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Tour winner denies saying that his team manager is hamstringing his Vuelta

Spain is an uproar Thursday night over alleged comments from Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre accusing Team CSC-Saxo Bank manager Bjarne Riis of trying to undermine his efforts to win the Vuelta a España. Sastre — who is leaving Riis’s team to joining the start-up Cervélo team in 2009 — was quoted in a lengthy interview with the Spanish wire service, EFE, suggesting that Riis has divided the team against him during the three-week Vuelta. Sastre later denied making those statements.

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By Andrew Hood

Spain is an uproar Thursday night over alleged comments from Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre accusing Team CSC-Saxo Bank manager Bjarne Riis of trying to undermine his efforts to win the Vuelta a España.

Sastre — who is leaving Riis’s team to joining the start-up Cervélo team in 2009 — was quoted in a lengthy interview with the Spanish wire service, EFE, suggesting that Riis has divided the team against him during the three-week Vuelta.

Sastre later denied making those statements.

That hasn’t stopped every newspaper in Spain from running the story, including Sastre’s personal Web page, which has posted links to the story.

Neither Sastre nor Riis could be reached for comment Thursday evening by VeloNews.

Team CSC-Saxo Bank team spokesman Brian Nygaard said he had heard about Sastre’s comments, but suggested they were “either taken out of context or taken during an emotional moment.”

“I could see no reason why a team manager wouldn’t want the team to do well in a race. That’s his job and that’s how he makes his money,” Nygaard told VeloNews. “I’ve known Carlos long enough and it doesn’t sound like something he would say.”

Nygaard later spoke personally to Sastre, who confirmed that he had an interview with EFE, but denied making the comments about Riis.

In an interview with VeloNews earlier during the Vuelta, when the Dane was visiting the race during the stages in the Pyrénées, Riis said there was no ill will toward Sastre.

“It’s Carlos’s decision to go to another team. That’s professional cycling — riders change teams all the time,” Riis said. “We wish Carlos the best of luck, but he’s still on our team and we want to try to win the Vuelta with Carlos.”

EFE ran the interview Thursday and almost every major Spanish daily has picked up the story.
The most incendiary comments come when the reporter asked if Sastre is more tired psychologically than physically.

Without mentioning a name, Sastre responds:

“If I was physically bad, I wouldn’t be third. One has to be realistic. There is a person who has harmed and divided the team from the beginning. He’s still doing it. And that person hasn’t wanted that this team do anything in the Vuelta. That was his intention. He has harmed everyone. It’s in his conscience. I don’t have any complaint about the team or the teammates. They have done everything that is possible. They’ve been in the breakaways. You have to overcome a lot of things, but it’s necessary that the person who has to push is really pushing. But that this person, far from pushing, that person has been dividing.”

The reporter asks, “You’re referring to Riis?”

Sastre responds, “He’s the maximum leader of the team, no?”

That open comment could be taken several ways. Perhaps Sastre was alluding to someone else, perhaps not.

What’s sure is that his comments have created a firestorm in Spain. It should be an interesting scene outside the Team CSC-Saxo Bank team bus on Friday morning.

Sastre also commented on race leader Alberto Contador:

“He’s not on another level. Things have gone in his favor and he’s been able to benefit from that. He’s a rider who won a Tour that no one expected him to, a Giro without media pressure and who’s now supporting this pressure in the Vuelta. He’s a rider of the present and above all for the future.”

On his decision to sign with Cervélo, Sastre said:

“When I decided this it’s because my goal has always been before leaving behind cycling to race at the highest level and enjoying it. This project gives me a lot of opportunities to enjoy racing the bike and enjoy it beyond racing. It’s not easy to organize all this. It’s not easy to create a new structure, but I like being a creative person to build things, not destroy them. The people around the team and myself think the same way and this helps me make the decision about the future of this team.”