MAASTRICHT, Netherlands (VN) — Roman Kreuziger’s solo victory in Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race comes at a good time not only for him, but also for beleaguered Saxo-Tinkoff boss Bjarne Riis.
Yet the much-needed victory also revives questions about links to some of the most dubious characters in the sport for both of them.
Riis has been in all but seclusion since last fall, refusing to speak to the media, which is clamoring for information about the Danish team manager and alleged links to Spanish doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
Coming into Sunday, Saxo’s lone win in the 2013 season was a stage victory by Alberto Contador back in the Tour de San Luis in January. Despite a handful of podiums, the team had not posted any major results, especially in the major classics and early season WorldTour stage races.
“The victory is very important for the team,” Saxo sport director Philippe Mauduit told VeloNews. “We have been working hard and racing hard. Sometimes you just need that little extra luck to win. Today we had it.”
Kreuziger, meanwhile, rode to the biggest win of his career in a dramatic solo attack with 7km to go, erasing doubts that he could ever win a “big one.”
Though still only 26, the Czech rider has been somewhat of a bust to some observers for failing to live up to expectations that came with early promising results.
On Sunday, Kreuziger was matter of fact when asked whether he’s fallen short of the hype.
“Only journalists have had the doubts, not me,” Kreuziger said. “I’m on a team with a big leader, [Alberto] Contador, and a good director, Riis. They have believed in me and gave me faith.”
Since turning professional in 2006 with Liquigas after a hot amateur career that included winning a junior world title in 2004, Kreuziger has produced some tantalizing results.
In 2008, he lost the Tour de Romandie to Andreas Klöden by 35 seconds, only to later make amends by beating back the German veteran to win the Tour de Suisse by 49 seconds.
In 2009 and 2010, he popped into the top 10 in the Tour de France, yet he grated under having to share leadership with the rising influence of Vincenzo Nibali.
After two relatively flat years at Astana, when he salvaged a disappointing Giro d’Italia last year, where he was a distant 15th on GC, with a late-race stage win, Kreuziger joined Riis’ Saxo outfit on a three-year deal.
Astana management didn’t hide its disappointment with Kreuziger, saying during last year’s Giro that the team hoped for more from the Czech rider.
In fact, according to Kreuziger, it was the arrival of the prolific Nibali to Astana that helped jettison his move to Riis’ outfit.
One complaint from Kreuziger about Nibali’s move to Astana was that he wouldn’t be treated as a team captain, yet at Saxo he’ll be riding in service of Contador at the Tour.
Kreuziger said that’s not a problem for now and he’s scheduled to ride the Tour this year in support of Contador.
“I am still young and I can learn a lot racing for Contador the next two years,” he said. “I still have my chances in other races, like this one. This was the first big goal of the season and I’ve won, thanks to the support and belief of the team.”
Liquigas links to Ferrari
Sunday’s win also revived questions about Kreuziger’s alleged links to banned Italian doctor Michele Ferrari.
As part of the reasoned decision in its case against Lance Armstrong, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released documents in October 2012 revealing testimony from former Ferrari client Leonardo Bertagnolli, which detailed links between Ferrari and several former Liquigas riders.
In a written affidavit, in Italian, the former Liquigas rider admitted he worked with Ferrari with the knowledge and consent of Liquigas management. Bertagnolli also alleged that Kreuziger was a Ferrari client, as well as Franco Pellizotti and Enrico Gasparotto, all Liquigas riders at the time.
Last fall, Liquigas management issued a hasty press release outlining its position on the riders and the team’s association with Ferrari. In 2008, the Italian team insisted that riders drop all trainers not associated with the squad.
Kreuziger has not addressed the accusations and the issue did not come up during Sunday’s post-race press conference.
Danes pressure Riis for information
The team’s victory also puts new attention on Riis and his ever-discreet profile. Once a familiar presence at nearly every major race, so far this year Riis has only traveled to the Tour of Oman and Paris-Roubaix.
With the Operación Puerto trial now in its final stages in Spain, Riis, the man behind the CSC/Saxo franchise, has refused to answer questions about alleged links to Puerto ringleader Fuentes. Last fall, ex-CSC rider Tyler Hamilton revealed in his autobiography, The Secret Race, that it was Riis who introduced him to Fuentes after joining the team in 2002.
Speaking to reporters at the Vuelta a España last fall, Riis only denied the accusation, saying he “never met Fuentes and Hamilton is lying.”
Under oath during the Puerto trial in February, Hamilton again repeated his claim that it was Riis who passed him Fuentes’ contact number.
The Danish cycling federation said Riis could be “in big trouble” if the Fuentes links can be proven.
Many in the Danish media have pressured Riis to speak about the allegations. The Danish newspaper BT prints an item in every edition that outlines 12 questions it wants Riis to answer before editors will talk to him about sport.
“We will not interview him about anything else until he answers these questions,” said BT reporter Rasmus Staghoj. “So far he has refused.”
With Contador confirmed to race the Ardennes, rumor has it Riis will attend Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège later this week. Danish journalists are packing their bags now.