By Shane Stokes
Although the introduction of approximately 800 anti-doping tests will see the team under far greater scrutiny than many of its rivals, CSC manager Bjarne Riis is confident that the Danish squad will have a big year in 2007.
"I have no doubt about that," said the former Tour de France winner in an interview with Cyclingnews. "If I had any question [about the riders being clean], I would never have come up with a programme like this. I hope it is sending out a good message. Everything that can be done for the sport is important, right now, and everybody who can do something about it should do so...it is their duty to do something. The only way forward is to clean up the sport. I think what we are doing will be a good solution."
In November, CSC announced details of the planned new anti-doping programme, which Riis says will cost them over €300,000 and see the riders undergo regular out of competition tests. Danish expert Rasmus Damsgaard will oversee the initiative, which along with that to be introduced by T-Mobile, will represent probably the most stringent anti-doping measures in sport.
The riders will also undergo the usual tests at events, meaning that they will be monitored throughout the year. "The idea came after the Tour," Riis said, referring to the period when Giro dItalia winner and CSCs team leader Ivan Basso was pulled from the race due to his implication in Operacion Puerto. "We were all thinking a lot about the future and what can be done in cycling. We came up with the idea that we should make contact with Ramus Damsgaard and that he would devise an anti-doping programme that was sufficient. He was very positive about it. Personally, I believe that it is actually the best anti-doping programme in history. I look forward to starting it with my team, and hope that many other teams will follow."
CSC had a very successful season in 2006. Apart from a triumphant showing at the Giro, the squad successfully defended their ProTour team title, took individual or team stage wins in each of the Grand Tours, won the world championship time trial and Paris-Roubaix, and triumphed in over 50 events. Riis expects more of the same in 2007.
"We have a very strong team, I think we have shown that this year. We have been able to perform during the whole season and that is what we want to do again. To be there from the start until the very end. We are going to be up there in the Classics, we are going to be up there in the big Tours... different levels, of course, but a factor in each.
"I think we are going to be competitive in the big Tours...it depends little bit on what we choose with Carlos [Sastre] and so on. But for sure, we will have a very strong team in both the Tour and the Vuelta. I am quite sure we will have a strong team in the Giro, as well, but I don't know if we will go there with overall ambitions.
"Apart from that, we want to win the ProTour ranking again and we also have ambitions of winning the individual ranking, perhaps with Frank Schleck or somebody else."
In Bassos absence, Sastre stepped up to the plate and finished fourth in France. The Spaniard then took the same position in the Vuelta and Riis is confident he will be at a similar, or slightly higher, level in 2007. "Getting onto the podium in the Tour is, I think, realistic with Carlos," he says.
"I have no doubt that he will perform. He is always very stable. I have a lot of confidence in him and I am quite sure that he can go higher than this year, although we need to see what the competition is like. We will aim for the best, trying to make a big effort and see how far we can go with him. He will have the full support of the team."
A full interview with Bjarne Riis will appear soon on Cyclingnews