Riis: My relationship with Alberto is absolutely fine; he has a contract with us for the coming years
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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Riis: My relationship with Alberto is absolutely fine; he has a contract with us for the coming years

by Shane Stokes at 8:47 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Saxo Tinkoff owner plays down rumours star rider could go to Alonso’s new team

Contador RiisCommenting in the wake of stories this week that Alberto Contador might transfer to the new team being set up by Formula One’s top-paid driver Fernando Alonso, the rider’s boss Bjarne Riis has played down the accuracy of the story.

According to la Gazzetta, the relationship between Contador and Riis became strained at the Tour de France, where the rider placed fourth overall, and were also affected by his decision not to ride the Vuelta a España. Furthermore, it said that the financial uncertainty caused by secondary sponsor Oleg Tinkov’s withdrawal meant that Contador would be freed up to move to Alonso’s new team.

Contacted by VeloNation, Riis has said that things are fine between him and his top rider. “My relationship with Alberto is absolutely fine, and I can only say my feeling is that it is mutual. I have great respect for Alberto as a rider and as a person, and I still have a lot of confidence in him,” he said. “I don't know where these rumours about a conflict come from.”

As regards the talk of a team change, he said that that their collaboration will continue. “I think it's safe to say that the rumours linking Alberto and Fernando Alonso has been around for a long time. On top of that, our immediate situation, that we are in the market looking for an additional sponsor, contributes to these speculations.

“I do understand that, but nevertheless I will refrain from commenting on a story based solely on speculation. The fact is that Alberto has a contract with us for the coming years. This is what we relate to.”

At the start of the Tour de France Russian businessman Oleg Tinkov appeared to suggested that he might take over the title sponsorship of the team, increasing his input to move ahead of Saxo Bank in the naming status.

However, he visibly cooled during the Tour, appearing to lose interest when it became clear that Contador was unable to match Sky leader Chris Froome. By the end of the race, he was openly slating Contador on Twitter, engaging in bizarre spats with fans on the same medium, and said that he was going to walk away from the squad and set up his own team.

This week Tinkov appeared to backtrack in the wake of the Gazzetta story, saying that if Contador did indeed leave, that he might be prepared to stay.

It’s a volte-face that Riis doesn’t envisage happening. “We have a contract with Alberto, so this is nothing but speculation,” he said.

Given the volatility Tinkov has displayed in recent weeks, it seems reasonable to rule out any future collaboration.

Searching for a second backer:

The Tinkoff Bank withdrawal put Riis under pressure to find a new backer. Tinkov implied that replacing his contribution would cost the team six million euro a year, although this figure has not been confirmed by Riis.

The Dane does state that the search is ongoing, and is sounding somewhat hopeful.

“At the moment we are still exploring some different options in order to secure the team going forward. I do feel there is reason to be optimistic, even though we haven't been able to present an additional sponsor yet,” he told VeloNation.

“We have to remember it isn't a long time ago we announced we are in the market, and this process takes time. But we have had good engagement with potential partners, who see our potential in relation to exposure and helping a company establish in the global market.

“Remember also that Saxo Bank has indicated their intent to stay with us for another year, which of course makes us less dependent on additional sponsorships.”

One aspect of the Alonso transfer rumour which doesn’t appear to add up is the statement that the financial shortfall on the team could see Contador being allowed elsewhere due to the savings his salary would make.

The peculiar aspect about that is that it was previously thought that Specialized covered his salary.

Alonso is reportedly considering shacking up with Conago, and so it seems unlikely that Specialized would transfer across to the new team.

Riis knows that with Contador on board, the team has a potential winner of the Tour de France. He didn’t show the necessary form this year, but the Spaniard has said that he believes he can get back to his best and be able to take on Froome and the other contenders.

Riis says that he also believes this can happen. “Even though Alberto hasn’t exactly had the season and the results both him and the team had hoped for this year, I have a lot of confidence in him. I believe he is capable of returning to his top level again,” he said.

“I see a lot of value attached to Alberto. He is a great professional, when it comes to racing and dealing with sponsor activities, and as a multiple Grand Tour winner he is one of the stars of cycling and a very popular personality. Therefore he also has the potential to help secure sponsorships.”

The team’s other riders are also of value in this regard, with Roman Kreuziger winning the Amstel Gold Race and finishing fifth in the Tour de France, and Nicolas Roche winning a stage and currently sitting second overall in the Vuelta a España.

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