Bjarne Riis Interview
Bjarne Riis is still searching for his limits as a cyclist. He is stronger than ever. Still he feels like he hasn't reached the top yet. Here the danish Tour de France hero about his ambitions, and about his through preparations and hard work to improve in every aspect that creates a winner.
Bjarne Riis orders some cookies. Even a Tour de France winner on a diet can eat a cookie once in a while. And after the long ride from his home in Luxembourg he needs them. He has still somewhere on the already slim 1.84 meter tall body a couple of unnecessary kilos which has to go, before he's in his battleweight, he say's himself. But there's also yet two months to go, before entering the battlearena of the french roads of the Tour. Bjarne Riis is definitely looking like a man, who believes in another triumph. Smiling, and with his eyes full of a self confident calmness, he's relaxing in the restaurant of Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza. It's a wednesday afternoon in Frankfurt. The danish cycling hero is on a rare visit to the home arena of Telekom - to be one of the dominating cyclists in the next day's german cycling classic "Rund um den Henninger Turm".
When he's telling about the next Tour de France and the other big races of the season, it happens with the same expectation and appetite, as the way he's now grabbing one of the chocolate cookies in front of him. Last year he was the symbol of what's called the achievement of a century in danish sports. Now he's saying that he'll do it again. And again. And perhaps again. And every time he'll try to do it better than the last time. "I've never been stronger, than I'm now" he claims, while he starts to eat a cookie. This is a sentence he's using in different variants, and often turn back to in the following hour. Told straight out - no bragging, but also released for the modesty, that's normal for a guy from Jutland (region in Denmark). That's just plain facts. Bjarne Riis is better than ever. "I can feel it mentally - up in my head. And I can feel it physically. My form is coming along a lot quicker this year, and I feel really comfortable. Not only when I'm on the bike, but in general. My health is superb, and I feel fine. Compared to last year I'm just better" says the 33 year old star.
The winning instinct that disappeared He pulls forward himself, the unusual aspect that he keeps developing in an age, where most top riders choose to slow down their career, or is run down by competitors. The reason is he claims, that he started winning the big races in a relative old aqge. "As a child I had an enormous winner-instict, and physically I was a very big talent. I practiced often. And I had the will. Therefore I won a lot of races when I was a kid. But then there came a period of time - perhaps already from when I was 12-13 years old - where I lost the instinct. I've often asked myself why. Did it have something to do with my childhood - or the school - or something on the homefront. No matter what the reason was, I didn't improve, and soon a lot of my competitors beat me. As junior and as senior and in the first years as a pro I was a competent rider, but I knew that I could achieve more. That my potential was bigger, than what I got out of it. I just couldn't get it forward. The instinct didn't return to me until in 1992 where I changed to an italian cycling team and learned to practice in a correct way. But I still feel like I could do better - even after the victory of Tour de France last year... I know that I'm capable of doing a better than the way I rode the race.
"Is this search to find your limits a way of keeping you going?". "Yes without question. It's very exciting to explore yourself and challenge your limits. And I don't fell like I've reached the maximum-strength yet. I still spend a lot of time, effort and energy to improve in every aspect. I try to make my training more optimal. I'm open to new methods. I'm making small changes/modifications on the bike. Finding a more aerodynamic way of sitting on the bike. I'm working on all the small aspects, because I've reached the point, where I want to be the best".
The ambitions are even bigger this year Bjarne Riis says without hesitation, that his ambitions are even bigger this year than last year. "It's necessary to set new goals as I get better. Cycle racing is so tough a sport that you can't give what's needed to win if you don't always have ambitions". The primary goal this year is the Tour de France just like last year. But this year there's more at stake. The reason is, that Bjarne Riis 'till 8 days ago hasn't won anything that matters except the toughest road race in the world. If he just once has won the Tour, he will of course always be remembered as a brilliant cyclist. But that isn't enough to be one of the best ever. There's still a long way to go for Bjarne Riis, before reaching Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain, which not only have won the Tour de France five times, but also have won a lot of victories in big classics such as Milano-San Remo, Paris-Rubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege etc. (the first three mentioned).
