Bjarne Riis beats the odds, has Saxo Bank-Sungard firing on all cylinders once again
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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bjarne Riis beats the odds, has Saxo Bank-Sungard firing on all cylinders once again

by Steve Jones at 1:25 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics
Team shake up again shows Dane's strong ability to lead

Today's Ronde van Vlaanderen saw a surprise winner emerge for the second time in a spring Classic this year, this time the victor being Saxo Bank-Sungard rider Nick Nuyens.  As the elation in the Saxo Bank team car demonstrated after he crossed the line, the victory symbolized more than just a repeat victory in the race for the Danish outfit; it once again confirmed the ability of team boss Bjarne Riis to rally his troops after losing key personnel in the off-season.  This time the changes were part of a massive team exodus, but Riis remained calm and, as he's shown before, quickly found his way back on top.

Tour of Flanders pre-race favorite Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek), was one of the riders that jumped Riis' ship last year, along with former Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O'Grady.  They followed team leaders Andy and Frank Schleck and the core of the team to a new squad based out of Luxembourg.  That, along with Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Matti Breschel's decision to head to the Rabobank squad, Riis was forced to do some major reloading on all fronts over the winter.

The surprise acquisition of three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador looked to be a major coup, but it soon smelled of disaster when it was announced that he tested positive for trace amounts of Clenbuterol on his way to victory in last year's Grande Boucle.  But when Spanish doping authorities chose to accept Contador's claims that the substance entered his system via a tainted steak from his homeland, he immediately returned to his winning ways and put Saxo Bank-Sungard atop the podium.  Recent appeals by the International Cycling Union and the World Anti-Doping agency to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the Spanish decision still leave questions about whether Contador will defend or lose his 2010 Tour title, but the positive test from when he rode with the Astana team aside, Riis has built back a powerhouse team.

While Contador's presence on Saxo Bank-Sungard meant their Tour de France chances were still very much alive, if not better, their performance in the spring Classics was a big question mark.  Nuyens, like many who end up riding for the Danish team, was a man who had shown great potential over the last several years but, until today, had yet to break through in a major Classic.  The 30 year old had previous wins in semi-Classics Paris-Brussels (2004), Omloop Het Volk (2005) and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (2006), as well as several other strong performances.  He came into the Tour of Flanders as Dwars door Vlaanderen winner, surprisingly defending the team's 2010 win in the race.  The chances of Saxo Bank-Sungard's continued rein over Belgium's biggest Monument was an outside one at best.

Nuyens chose to bide his time over the roads of Flanders today, and the outcome removed doubts about the team's ability to make good decisions on the road.  The final podium is likely to have given Riis extra satisfaction, too, as his new rider stood above Cancellara, a man he helped to transform into one of the sport's biggest champions.


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