PARIS (VN) — After Cadel Evans won the Tour de France Sunday, wearing a champion’s yellow over the black and red of BMC Racing on the Champs-Élysées, BMC owner Andy Rihs called his victory honorable – and a world apart from Floyd Landis’ since-overturned victory for his Phonak squad in 2006.
Rihs is not only the owner of the BMC bicycle brand, but the founder and former chairman of Phonak Hearing Systems (now Sonova), the company that sponsored Floyd Landis’ 2006 squad.
It was five years ago this weekend that Landis stood atop the final podium in Paris before an adverse doping control for epitestosterone cost him his title and ultimately destroyed the team. Rihs returned to the sport in 2007 with the U.S.-based squad bearing the BMC name and four years later the team delivered another maillot jaune.
Rihs said this win felt much different than in 2006. Evans has never fallen under suspicion for performance-enhancing drug use during his career and worked for years with the anti-doping advocate Aldo Sassi and the Mapei sports center.
“It’s a big difference. Five or six years ago it was totally different in the cycling world,” Rihs told VeloNews. “You see new kinds of teams coming up and new riders coming in. Anglo-Saxons are coming along; it’s a whole different ballgame. Certain people moved out of the business, which was good. I think the whole cycling has changed so far as it became deeply more professional than it was five or six years ago.”
Rihs moved out of the sport when Phonak collapsed, but only for a few months. Galvin Chilcott, now an operations manager for the squad, partnered with the Swiss company to support a small, Continental team that focused on national-level races in the U.S. The team’s benefactor said he tried to stop thinking about what happened with Landis.
“This old story was a very sad story,” said Rihs. “I have to say I have to strip it off of my mind. I did that because I don’t want to stay on that level because nobody believed it, but when you drop from the sky without a parachute, it’s not fun.”
The Swiss is equally passionate about business as he is cycling and said as much Sunday at the team bus.
“We promote cycling with our BMC sports high tech products worldwide. And clearly, when something happens like this Tour de France victory, you cannot pay for that. It’s a value that is more than just a commercial value,” said Rihs. “I’m just emotionally moved today and happy with all the guys who did the great job, the team and Cadel.”
The emotion was high at the team bus after Evans rolled over the line. A half-block away from the Place de la Concorde, riders and staff gathered and toasted the Tour champion. The normally placid Rihs was more animated than usual, but was clear in the first reason for him to be in a sport in which some of the world’s top teams find difficulty in securing sponsors.
“The business is in the end the key,” he said. “That frustrates journalists sometimes when I say that, because they think it’s all emotion. I have a lot of emotions also, but it’s the business. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
When asked about his new maillot jaune, Rihs described the Switzerland-based Evans as pragmatic and focused, very Swiss. Rihs didn’t answer directly when asked whether he saw Evans’ triumph as his first or second Tour win, but did call the win calculated and the result of hard work.
“He came here not just to go on the Tour de France,” Rihs said. “In his mind, he said all the time that he comes here to win the Tour. That was very clear and it was our goal too, you know. You can’t just come here saying, ‘Let’s just see how it works.’ You play from the first day for that, then you go on. If you don’t do it that may happen, but if you don’t start it will never happen.”
Rihs hoped Monday would start with BMC bikes rolling off sales floors.
“Who wins on Sunday sells on Monday,” he said. “That’s an old story. That’s what we do, but it’s a lot of fun and is a passion of mine. Passion and business here come together in a very nice, fruitful way with all the team.”