Big show on Hautacam Bjarne Riis has received a lot of credit abroad for the way he won the Tour de France. Not least the way he climbed the 13.5 km long way to the top of Hautacam in the Pyrenees, where he - in yellow jersey - attacked from the front of the main group - a thing that Indurain never in his career tried. But if you look at thing in a fair way, Bjarne Riis was "only" the incontrovertible best cyclist of the world for ten days. On the 8th of july he rode solo towards the goal in Sestriere, until the 16th of july on Hautacam and the next day when he again defended his jersey on the 262 km long stage to Pamplona. That was more than enough to win the Tour de France... But not enough to be recognized as the dominating name in general in the area of cycling. "I've been asked more than once: Who's the best rider in the world? Is it me - me who's won the Tour de France? Is it Musseuw, who's won the world cup and the World championship? Is it Jalabert who's number one on the world ranking, because he rode more stable in a whole season?". It's a tough question to answer. Everybody of course want to be a new Merckx or Indurain. One who's visible, and that's just a little better than the rest of the mass. After my victory last saturday in Amstel Gold Race I've seen in Belgian, dutch and italian newspapers, that I'm maybe the one. And when I've started to win the classics, and if I win the Tour de France again, then we can begin to talk about, that I've replaced Indurain as the presently best rider.
"Is it your ambition that the cyclingsport should have a Bjarne Riis epoch?". "Well I guess so. But most of it comes by itself. If I win the Tour de France again". "Earlier the french press has written, that you're a temporary figure. That your role is to keep the seat warm until a younger rider - Jann Ullrich perhaps, or Virenque, Dufaux, Luttenberger, Pantani, Jalabert, Zulle, Bersin, Olano or perhaps another will grab the tour throne?". " I'd like to show them, that they're wrong. That the young riders have to wait yet a while. And I believe it myself. But I have to be good. Damn good. And lucky. I must avoid any illness or accidents. One bad day can mean that you loose in the battle of the victory. But if I succeed , then I know that I'll also be able to win next year. I don't' dare to predict what happens further out in the future".
Methodic preparations Riis has finished his cookies and drinks the last of his coffee. Music fills the room for a short moment. Then Riis begins to tell me about his methodic preparations, which is carefully planned in cooperation with his coach, medic, and personal advisor Luigi Cecchini, so the form can be at it's peak in the middle of the french summer. "After a short winterbreak, where the body was allowed to restore, I already in december went for 2 or 3 hour rides in a calm pace", he explains. In january and february he started on intervaltraining - eg. rode one hour with a pulse of 160-170, then two hours with a pulse of 150, and then perhaps another hour with yet another pulse. And since march the daily program has consisted of interval training combined with running. The purpose of the training is to move the acid limit. This demands an explanation: Everybody is equipped with an "aerobic engine", where the muscles are working on oxygen, and an "anaerobic engine", where the muscles are working without oxygen, but by leaking milkacid - a waste product that's kept in the muscles and in the end causes the muscle fibers not to be able to contract. The rider with the highest acid limit, is therefore able to use the "anaerobic engine" more efficiently and ride faster without the muscles being unable to contract.
The acid limit must me improved from down and up Many riders and coaches think that you during practice should try to pull up the acid limit - by training above it. Bjarne Riis and Luigi Cecchini are working after a whole different concept. That you should push it up - by training just on the limit or below it. The art is to find the edge, where you slowly build up the form - instead of training above it, and thus breaking it down. "That's why I choose not to be active in all the races. A lot of people is eg. wondering why I can't keep up with the top riders, when there's eg. a race in march. The explanation is, that I can feel that I've reached the acid limit, and therefore choose not to follow the front riders - instead of going on anyway. Many riders are riding too fast in the first races. When they get home, they're totally devastated. Next day they can't get their pulse up during practice. Several days goes by, before they are able to train again in a normal way. Then they sign up for another race - and ruins their form yet another time. I often try to save some strength, and make sure that I don't enter the red danger area. That's why, I only need one day to restore, before being able to train normally again and follow my program after a race. It's very much a matter of using your head. There's no art in training hard, but it's very hard to train in a correct way".
