CLERMONT-FERRAND, France (VN) – Bjarne Riis is back in the Tour de France for the first time in five years.
The 1996 Tour winner, who joined NTT as a partner this season, manages a battered and injured NTT Pro Cycling team which saw Giacomo Nizzolo and Domenico Pozzovivo drop out. NTT moved closer to its goal of a stage victory in this Tour, with Edvald Boasson Hagen second in stage 7 and Nizzolo third in stage 3.
“We are here, we are fighting. We weren’t lucky at all, but bad luck is part of the game, ”said Riis. “We will continue to fight and wait for our opportunity. We have to look at the cards we have and play them the best we can. Keep motivating our guys to keep fighting and getting results.
Riis returned to cycling this winter after five years on the sidelines. In 2015, he sold his stake in Saxo Bank to former owner Oleg Tinkov, and just as he bought out cycling, the coronavirus crashed into the peloton. Reigning sponsor NTT may not return for 2021, media reports, leaving Riis and Doug Ryder in search of the team’s future.
Team officials confirmed on Friday that the NTT deal expires at the end of the 2020 season, but said the team was in “positive talks” with the Japanese global tech company over the future.
“I am confident,” Riis said. “I’ve been in situations like this before. We are working on it and we hope to tell the world something soon. [The injuries] are not optimal. It is and we have to face it. Sponsors also know this.
What Riis likes to talk about the most are the tactics. Although he admitted to using EPO during his racing career, Riis is considered by some in the peloton to have some of the sport’s finest management skills.
The Dane is watching with interest how Jumbo-Visma is handling the race against Ineos Grenadiers.
“I see that Jumbo is less strong every day, they have expended a lot of energy so far,” he said. “The last time trial should favor Roglič, and he should have the yellow jersey, so the other guys don’t have to go out and push the limits and take the risk every day. It will be interesting to see if they have a tactic for doing it.
“Ineos, they don’t have a strong squad,” Riis said bluntly. “A lot of runners are not at their level and they miss Geraint Thomas. When the race is on, only the best are there. Jumbo can have Dumoulin, Sepp [Kuss], Van Aert, but when the grown-ups leave, Roglič will be alone. It is man to man, it is what will decide the Tour.
Riis said he had already noticed at the Critérium du Dauphiné last month that the Tour was going to be different. He expects the teams to explode in week three, with only the strongest battling against each other in the Alps.
“I see what I expected. I saw a weird race in the Dauphiné, very difficult, but the last two stages, a lot of top guys from the GC were falling apart, ”he said. “The pieces fall apart. When the race is really tough there are only a few guys left, but that’s okay when they run hard. It’s a high level until a certain point, and when it gets tough then you only see the best.
When asked if he enjoys the tour a little less with all the health restrictions, Riis said it’s not worth worrying about.
“Who likes this? I doubt [Christian] Prudhomme takes advantage, or the spectators? he said. “This is the world we live in now. If you can’t cope, stay home and do something else.