Bjarne Riis

Bjarne Riis

Personal information
Full name Bjarne Lykkegård Riis
Nickname Ørnen fra Herning
(The Eagle from Herning)
Born (1964-04-03) 3 April 1964
Herning, Denmark
Height 1.86 m (6 ft 1 in)
Team information
Current team Team Virtu Pro–Véloconcept
Discipline Road
Role Rider (retired)
Team manager
Rider type All-rounder
Professional team(s)
1986 Roland
1987 Lucas
1988 Toshiba–Look
1989 Super U–Raleigh–Fiat
1990–1991 Castorama
1992–1993 Ariostea
1994–1995 Gewiss–Ballan
1996–1999 Team Telekom
Managerial team(s)
1999–2015 Tinkoff–Saxo
2016 Team Virtu Pro–Véloconcept
Major wins

Grand Tours

Tour de France
General classification (1996)
4 individual stage wins (1993, 1994, 1996)
Giro d'Italia
2 individual stage wins (1989, 1993)

Stage races

Danmark Rundt (1995)

One-day races and Classics

National Road Race Champion (1992, 1995, 1996)
National Time Trial Champion (1996)
Coppa Sabatini (1996)
Amstel Gold Race (1997)
Colliers Classic (1997)
Infobox last updated on
6 August 2016

Bjarne Lykkegård Riis (pronounced [bjɑrnə riːs]; born 3 April 1964), nicknamed The Eagle from Herning[1] (Danish: Ørnen fra Herning), is a Danish former professional road bicycle racer who placed first in the 1996 Tour de France. For many years he was the owner and later manager of Russian UCI WorldTeam Tinkoff–Saxo. Other career highlights include placing first in the Amstel Gold Race in 1997, multiple Danish National Championships, and stage wins in the Giro d'Italia. On 25 May 2007, he admitted that he placed first in the Tour de France using banned substances, and he was no longer considered the winner by the Tour's organizers.[2] In July 2008, the Tour reconfirmed his victory but with an asterisk label to indicate his doping offences.[3]


Born in Herning, Riis began cycling at local club Herning CK. When he was not selected for the 1984 Summer Olympics, former cyclist Kim Andersen advised Riis to start his professional career not in Italy, but in Luxembourg.[4] His professional career started in 1986, his first result was a fifth-place finish in the GP Wallonie that year. Following a few years with no personal wins, he had yet to impress when his contract ran out in 1988.

At the 1988 Tour of European Community race, while riding for the Toshiba team, Riis and fellow Danish rider Kim Eriksen were contacted by the former Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon from the Système U team. Fignon was leading the Tour of European Community race, but he needed a few riders to help him secure the victory. In the hope of earning a contract with Système U,[5] Riis helped Fignon achieve the victory and in December 1988 he moved to sports director Cyrille Guimard's Système U team as a support rider for Fignon.[4] For the next three years Riis rode as Fignon's eternal helper in both flat and mountainous terrain, and they became close friends.[6] Riis helped Fignon win the 1989 Giro d'Italia, while Riis himself won his first professional victory as he secured the 9th stage of the Giro.

Tour de France success

When Fignon left Guimard in 1992, Bjarne Riis contacted fellow Danish rider Rolf Sørensen, who got him a job as a rider for Italian team Ariostea under sporting director Giancarlo Ferretti. Riis placed first in the Châlon-sur-Marne stage during the 1993 Tour de France and also wore the polka dot jersey for a day.[7] He finished 5th place overall, which was the best Danish result in Tour history at the time, bettering former World Champion Leif Mortensen's 6th-place finish in the 1971 Tour de France. Riis was ill during the 1994 Tour de France but went on a break-away and then racing solo for the last 30 km of the day. With the sprinter teams chasing him, he placed first on the stage by just a few seconds. Riis finished 3rd at the 1995 Tour de France, the first Dane to reach the podium in Paris.

For the 1996 season, Riis was brought on to the Telekom team as team captain. Following his excellent showing in the high climbs of the 1995 Tour, Riis was confident that he was capable of winning. He asked his new teammates to support him, and convinced them that if they worked for him he could bring the yellow jersey to Team Telekom. By the start of the Tour he was in superb condition, winning the Danish Road Racing Championship the week before the prologue. As a result of snow on both the Col de l'Iseran and the Col du Galibier, the scheduled 190 km stage 9 from Val-d'Isère to Sestriere in Italy was truncated and reduced to a 46 km sprint from Le-Monetier-les-Bains[3] which was claimed by Riis, opening a 44-second gap over his teammate Jan Ullrich. By the Tour's end Riis had placed first in the General Classification, with a lead of 1:41 over his young teammate Ullrich. In so doing he ended the string of five successive victories won by Tour great Miguel Indurain. The win by Riis was instrumental in turning Telekom from a second tier cycling team which struggled just to be invited into the 1995 Tour, into one of the biggest teams in road racing. It also had a huge positive effect on the development of cycling in both Denmark and Germany, massively increasing spectator interest and participation in the sport as well.