Computer controlled training program The most important tool in the very complex training program is a very expensive and advanced computer system called "SRM Power Control". The computer is mounted in the frame near the pedals on the bike of Bjarne Riis, with a display on the steer, showing eg. speed, distance,pedal-RPM, pulse, and how much energy - measured in watts -he's producing, when he's moving the pedals. When Bjarne Riis comes home from cycling or a run, he puts all the registered data into a computer, and analyzes them with Cecchini. The results is especially used to fine adjust the training. Should there be more intervals in the training? Or maybe harder? They also serve special purposes. Riis can eg. cycle up a hill three or four times in different gears - and the computer is then able to tell, which gear was the most economical. It is especially the pulse and the energy use in watts, which gives him a clear signal on how good his form is, and how far he is in his preparations. "I can give you an example" Bjarne Riis says: "In the beginning of december I couldn't produce more than 300-320 watts, when I was at the acid limit. In february I've maybe reached a level of 400 watts. And now I climb to approx. 500 watt where I plan to be before the start of the Tour de France". Right now the computer shows me, that I'm able to produce more watts than on the same time last year. It's not only my own feeling... the computer tells the same".
Victory in the classics could be heard all over the world Riis has taken advantage of the fact, that the form is better this year. Despite that he's not at his peak yet, he has still been riding so fast, that he's tried to win some of the spring classics. His win in Amateur Gold Race could be heard all over the world for two reasons:
First of all because it was won via a solo ride of nearly 40 km. In modern cycling the main group often ride so fast in the end of a race. That makes it almost impossible to ride solo over a longer distance. But against all common sense Riis took the chance a long way from the finish line. And he used the chance 100% with a power that must have given the Tour de France competitors a warning.
Secondly Riis proved that the sentence "you got to specialize in the sport of cycling - you cannot both win the tour and be on top in the classics" more or less developed by Greg Lemond and Indurain. You'll have to go back to Hinault in 1981 to find a Tour winner which has won the Amstel Gold Race the same year.
"I'm very proud of the victory, because it shows, that I've become a more complete rider. I was in an exceptionally good form, and was prepared. And of course you don't think about riding on the acid limit when you're riding solo... Then it's just to get to the finish line as fast as possible. But after tomorrow (Rund um den Heninger Turm), I won't go for any victories again, until maybe Tour de Switzerland, or some of the smaller stage races short before the Tour de France. Cecchini has told me, that I now should try to slow down a bit mentally, and not to think too much winning for a while. The following week I'm going to race four races in Denmark. When we're racing there I'll however do my best to win - but afterwards I'll try to slow down".
The competitors under pressure "In the last year's edition of the Tour de France it was Telekoms tactic to put pressure on Indurain and the other competitor. You sat from the beginning of the mountaintops a hard pace, will this also be the tactics this year?". "If you feel that this is best in the long run, you should set a hard pace. On the first stage more of my competitors was just as strong as me. A few of them was maybe even better. After a while however, I leveled with them, and thereafter even passed them, because I restored better than them. My body is getting OK again better than my competitors. During the Tour there was several occasions where I was at my acid limit. The rest was maybe lying a bit above theirs - because I was a bit better than them. They could deal with it for a while - but not in the long run. Someday it's going downhill for them".
