It has been a year of uncertainty for Bjarne Riis, as he has coped with the loss of not only his main sponsor but also his three top riders. The sponsor question has been resolved, but he now faces the possibility of losing new signing, three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador.
“It's hard to take it easy at the moment. But I have no choice," Riis said in an interview with sporten.dk.
Contador faces a possible suspension for up to two years after testing positive for Clenbuterol at the Tour de France this summer. He denies having used the banned product, claiming it was the result of food contamination.
If the Spaniard is unable to join the team, Riis must come up with another idea. “I've thought of a plan B. But what it involves, I will not go into here and now,” he said. The plan is believed to involve differing mixtures of riders, giving certain riders more freedom in races.
The Dane may be looking in vain for victories in 2011. The departing riders include the top winners of the team, such as Fabian Cancellara with eight, Alex Rasmussen and Fränk Schleck with four each. In fact, the riders who are leaving the team accounted for nearly two-thirds of the team's total victories, 24 of 37.
Riis hopes to replace Cancellara in the Spring Classics with Nick Nuyens. The Belgian has won the Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, but his best finish in one of the top Classics was second in the 2008 Ronde van Vlaanderen. Cancellara has twice won Paris-Roubaix, and Milan-SanRemo and the Ronde van Vlaanderen once each.
The Saxo Bank team owner, who has transformed the sagging careers of a number of riders, hopes to do the same with Nuyens. “Nuyens is a good outsider. A typical underdog. I hope to get him back to the level he had before," said Riis.
Nuyens is, in fact, the last of the big-name signings to the team. “There will be other names for now but I'm happy with the riders in the squad. We must try a little magic," said Riis.
As for Contador, Riis knows that things are out of his hands at this point. “Right here and now we just have to wait for what comes from the UCI about the Contador question.”
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