Feeling bad for Barney.
Yeah, that’s our bad boy Dane Bjarne Riis. His former CSC rider Tyler Hamilton says Riis introduced him to scumbag Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes so he could get set up with a blood doping program.
There’s a wonderful passage in Hamilton’s Secret Race where he describes Riis as having a cold nordic exterior but that underneath there was this passionate and creative italian dying to get out. They’re drinking wine and Riis waxes eloquent about the benefits of blood doping.
Now, in the world of zero or next to zero tolerance, the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff team manager looks like the next kingpin to fall after RadioShack-Nissan Trek’s Johan Bruyneel.
Still, we feel bad for Barney because we’ll miss that Italiano part of Riis. When he put his CSC team together, he brought in all kinds of fresh — and legal — ideas about training and team bonding and motivation. His winter paramilitary training camps were the stuff of media legend.
He was also heavily involved on the technical side. As former rider Jens Voigt just wrote on his Bicycling magazine blog, Riis made riding fun again and they always had the best equipment.
So we’re very tempted to put Riis in the camp of those who have doped in the past but have since worked hard to change the culture to a significant degree. CSC was also in the forefront of anti-dope testing — pre-Garmin — with their teamed funded program run by Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard.
We’ve always suspected that the public and private Riis are two very different people. Riis often comes across as cold, dismissive and distant. But we believe the creative Italian comment by Hamilton and guess that in private Riis might be a funny and fascinating guy. He knows his wine and I’ll bet if you put on Rick James’ Super Freak, Riis would surprise everybody on the dance floor.
Still, in the post-USADA atomic bomb blast, it’s hard to see Riis surviving one more time. He’s weathered plenty of storms but this isn’t anything you can just ride out.
He managed to survive when the brothers Schleck stole his team for their Luxembourg project. He managed to survive the Alberto Contador steak con clenbuterol doping bust. He has survived more than a few financial crises with team sponsorship and is still engaged in a battle with the UCI over Contador and the points system and getting one of the final places in the WorldTour.
At this point the embattled UCI is in no position to hand a WorldTour place to a team run by Riis. Not when that means saying no to a clean team like Argos-Shimano or the less risky Lotto-Belisol. (Although if we were FDJ, we’d still be worried about being on the bubble.) UCI president Patrick McQuaid is clinging desperately to his job despite the whole cycling world asking him to resign. He simply can’t and won’t grant Riis any favors.
It’s interesting to chart the path of Bjarne Riis and his counterpart at Garmin-Sharp, Jonathan Vaughters. It’s hard to speculate whether Vaughters himself will be forced to step aside but we don’t think so. If Riis had been more outspoken on doping like Vaughters then perhaps he’d be in a more secure position. But there’s a big difference between admitting to your own doping past and the news you encouraged your riders to dope.
A man only has so many lives and time appears up. We’re going to miss Riis for his intelligence and italian creativity but the violent cleanse must go on.