Riis has become eager. He's pushing the empty cookie plate to one side to lean over the table. "Take Hautacam as an example. Jan Ullrich is setting a hard pace. Then I'm attacking. The others follow me. I'm riding on the acid limit, but the rest is riding above theirs - to keep up. One time, two times, three times, four times. Then I really make my move, and then the rest explode. Because then they have got too much milkacid in their legs. At some time it's just like "puff", the legs has got too much acid, and blocks. They stand still for a while, and then I'm gone. Before they can do anything they've lost too much time". "Are you aware of what's happening?". "Yes Yes. I'm in control, because I'm the one with the best legs. I constantly ride just below my acid limit, but always above theirs. and "puf" then Bersin falls behind, and "puf" then goes the rest - one by one. Cecchini told me in advance: Everything can get settled that day. The one that has got the highest acid limit when it goes uphill, that's the one that wins. And that person was me".
When the competitors get into a crisis "Is of outmost importance that you're able to "read" your opponents and know their weaknesses?". "Yes very much. I haven't looked at all the stages of the last year's Tour, but occasionally - when I have the time - I put on a video. I've also analyzed some of the spring races. Eg Liege-Bastogne-Liege, where Jalabert and Zulle was beaten in the end by Bartoli. Then I study them: How do they sit on the bike? Are the sitting uncomfortable, when they are in a crisis? It is small signals, which is good to remember, when you're sitting with them in the mountains. To be able to say to yourself: now it only a matter of time before they are going down". At this point Riis is sitting with a big smile. "It's not always it works out, but somehow it can be important. Somebody lowers their shoulders, somebody is in a very high or low gear, before they go down".
"Who's your worst opponent this year?". "The usual ones. Zulle, Jalabert, Virenque. Perhaps Tonkov or mabye Leblanc or Olano".
"But aren't there one opponent, that you'll keep a special eye on?". "They have all got big potential. But the tour lasts three weeks, and now I think that I'm the one in the best general physical condition".
"Telecom has bought Georg Totschnig as an extra helper in the mountains for you. How's your team compared to last year?". "I don't think that it's less good, we've also got a very strong team this year".
"Is it bothering you, that people from the german press has hinted that Jan Ullrich perhaps could have won the Tour last year, if he hadn't been riding for you? and is there a chance of rivalry on the team this year?". "It is only natural that people write that kind of stuff in Germany . The most important thing is, that he's proved himself to be a loyal rider all the way through. He's well aware that it was my fault that he became number two. The only thing he had to do was to keep up - without thinking and without any kind of responsibility. He's way too young to be able to tacle that pressure, it is to have the yellow jersey for two weeks. But he's a nice and quiet guy. Realist. So I don't think that we'll have any problems".
The weight is everything Bjarne Riis is moving his 72 kg. a bit in the chair, and turns the coffee cup a bit. Before the start of the tour he has to get rid of two kg. - and during the race one more kg has to go. Two three kilos is the difference between winning the Tour and finishing way back. "When it goes up hill, the weight means almost everything" Bjarne Riis says. This became clear to him when he started his work with Cecchini in 1992. Cecchini himself has in an interview given a very illustrative example of what the weight loss of Bjarne Riis has meant for his career. He compared Bjarne Riis with Indurain. The big guy from Spain could produce 55o watts when he was working on the bike just below the acid limit. Riis could only produce 480 watts. But what settled it all in the mountains was the relation between watts and the weight. Here Indurains engine was able to pull 6.8 watts per kilo (because of his weight of 79 kg). Bjarne Riis was only weighing 69 kg and had therefore 7.0 watts per kilo...0.2 watts more...
Five years ago Bjarne Riis was weighing 76 kg, which mean that he would only be able to produce 6.0 watts per kilo - this made him too heavy on the steepest mountains to keep up. Today he's able to keep up with the most specialized mountain riders, and has definitively made it clear, that danes can both ride on flat roads as well as in steep mountains. But the weight has to be OK for the prologue on the 5th of July in Rouen. With speed approx. 50 km/h important seconds can be saved by small corrections in positioning on the cycle etc. The experiments has until now resulted in an order on a 400.000kr. bike (=60.000-65000 US$) to be used on the single start stages. He would like to finally also win a single start in the Tour.
