Saxo Banks’s Bjarne Riis is taking his team-building exercises to even greater extremes. The squad will travel to Israel where riders and staff will work with the Israeli military to round up arab terrorists.
“We have done the para-military things in the snow in Denmark, but I wanted to push the guys,” said Riis. “I need them to know what combat is about. So, we will move into the West Bank, going house to house.”
Riis accepted an offer from Israeli backer Raya Strauss to hold his camp in the Middle East but apparently the anti-terrorist activities were Riis’ idea.
Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said the Saxo Bank camp will in no way compromise the delicate negotiations with the Palestinians. “We should not blow this out of proportion. We’re talking about just twenty-two riders armed with semi-automatic weapons. It’s not like we’re throwing a combat unit into the West Bank.”
When questioned about the possibility of armed conflict, Riis was firm in his reply. “This is a sweep and clear operation. However, if we receive fire, then we will return fire. It is as simple as that. People forget that Alberto’s nickname is Pistolero, said Riis. “Terrorism must be stopped and if my riders can help that cause, then that is what we will do.”
The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which rules in Gaza were both critical of the move by Saxo Bank. However, in official statements to the press, Khaled Meshal of Hamas appeared unconcerned. “Skinny little men with no combat experience do not worry us,” said Meshal. “If need be, we will crush them.”
The initial plans for the Saxo Bank camp in Israel included doing charity work to benefit children and building an elementary school. However, with the fate of star rider Alberto Contador still waiting to be decided by the Court of Arbitration in Sport, Riis decided to ramp up the intensity.
“We fight, with or without Alberto. That is the imperative,” said Riis. “It is easy to forget that a bike race is a war and there are winners and losers. We must develop that killer instinct. That is why we are here in Israel.”
Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aid to Mr Abbas at the Palestinian Authority, was confident that this was simply a hoax. “This is the invention of some cycling journalist. Our intelligence is confident that Saxo Bank will ride their bikes and visit with some children,” said Rabbo. “We believe this whole thing is a media hoax fabricated in the United States.”