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Opinion: Karma come, karma go

  • By Anthony Tan
  • Published Feb. 21, 2012
  • Updated Feb. 21, 2012 at 5:07 PM EDT
2011 Vuelta a Murcia, Stage 2. Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis is pleased after watching Contador on the winner's podium. | Andrew Hood photo

Over the years, partly by accident, partly by design, Riis has cultivated an air of mystery. He could be a deeply complex man, imbued with near mystical, quasi-shamanic motivational abilities; or a charlatan, cycling’s idiot savant who has made a virtue out of saying little, perhaps simply because he has little to say – and plenty to hide.
– Excerpt from Bad Blood: The Secret Life of the Tour de France

Do you believe in karma? If you do, is this what’s happening to Riis Cycling and Saxo Bank right now?

As an impressionable young athlete, I would imagine it would be very easy to be beguiled by Bjarne Riis. He speaks not with the mellifluous, clipped tone of Phil Liggett but in a deep drone that, depending on who you ask, can tranquilize or hypnotize. And what comes out of his mouth ranges from shamanic to satanic, again depending on who you speak to.

When Jeremy Whittle, the author of Bad Blood, was traveling in a car with Riis at a pre-season training camp at the start of the 2006 season, he caught a glimpse of that “mystical, quasi-shamanic” talk: “Gentlemen, spin the legs. Transform the power of yesterday into the power of today. Always make sure you keep a good rhythm.”

If any of my editors told me to transform the power of yesterday into the power of today, I’d probably assume they were smoking something funny.

I thought of Riis not because of the situation he finds himself in as a consequence of Alberto Contador’s back-dated two-year suspension, but from an article Gerard Cromwell penned about Richie Porte, who, Sunday in Portugal, won the Volta ao Algarve in emphatic fashion.

One of Porte’s trainers and former professional, Bobby Julich, said: “It really hurt me to watch him (Porte) last year (…) it really pained me to see where he was mentally.”

According to Julich, riding in support of Contador last year was detrimental to Porte’s development. “I don’t think Richie really was the top priority,” he said. “It’s obvious if you have a guy like Alberto on your team, you will be second fiddle. It was unfortunate but I think he learned a lot. I know he learned a lot from Bjarne (Riis) but something went wrong and he slipped through the cracks last year.”

I, for one, thought it strange to send a second-year pro, even one as precocious as Porte, into riding back-to-back Grand Tours (and the two hardest) at the undying service of a leader. It’s hardly a surprise the Tasmanian experienced a lackluster season in 2011 and came out feeling like a horse half-flogged to death.

“We’re here to pick him up. We’ve got a couple of years together with him and we’re gonna get him in good nick and go from there,” said Julich.

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