But the cycle development has also got his thoughts on an attack on the time trial world record again. "I asked Cecchini the other day: How many watts can I produce during one hour of cycling, if I'm prepared in the best way? Between 500-520 watts he said. It's hard to tell, but it's close the mentioned figures. We just made some calculations which shows, that if I ride under optimal conditions (the track, the wind, the bike), then I have to produce between 515 and 518 watts to ride the 57 km necessary to break the record". Riis smiles, puts his hand horizontally in the air, and lets his hand go up and down. "It'll be close, and it's also possible that it can't be done. In january I totally knocked it out of my head, because I didn't believe I could do it. But after the latest test, I've begun to wonder again. I have to improve my aerodynamic position on the bike, so I get more power out in the pedals. Correct a couple of other details. But then I'm close I'm sure. And I would like to try... Just once"
Cyclo CrossThere are two Dutch candidates for Wrld Cycle Cross Championshipsin the year 2000: Heerlen and St. Michielsgestel. For the KNWU (Dutch Cycle Union) St. Michielsgestel is the preferred place. Other claims are coming from England, Spain and Luxembourg.
FT. Lauderdale Field for EDS Track Cup 1997 Round 3For Immediate Release, May 5, 1997, Contact: Frank Stanley, USCF Communications Manager, (719) 578-4581 (or (954) 923-7300 as of May 7); Cheryl Kvasnicka, USA Cycling Director of Communications, (719) 578-4944
With an eye toward the 2000 Olympic Games, the EDS Track Cup '97 moves to the Brian Piccolo Velodrome in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the third round of the seven-event national series.
Several of the United States' top future cycling hopefuls will be competing in Fort Lauderdale, including Tommy Mulkey, Griffin, Ga., and Adam Payne, Newnan, Ga., who both compete for the Atlanta-based Cox Atlanta Velo team. Mulkey and Payne are part of the national endurance track program and are scheduled to represent the United States at the first two rounds of the UCI World Track Cup later this month in Cali, Colombia, May 23-25, and Trexlertown, Pa., May 29-31.
Both riders are scheduled to compete in the team pursuit in Fort Lauderdale. The United States has had some of its greatest international success in recent years in that event, winning world championship medals in 1994 and 1995.
Mulkey and Payne each won the points race at the EDS Track Cups in San Diego, Calif., and Houston, Texas, and are scheduled to compete in that event in Fort Lauderdale as well.
Also scheduled to compete in Fort Lauderdale are several of the country's top young female track cyclists, including Missy Thompson, Erin Veenstra and Marisa Vande Velde, all of whom represented the United States at the Junior World Championships in 1996. Veenstra and Vande Velde are currently resident athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Thompson also resides. The trio are in their first year of senior competition, though all of them competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials last year.
The Fort Lauderdale round of the EDS Track Cup will also feature the continuation of the series-long battle in the team overall competition between the Cox Atlanta Velo squad and Team EDS. The Plano, Texas-based Team EDS had a strong showing at the second round in Houston, Texas, and reduced Cox Atlanta Velo's lead to a mere 29 points. Riders to watch for Team EDS include ironman Chris Carlson, Dallas, Texas, who is scheduled to compete in five events; and sprinters Trey Gannon, Plano, Texas; and Mark Garrett, Los Angeles, Calif.
The EDS Track Cup '97 is a USA Cycling program created to enhance track racing in the United States.
Tour of Britain OffA bid to give Britain a new international stage cycling race to replace the Tour of Britain has failed because a global television deal collapsed, the organisers said on Wednesday.
Fifteen teams, including Australia, Russia, the United States and South Africa, had accepted places in the August 18-23 scheduled race, Britain's first major international since the loss of the Tour of Britain and the professional Tour in the last four years.
``Revenue from the TV agreement would have provided crucial additional funding,'' organiser Brian Elliott said. ``Insurance negotiations, vital to the TV agreement, foundered, so programme