Riis optimistic about Saxo Bank future
Team's focus will be on the Classics and the Tour
Speaking at a team press conference on Monday, Bjarne Riis said Saxo Bank will focus on both the Classics and the Tour de France. He described the team's 2010 ambitions as "similar to other years".
"We want to be one of the best teams in the Classics. I'm confident and optimistic that we'll have very good results," said Riis. "I can't tell you we'll win them all, but we'll be there."
The former Tour winner has guided Carlos Sastre and Ivan Basso to Grand Tour success in the past and with his current crop of Fränk and Andy Schleck, believes that he can repeat the feat in 2010. "The Tour [de France] is important with the team we have. We'll be one of the most powerful teams and everyone knows they can count on us."
In 2009, Andy Schleck finished in second place while brother Fränk was fifth in the general classification. Despite losing several riders for 2010 due to a tightened budget, Riis is looking for riders like the Schleck brothers to repeat their 2009 success while also expecting a new crop of riders led by Jacob Fuglsang to step up.
Riis explained an important philosophy behind his team. "I think it's wrong to focus on just one person. You need to have a strong team that supports you and you need to have strong plans. We work together to construe different situations in the winter. I think that shows."
"It's easy to put together a good team when you have guys like this. I focus on the personalities and people who can work with the philosophies we have on the team. It's not just about having good bike riders. A rider has to fit into the team because the team work is crucial."
"I always want to have a special team - one that doesn't just say it is a team, but shows it is a team."
The Dane explained that one of his team's keys to success was having talented riders who all peak at different times - meaning someone on the team is ripe for a good performance at any given point in the season. "During the season, we always have riders who [are ready to] have their best moments."
When questioned about the impact of the new ProTour Team Sky, Riis said he took the news of the migration of Kurt Asle Arvesen and backroom staff members Carsten Jeppesen, Marcus Ljungqvist and Brian Nygaard to the new British team as a compliment. "They want our riders and our staff because they know what we have been doing is good. They know that riders we have had are good, and it's a credit to our team."
"It's part of the game. It's great that there will be new teams. It's good for the sport. They [Team Sky] are very ambitious and they work very professionally. At the end of the day, the riders and staff decide themselves where to be. I can't sit or be sad and angry that someone wants my people. It shows we're doing good stuff."
Saxo Bank pull out
Riis and his team recently received news that Saxo Bank would end their sponsorship after 2010. "Of course, we are disappointed," he said. "We've given them good branding, even more than they'd hoped. They have another strategy for the future but nothing has changed for 2010. We'll be as motivated as we were before and we know what we have to do."
"We've already started searching for new sponsors," he said. Referring to his riders, he added, "We're confident that we have a damn good product."
Both Schlecks will race the Classics and the Tour de France, with younger brother Andy hoping to win Amstel Gold Race and Fränk searching for his first Liege title. The Classics should be good preparation for both riders as they will face some cobbles in this year's Tour come July. Both riders reported they are doing well as they focus on their training. Andy had a recent collision with a car during training but was not seriously hurt, and Fränk indicated that his recovery from knee surgery was on track and that he was riding with no pain.
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.