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The 1996 Tour winner, who joined NTT as a partner this season, is managing a beat up and injured NTT Pro Cycling team that’s seen Giacomo Nizzolo and Domenico Pozzovivo both abandon. NTT has come close to its goal of a stage win in this Tour, with Edvald Boasson Hagen second in stage 7, and Nizzolo third in stage 3.
“We’re here, we’re fighting. We haven’t been lucky at all, but bad luck is part of the game,” Riis said. “We will keep on fighting, and waiting for our opportunity. We have to look at the cards we have and play them as best we can. Keep motivating our guys to keep fighting and to make some results.”
Riis returned to cycling this winter after five years on the sidelines. In 2015, he sold his interest in Saxo Bank to former owner Oleg Tinkov, and just as he bought back into cycling, the coronavirus slammed into the peloton. According to media reports, title sponsor NTT might not return for 2021, leaving Riis and Doug Ryder searching to secure the team’s future.
Team officials confirmed Friday the NTT deal expires at the end of the 2020 season, but said the team is in “positive talks” with the Japanese global tech company about the future.
“I’m confident,” Riis said. “I’ve been in situations like this before. We are working on it, and we hope to tell the world something soon. [The injuries] are not optimum. It is what it is, and we have to deal with it. The sponsors also know that.”
What Riis likes talking about most is tactics. Though he admitted he used EPO during his racing career, Riis is considered by some in the peloton as having some of the sharpest management skills in the sport.
The Dane is watching with interest how Jumbo-Visma manages the race against Ineos Grenadiers.
“I see Jumbo being less strong every day, they’ve spent a lot of energy so far,” he said. “The last time trial should favor Roglič, and he should have the yellow jersey, so the other guys don’t have to go out and push the limit and take the chances every day. It’s going to be interesting to see if they have a tactic to do this.
“Ineos, they don’t have a strong team,” Riis said bluntly. “A lot of the riders are not on their level, and they miss Geraint Thomas. When the race is on, only the best ones are there. Jumbo can have Dumoulin, Sepp [Kuss], Van Aert, but when the big guys go, Roglič will be alone. It’s man-to-man, that’s what’s going to decide the Tour.”
Riis said he already noticed at last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné that the Tour was going to be different. He expects teams to blow up in the third week, with only the very strongest battling against one another in the Alps.
“I am seeing what I expected. I saw a weird race at the Dauphiné, very hard, but the last couple of stages, many high-level GC guys were falling apart,” he said. “The pieces are falling apart. When the race is really hard, there are only a few guys left, but that’s normal when they race hard. It’s a high level until a certain moment, and when it gets hard, then you see only the best.”
When asked if he’s enjoying the Tour a bit less with all the health restrictions, Riis said it’s not worth fretting about.
“Who enjoys that? I doubt [Christian] Prudhomme is enjoying it, or the spectators?” he said. “That’s the world we’re living in right now. If you cannot deal with it, stay home and do something else.”