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As rumors continue to circulate around a potential split between Chris Froome and Team Ineos, there is much speculation regarding what team could potentially sign the four-time Tour de France winner. Someone who is watching with interest is NTT Pro Cycling manager Bjarne Riis.
And while the South African-based NTT Pro Cycling team is not the first potential team cited, there are real links to the team that could well make it interesting for both parties. NTT would have the opportunity to work with one of the best grand tour riders and one with very deep connections to Africa.
And such a fusion would also bring together Froome with Danish director Bjarne Riis, the sometimes controversial team manager with a reputation for getting the most out of his riders. VeloNews caught up with Riis, and while he is hesitant to speak on such a sensitive subject that is largely based on speculation, he admits he likes the idea of working with a rider like Froome and taking him back to his highest level, which Riis believes could be the top step of the Tour de France yet again.
VeloNews: Bjarne, NTT has been one of the teams often cited as a possible new home for Chris Froome, if indeed he is interested in leaving Ineos. And there are a lot of reasons why it could be a good fit. The African connection is strong, but also the fact that it would give you, one of the most experienced team managers, an opportunity to work with one of the biggest grand tour riders.
Bjarne Riis: Well, let me state firstly that I have had no contact with Chris. And it is dangerous to even speculate about such things. But I think most people would be interested in working with somebody like Chris. Obviously it would be a big story, and a fun story, but you have to be careful not to mix rumors with reality. They are two different things.
Right now there is a lot of speculation and I don’t know what is really at the root of it. I am curious to know, and I think it is interesting because, well, this is Chris Froome that we are talking about. It is a surprise and I would really like to know how much is really true. I am surprised to see what is going on and what is not going on.
VN: It appears that there is a bit of a power struggle within the team, to say the least.
BR: It is not a surprise for me that things are going to be crowded on Team Ineos. I’ve said that for a year now. It’s not rocket science. When we finished the Tour last year, I thought to myself, ‘Okay, this is interesting.’ You have Bernal on the top step of the podium in Paris, looking around and probably liking what he saw. He was probably thinking that he could really get used to doing this for the next 10 years. Then you had Geraint Thomas on the next step. And I think finishing second actually gave him confidence that he could win the Tour again. And then you have Froome laying at home in his bed and probably thinking, ‘I know I can win the Tour again. I know I can beat these guys.’ And he has good reason to say that. And then on top of then they were in the middle of buying Richard Carapaz.
VN: Bernal stated just that last week when he said clearly that he didn’t plan on coming to the Tour and working for someone else.
BR: Yeah, although we don’t know exactly. It could have been taken out of context, but of course, it is going to be crowded. And they must have been talking about something on the team. Again it is all speculation. There could be things that we don’t know about. There is so much that we don’t know. And it is strange. Why does he want to change teams? Is it because he is afraid he doesn’t have the support? Does he feel that he is ready to win again but might not have the support?
This brings us back to the first question. Could he be a good fit for NTT? Well, that would be a yes and no. Could we have a spot for him? Yes. Could he work with us? Probably. Could we have a good team around him? Yes. Do we have experience guiding him in a grand tour? Absolutely. Does he want to ride for us? We don’t know. Can we provide the money? We don’t know.
And those are the questions every potential team will have to ask. And again, we still have no idea if there is even the possibility that he could leave Ineos. But I would also have expected Dave Brailsford to go out and say, ‘Hey guys take it easy. We respect contracts. We work together. We work as a team.’ But he is silent.
VN: What would be exciting for you working with a talent like Froome at this point in his career, and at this point in your career?
BR: To make him win again — that should be the main objective. Why should he be on this team if it is not because he wants to win? Why else does a guy like Froome ride his bike if it is not to win the Tour de France? And we should have the same mentality. If we would take him in, it should be for one reason and one reason only—to win the Tour de France.
VN: You’ve seen a lot of riders come back from serious crashes over the years. Are you confident that Chris can come back 100 percent?
BR: If I was riding my bike next to him for a couple of days, looking at him and talking to him, then I can give you the answer. But I expect that he is not lying when he says that he is ready. Why shouldn’t he be able to come back? Cyclists have an amazing ability to recover. All athletes at the highest level do, but especially cyclists. That is something they have. They are in such good shape and they are so healthy. I assume that yes he could come back. His lungs and heart are the same, so really it is a question of hard work. And we all know that Chris has amazing focus and can work hard. I would not be surprised to see him at the highest level again.
VN: When you look at Froome, do you see any areas where you think there might still be room for improvement, even if it is small, in certain areas?
BR: It could be. But I would have to work with him. I need to study him more. I need to understand why he is doing what he is doing. I need to understand more about what he was doing before and what he is doing now.