the same time, the former Telekom professional is known to have had a past as a doping offender – and Dink has sometimes reacted even tougher to the subject. Jens Hebner was forced to leave his position as head of sports a decade ago when traces of anabolic steroids were found in a sample of his later analysed days. Dink says, of course, I took a good look at it. But you have to take credit for Aldough “that he confessed once and not salami tactics like so many others”; Additionally, in his second career as athletic director, he “did nothing wrong”.
Anyway, the topic of steroids. Cycling likes to present itself as a purifier, in fact there are still many questionable processes. Obviously, the focus tends to be on those who end up at the top of the overall standings for the toughest races. However, Dink does not believe there is a changing view of his team due to the new direction and new successes. “It’s hard to win the Giro d’Italia like Paris-Roubaix to win or become world champion,” he says, “if you want to cheat, it will help you in all disciplines, not just in the three-week national tours.”
Win two challenging mountain stages, crowbar movement 80 km long and Kämna appear like magic
The conversion has now paid off in a big way in the Giro. Bora was not only the strongest team during the three weeks because of Hindley’s performance. Leonard Kamna won a tough mountain stage and was very energetic. Emmanuel Buchmann consistently drove so much that he took seventh place in the overall standings. In the second week, the team launched a team attack 80 kilometers before the finish line, which led to the cheating of many of the runners. And when the ridicule began after an alleged highly defensive driving style on the penultimate mountain stage, Saturday’s performance followed as the crowning glory.
Because at the crucial moment of the duel between Hindley and Carapaz, who was leading to that point, Leonard was suddenly lurking there. It looked as if he was magically teleported at the right moment, in fact it was a continuation of the tactical plan for the day. Slithering into the breakaway zone early in the stage, he retreated back into the 2.5km Fdaya Pass to act as his captain’s double assistant. At first, Kamna increased his pace so much that Hindley was able to shake off Karapaz. And when that was done, he alarmed Carapaz by continuing to ride the rear wheel for minutes.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Hindley said after the win. “There’s a lot of emotion there.” The 26-year-old is a rather quiet guy. His dad Gordon was already a cyclist, he himself has been a cyclist since he was a kid, only a year of rugby cut him off, which mom says is fine, but dad not so much. He once said, “I’m glad he quit playing rugby. He’s probably going to be broken and over now.” Hindley almost won the Giro in 2020, but in the last trial gave up a slim lead over Brett Tao Geojegan Hart.
Giro’s solid performance shouldn’t be everything to Team Bora. Because now the Tour de France is still waiting. There is no Hindley, but the Russian and Lasso is the first man in the rating. Looking at Slovenian dominator Tadej Pojacar, Dink formulated his goal of being in the top three or five. Winning the Tour at some point, however, remains the overall goal, after ten years of charter camper days in Italy.