Paratrooper boosts CSC’s Tour bid

CSC team boss Bjarne Riis turned to a former paratrooper to help build his remarkable team's spirit.

CSC team boss Bjarne Riis turned to a former paratrooper to help build his remarkable team’s spirit.

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis knows all about how to get the most out of his troops at the Danish CSC team. However, the 1996 winner has taken the idea of preparation to another level, by asking a former Danish paratrooper to take his CSC delegation into the wilderness for a week of hard training every December. So far, it seems to have worked, writes Justin Davis. Bjarne Christiansen, a man with 4,000 parachute jumps to his credit and used to go on secret missions behind enemy lines for the Danish Special Air Service, believes last year’s fourth place finish for an injury-affected Tyler Hamilton was a positive result for him. “It’s very tough for them,” he explained to AFP ahead of Tuesday’s third stage on Tuesday. “I give them problems and tasks to find out who they are. Every rider has to find out what is good and what is bad, and ask themselves ‘What do I do when I have problems? How do I get help when I need it?’ “Some of them get angry, some of them get sad – and that is exactly what you find on the Tour. The main aim is to find out how to get the best out of everybody in the team to get the best results. Basically, if we can use everybody 100 per cent and put it into a team we will deal much better with the problems on the Tour.” One of the examples given by Christiansen is dropping people who are not good swimmers into the water along with those who can swim well. Cast out together, and floating in 100 metres of water, the group has to race two kilometres to the shore. The last team to arrive will not be fed. Another task, again for the non-swimmers, is to jump from the edge of a cliff into the water at night, a challenge which Italian Ivan Basso – an outsider for this year’s yellow jersey – overcame to earn huge respect from his team-mates. It might sound harsh, but Christiansen believes it has had a positive effect on the team. “I try to stress them,” he explained. “But they soon found out how to deal with it. If you get angry at a team-mate because he can’t do his job, it takes the power from the team.” The philosophy seems to fit in nicely with cycling – an at times unforgiving sport where hard graft is met with little reward for the team’s domestiques. Christiansen says he sees the positive effects on almost every Tour campaign. “I see it every year here, like yesterday when two guys crashed, when the team sticks together and everybody is honest about what’s going on, and we have a much better chance to get through it. But most importantly everybody must be happy. If people are not happy they will not win anything.” Germany’s Jens Voigt, a new arrival at the team in the off-season from Crdit Agricole, admitted it had given him a new perspective on teamwork. “I think it forged us more as a team, and it was good because we were all mixed up: the riders, the mechanics, people who work in our office, and the masseurs,” he told AFP. “It had a big effect on the team spirit because you suffered together, you laughed together and we had a lot of tough and positive experiences,” he added, admitting that some of the tasks set prompted his admiration. “I look up to these two riders, they couldn’t really swim and they still jumped in the ocean and made it towards the shore. That was incredibly brave.” Christiansen’s presence at CSC coincides with their emergence from a small but ambitious Danish outfit to an international team with big name riders. He has now become a permanent fixture alongside Riis, and often finds himself being a confidant, a mediator and another man motivator. “That’s why I’m here, to see to all the small problems – from the riders making a mess of the driver’s bus, to the masseurs, sandwiches that aren’t good enough, or a rider who’s having problems with his wife,” he added. “In my own family, in a military elite unit behind enemy lines or in a cycling team, it’s the same. You have to be honest. You have to know about yourself and your own team. Otherwise it will never function. “Last year, when Tyler broke his collarbone and everyone was stressed, we just stuck together as a team and fought. That’s the way to do it. We also work on confidence. If we don’t have any confidence, it won’t work. It doesn’t matter how many kilometres you have on the bike if you have no confidence.”