By Charlie Melk
Not so long ago it would
have been almost laughable to predict that by the year 2004 a Danish team would
be ranked #1 in the world going into the Tour de France, but 1996 Tour winner,
and CSC director Bjarne Riis has been the driving force behind making this
improbable possibility a brilliant reality.
Photo Courtesy CSC.
Team CSC made its mark on
the Centenary Tour in a big way, with epic solo stage victories from Carlos
Sastre and Tyler Hamilton and a fantastic two-up sprint stage victory for Jakob
Piil over Fabio Sacchi, as well as wrapping up the overall Teams Classification
and putting two of their riders in the top ten overall (Hamilton - 4th,
and Sastre - 9th). If success breeds success, and it’s hard to argue
with such reason, one wonders what this Danish juggernaut is capable of
accomplishing at the Tour this year. And judging by the season to date, CSC
appears to be firing on all cylinders. After all, you don’t become the #1
ranked team in the world by accident.
CSC first announced that it
was “Game On” at the Tour Méditerranéen (2.3) in
February, with a clean sweep of the overall podium (Jaksche - 1st,
Basso - 2nd, and Voigt - 3rd). Next up, the stakes were even
higher at Paris-Nice (2.HC), where they managed to stack an incredible four
riders in the top eleven overall and two on the final podium (Jaksche - 1st,
Julich - 3rd, Voigt - 4th, Schleck - 9th, and
Basso - 11th). Soon after, Jens Voigt took over the winning ways at Critérium International (2.1), scoring two
stage victories in one day and the overall victory, with Julich coming in an
impressive fourth and clearly showing that he was back from the nightmare that
were his two seasons with Telekom and Credit Agricole respectively.
recent results, Jens Voigt took a close second overall in the Deutschland Tour
(2.2), and it seemed that once the important June stage racing began Riis had
his charges cooling their jets, with few notable results in either the
Dauphiné Libéré (2.HC) or the
Tour de Suisse (2.HC). This, however, is a fairly common tactic when
a director is using a race, or in this case, races, for training in the big
lead-up to a Tour de France that will require 100% fitness in its third week,
more so this year than any in recent memory.
Ivan Basso. Photo by
So, what do these selected
results tell us about Team CSC? The first thing that jumps to mind is that Riis
has been very clear to his riders what races they are going into with ambitions
of doing something special. Clearly, goals were set and attained in the lead-up
to the Tour, and Team CSC obviously loves to make a good show for the A.S.O.,
the organizers of the Tour de France. More important, however, these results
also tell us that Team CSC has both short term and long term plans, for the
season and for each race. This is a TEAM (that’s right, all caps) in the truest
sense of the word, and each rider follows his role to the last detail - and
meticulous Mr. Riis certainly has no fear of considering details. The Tour is
the most important race of the entire season, both financially speaking and
otherwise. A lot depends on CSC showing up and producing the goods. In the
past, they have done so, and there is no reason to think that this will change
in 2004, especially given the awesome nature of their domination of the early
season stage racing in France.
Unfortunately, CSC wasn’t
the luckiest of teams this week, as they lost the services of
Jörg Jaksche due to an untimely fall and resultant
broken elbow. Andrea Peron will take Jaksche’s spot, however, and although
these two riders have different strengths and weaknesses, Peron’s Tour
experience and all around ability will be true assets to Team CSC come July 3rd.
Kurt-Asle Arvesen. Photo by Anita van Crey.
According to Bjarne Riis’
recent comments on the team website,
www.team-csc.com/ny_index.asp, everything is going to plan.
“Team CSC is now at
the threshold to the most important task of the year: Tour de France.
"This race is the one which everything gets measured by in cycling sport.
It is the most demanding and the most spectacular race this sport has to offer.
It is a gigantic event for everyone, and there is guaranteed drama. It is so every year, and this year is no
exception – on the contrary.
"To prepare for the
Tour takes an enormous amount of focus. It takes physical skill and a mental
determination to do one's absolute best. This is true for the greatest
professional riders, and I can guarantee that the nine riders we are taking have
what it takes and more.”
These are scary
words from a man none too prone to exaggeration and more than able to back up
his words with results. Whatever your favorite team or teams are for the Tour,
make sure to keep an eye on Team CSC. They will be in the hunt every day,
Riders - Probable Primary Roles
Carlos Sastre (Spa): Co-Leader for GC
Ivan Basso (Ita): Co-Leader for GC
Andrea Peron (Ita): TTT Motor and Top-End Team Player
Jens Voigt (Ger): TTT Motor and Free Agent Stage Hunter
Bobby Julich (USA): TTT Motor and Mountain Support for Basso and Sastre
Nicki Sørensen (Den): Mountain Support for Basso and Sastre
Jakob Piil (Den): Team Support and Free Agent Stage Hunter
Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor): TTT Motor and Team Support
Michele Bartoli (Ita): Free Agent Stage Hunter and Roving Danger Man
Michele Bartoli at Giro della Provincia. Photo by Karen Lambrecht.