Riis talks of fresh start and team’s motivation to succeed in 2011
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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Riis talks of fresh start and team’s motivation to succeed in 2011

by Conal Andrews at 6:15 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Saxo Bank shows off new team kit

Bjarne RiisSaxo Bank-SunGard team owner Bjarne Riis heads into 2011 facing the biggest changes of his time running the team, due to the departure of so many key riders at the end of last season plus the arrival of others to take their place.

Long time team riders Andy and Frank Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Jens Voigt and Stuart O’Grady have left, as have others such as Jakob Fuglsang, Matti Breschel, Dominic Klemme and Anders Lund.

In their place, Alberto Contador, Jesus Hernandez, Daniel Navarro and Benjamin Noval of the Astana team, Volodymir Gustov (Cervélo Test Team), Nick Nuyens (Rabobank) and Matteo Tosatto (Quick Step) are all inbound, while those staying include the promising Aussie Richie Porte, fellow Grand Tour rider Chris Anker Sorensen, sprinters Baden Cooke and Juan Jose Haedo, plus the Manxman Jonny Bellis.

Riis acknowledges that there’s a lot of change, but he says he’s really looking forward to the new season and is fired up to prove a point. “I'm more motivated than ever before. In many ways, I'm now the leader of a new team after a turbulent year that, measured on the sporting outcome, was so successful in that we once again finished as the world's best team,” he said. “But 2010 was also a season characterized by the fact that a number of our riders and staff wanted new challenges elsewhere. Therefore, we have welcomed many new faces in our organization. At the same time, the philosophy of the team and our values remains the same.”

Although there was a certain amount of tension after riders such as Fabian Cancellara and the Schlecks spoke about factors behind their decision to leave the team, Riis says that he wishes all the departing riders the best of luck. He’ll doubtlessly do what he can to beat them this season, but wants to put any bitterness behind him.

The indications were that things had gone as far as they could have with the riders who departed, with those needing a fresh environment after many years in the same team. Riis, too, was said by some to have lost a little interest, so the changes could well suit him too.

“On the whole, I strongly believe in our new beginning,” he said. “It's been a pleasure to meet the new riders at our first team camp on Fuerteventura, and it really made me proud to see how the "old" riders worked hard to help welcome the new riders.

“I think we have already created a strong team spirit, and I'm sure that this work makes a difference for us during races. I'm also deeply impressed with my entire staff - from sports directors to mechanics and soigneurs. I honestly don't remember, that we have been better prepared for a new season than now.”

Of course, Riis doesn’t yet know how things will work out in 2011 in relation to his star rider, Alberto Contador. The Spaniard is potentially facing a long ban from the sport over his positive test for Clenbuterol, although he’s hoping to be able to convince the disciplinary bodies that the substance wasn’t intentionally consumed. Even so, previous cases have led to the athlete in question getting a year’s ban, and so it is by no means certain that Contador will ride this year’s Tour.

Nicki SorensenIf that’s the case, riders such as Chris Anker Sorensen and Richie Porte may well be elevated to leadership status in the race.

Whomever is at the helm, they and the rest of the team will be wearing a new look team kit in 2011. Riis talked through the changes, explaining that it was a blend of the new and the old. “We felt a need to renew our design, so the basic colour of our jersey is now light blue, and as you can see, the eagle is back after a couple years hiatus,” he said.

“I really think we have created a cool jersey, and I can´t wait to see it on my riders in the first races of the season. Both the light blue background and the eagle are also reflected on our cars, trucks and buses as they form the leitmotif of our entire design.”


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