There was an uncomfortable pause before the bombshell: “Bjarne Riis is not here today.”
We, the journalists, already knew it. In the conference room, on the table beside the refreshments, was a page and a quarter from CSC’s press guru Brian Nygaard, outlining the team’s hard work and culminating in a declaration that Bjarne Riis would not be with them for the Tour.
CSC press officer Bryan Nygaard speaks to the associated media
Its oral announcement was a lot more uneasy though. The opening formalities saw Nygaard – a doppelganger for Riis, only slightly younger, but with the same piercing blue-eyed stare and balding hairline – welcomed the journalists and praised the team for its efforts. However, there was a pregnant pause before the bombshell was confirmed: “Bjarne Riis is not here today.” Nygaard emphasised how it was Riis’ personal choice. “Bjarne has been here today, of his own freewill. He wanted to send the team off in good spirits. He is very passionate about the team and that won’t change one bit, despite his absence.”
Softly-spoken Sastre supported his beleaguered boss admirably.
Team leader Carlos Sastre then piped up in support of his directeur: “We’ve been together for six years. This team has a strong philosophy of Bjarne Riis with or without him; the team is the same. We are strong enough, and when Bjarne Riis chose not to come, we have to respect that.”
“That” article in Der Spiegel
Amid slightly outlandish suggestions that Riis’ decision was a coward and a betrayer from the other corner of the press room, there was a bit more animation. Implications of them being “abandoned” by him led to Stuart O’Grady muttering “ask some decent questions” and an aggrieved Allain Gallopin pointing to himself – CSC have, after all, in him and Scott Sunderland, two very competent directeur sportifs to guide the team.
When pressed about Jorg Jaksche’s controversial article in Der Spiegel, Nygaard continued: “There are no traces of our replies in Der Spiegel. It doesn’t show the efforts we made to reply. It is more campaigning than journalism. Legal action against Der Spiegel is being looked into by our legal team. Strong accusations need to be backed up by strong documentation… ask 29 of our other riders and staff that year, they will have an opinion on the team view about substances.” It was later announced that the whole team had signed the UCI anti-doping charter. Though they admitted to being puzzled by the timing of it, the team supports the initiative wholeheartedly. The mantra “It takes more than signing a piece of paper”, spoken by Nygaard, was to be mentioned again and again before the day was out though.
Nygaard, still emotionless, argued that “it takes some courage to confess and admit you’ve come to the end of your resources.” Jens Voigt raised a laugh when mentioning that it was a Tour de France press conference, so why weren’t they getting questions on the Tour? He outlined their aims once more: “We want to start at the prologue with all guns firing and live up to the expectations. Sastre and Schleck are our joint leaders and in myself, Arvesen and O’Grady, we have men for all terrain.”
Sastre discusses his hopes for the Tour
Frank Schleck talked about how his preparation had gone: “I had a break after Liege-Bastogne-Liege, suffering rib problems from my crash at the Amstel Gold. I then went to the Bayern Rundfahrt, spent a week in the Pyrenees training and then went to the Tour de Suisse. I’m looking forward to the mountains.
The other leader, Carlos Sastre, also elaborated on his hopes: “I want to win; I feel I am ready, ready for a great Tour.”
Great rider and a friendly guy to boot – Stuey O’Grady
Are you going for the green jersey
Who are you rooming with?
Fabian Cancellara – it’s good to have someone with the similar personality and characteristics as you. He’s certainly very energetic. We work well together.
“No, I’m going to shepherd Sastre and Schleck through the flat stages, and I’m happy to do it. It was my role in the contract negotiations.”
Will you miss Bjarne Riis? Obviously there’s still Alain [Gallopin] and Scott [Sunderland].
“He was speaking on the team bus today - he’ll still be there very much in the background, keeping in communication with the team It’s not like it’s our first Tour de France; we’ve been training for this all year. At the end of the day, it’ll be up to the captain of the road or whatever. It comes down to the bike.
“I hear you have new Cervelo frames. How are they?
The boys rode them here this morning. Rigid, stiff, a sweet ride.
How has your preparation for the Tour been?
To be honest, far from ideal. I’ve had two big crashes – one in Catalunya, the other at the Dauphiné. I’m here to help Sastre and Schleck in the mountains.
Did you think you’d be picked for the team?
There were times when I doubted myself.
Who’s your best friend in cycling, or CSC?
Ooh, tough one. My best friend… well I’m rooming with Zabriskie. As Americans, we tend to naturally bond together on a team like this.
Do you ever miss racing in the US?
Sometimes, yes. But with events like California and Georgia, it was nice. The Tour of California was a huge success, second only to the Tour de France.
But the Spring Classics weren’t as good as 2005?
How has your season been so far?
It’s been good, I’m happy with how it’s gone. First in the Suisse prologue and national champion was nice.
Well, that was 2005… it was still good, I feel better-rounded this year.
Have you seen the course for Saturday?
No, I haven’t, only on the map. That will happen on the morning. But it should be great, going past lots of landmarks. I know I am the favourite, but I’ve had the pressure before and coped. 7.9 kilometres !”
What do you personally think of the UCI anti-doping charter?
I think it’s a good idea, but signing a piece of paper isn’t going to solve the problems in cycling. The UCI needs to protect us more, the riders.
The irrepressible Dave Z
Firstly, it must be said you don’t simply “interview” DZ – he is uninterviewable. We sat down over a cup of coffee and in no particularly order discussed cycling media, our lives, favourite films (Wild at Heart and BMX film Red, incidentally), the British accent, which he then tried out poorly on me, the boredom of press conferences, his website interviews, Christian Vandevelde, [jokingly] insults against Christian Vandevelde, his trustworthiness, gurning in photos, how far away we were from London, before he started singing a song from Mary Poppins. I kid you not, cycling fans.
In between all this, I managed to ascertain that he hadn’t seen the prologue course, that he was slightly peeved about not riding the new frames today and that he likes coffee. Thank god his charisma, panache and lively eccentric energy makes him such a likeable man off the bike that the lack of cycling conversation didn’t matter one bit…
Jens Voigt, a rabbit caught in the headlights
Kurt-Asle Arvesen actually snatched the camera and took one of himself. Professional cyclist or professional poser?