Saxo Bank down but not out, expects bigger challenge from Armstrong
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Saxo Bank down but not out, expects bigger challenge from Armstrong

by VeloNation Press at 12:44 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling

Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis said his team will be racing less in the 2010, telling Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that he expects the team to have less victories for the upcoming season.

Riis' team was hit hard coming into the 2009 season when new co-sponsor IT Factory declared bankruptcy leaving the team financially strapped. Like many teams, Saxo Bank has lost several key riders during the off-season including Lars Bak, Kurt Asle-Arvesen, Karsten Kroon, and Alexandr Kolobnev.

Riis explained to the paper that after a couple of years where the world has endured tough economic times, he thought their best option was to put their primary focus on the big races, especially with a roster that has been lowered by three riders.

"The race program for the coming season looks really good. People likely won't notice the races we have cut from the schedule. Our team is definitely on par with that of 2009. Look at it. We have the world's best classic team," explained Riis to the newspaper.

With a smaller squad the team is realistic about their goals for the year. "It is clear that we can not go and get quite as many victories," said sports director Kim Andersen.

The team is confident that they will have another a successful season, and the team's main sponsor Saxo Bank doesn't have a problem with the situation. Both sides agree that the best exposure comes from the races that will remain on the team's 2010 program.

But it's not all bad news for the Danish team. They have been able to hold onto the core of the team which will make them a big factor on the roads next season. Both Andy and Frank Schleck remain, along with time trial World Champion Fabian Cancellara and German work horse Jens Voigt. The team still has a solid group of domestiques that are capable of winning, and has brought Australian Baden Cooke and Sebastian Haedo to add depth to their sprint threat.

"As I see it, it makes room for some others to step up. It is quite natural that they will fill their seats. I am not worried," explained Riis, who has already tipped Chris Anker Sørensen for leadership in the Giro d'Italia.

"We have a strong team with guys like Chris Anker Sørensen and Matti Breschel who have gotten older. Furthermore, we have brought Jakob Fuglsang into the team and he has proven to be world class. I'm not nervous about it. We have an equally strong team as in the past," he concluded.

With new teams like Lance Armstrong's RadioShack squad and the new British Team Sky snatching up strong riders from several of the big teams, Riis and Anderson see opportunity in the personnel shake up.

"It is very exciting. It will be more open in the Tour," commented Kim Andersen, who said seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong will be Andy Schlecks biggest threat in next year's Tour. Anderson thinks Spaniard Alberto Contador is the strongest rider, but he sees RadioShack's dismantling of Astana's Tour squad making a big difference come July.

For years Riis has been able to make more with less when it comes to his team, and 2010 could prove to be the biggest test yet for his ability as a leader.


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