In 1997, he placed first in the spring classic Amstel Gold Race, with a great effort, riding solo from a long way out, in pouring rain. Bjarne Riis was the favourite at the 1997 Tour de France, but instead it was his young German teammate Jan Ullrich, who won the overall competition, with Riis finishing 7th. On his way to the startup at stage 2 of the 1999 Tour de Suisse, Bjarne Riis hit the curb and crashed. The sustained injuries to his elbow and knee ultimately forced him to retire in the spring of 2000 at the age of 36.[4]

Doping allegations

In the aftermath of the performance-enhancing drugs crisis in cycling following the 1998 Tour de France, Riis acquired the nickname of Mr. 60%, a suggestion that he has used doping.[8][9] The 60% is an allusion to a high hematocrit (red blood cell) level, an indication of EPO usage. It has been published, but never proven, that Riis had a hematocrit level of 56% during one test in July 1995;[10] well above typical natural levels, as well as his published reading of 41% in the offseason earlier that year.[11] The earliest mention of the nickname can be traced to interviews with riders of Festina in 1998–2000, who apparently suggested that if they had been doped above 50%, then Riis must have been doped to at least 60%,[12] since he was able to win the Tour de France in 1996 ahead of the Festina rider Richard Virenque: in Willy Voet's book Breaking the Chain, he mentions that Festina's team doctor would not allow EPO to be administered if a rider's hematocrit level was near 55%.[13] Bjarne Riis never tested positive as a rider, though no EPO test existed at that time. Reports have noted, however, that police in Italy found evidence that Riis may have been among riders treated with EPO in 1994 and 1995 by medical researchers under Professor Francesco Conconi at the University of Ferrara, which resulted in prosecutions against Conconi and also involved Michele Ferrari.[14] Files used in the court case apparently showed fluctuations in Riis' hematocrit from 41% to 56.3%.[1]

Speculations about Bjarne Riis's doping use was further fuelled by his ambiguous denials. When asked whether he used doping he repeatedly stated that "I have never tested positive," a statement that falls short of an outright denial.[15]


At the end of April 2007, former Riis' soigneur Jeff d'Hont wrote a book about the doping practices of Riis and other riders during his time in the cycling business.[16] On 21 May 2007, Riis' former Telekom-team mate Bert Dietz admitted that he had used doping during his Telekom-time.[17] This prompted other former team mates, Christian Henn and Udo Bölts, and two former team doctors, to admit their involvement in doping.[18] On 24 May, three other team mates Rolf Aldag, Erik Zabel and Brian Holm confessed.[19]

Following this series of confessions, on 25 May 2007 Riis issued a press release that he also had made "mistakes" in the past,[20] and in the following press conference confessed to taking EPO, growth hormone and cortisone for 6 years, from 1993 to 1998, including during his victory in the 1996 Tour de France.[21] Riis said that he bought and injected the EPO himself, and team coach Walter Godefroot turned a blind eye to the drug use on the team.[22][23] He denied a passage of Jeff d'Hont's book, where it is related that his hematocrit level was once tested by the team and registered 64%. He said if someone wanted to take his yellow jersey they could do so, it meant nothing to him. Riis was removed from the official record books of Tour de France,[24] but in July 2008 he was written back into the books, along with additional notes about his use of doping.[3]

The reactions on Riis's admission have been mixed. Some critics have called him a cheater, and that the results he achieved in his career were worthless. Others have labelled him as a victim of the doping culture that was rampant in professional road cycling, and have insisted that he should not be scapegoated for a wider problem.[25]

In November 2010 Riis published a book about his career as a rider, emphasizing that doping throughout the time he had competed was not considered by the peloton as "cheat", but simply as a part of the "normal preparation" for a professional rider. He described he had started to dope only with corticosteroids in the 80s, and then as he previously had confessed upgraded his doping with EPO in 1993–98.[26][27] Riis states the last time he doped as a rider was in July 1998. He states he quit during the 1998 Tour de France when he was nearly caught by the police. As part of the probe into the Festina doping scandal, police were on their way to search the rooms of his Telekom teammates. Riis offered the following comment on the episode: “In my room I didn’t have a choice. My vials of doping products had to disappear quickly. In just a few minutes I gathered all my doses of EPO and threw them down the toilet”.[27][28]

Team manager

Following his retirement, a new life opened up. Bjarne Riis had from the start been one of the people behind Danish cycling team Team home–Jack & Jones, which became the first Danish team competing in the Tour de France. Following doping allegations and suspension of Home-Jack & Jones rider Marc Streel in 1999, Home withdrew its sponsorship. Bjarne Riis bought the majority of the team through its controlling company Professional Cycling Denmark (PCD), and he became the team manager. In 2001, the team changed sponsor to CSC/World Online, then CSC/Tiscali, and in the seasons 2003 to 2007 the American IT company CSC was the sole sponsor of Team CSC. In season 2008 CSC shared the sponsorship with the Danish bank Saxo Bank which as of season 2009 has been the sole team sponsor. The team later got the name Team Saxo Bank Sungard and is now known as Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank. Riis renamed PCD to Riis Cycling A/S in 2003. Before the 2005 season, Team CSC had financial problems and some of the riders were asked to take a wage cut. Riis used his own money to keep the team running throughout his first years as team manager, an expenditure he later vowed never to repeat[29] when a new sponsor deal was signed during the 2005 Tour de France.

As a team manager, his team has been involved in some doping cases, with no rider being convicted for using doping while on his team. However, in Tyler Hamilton's book, "The Secret Race," is described how Riis actively encouraged the use of doping on the CSC team.[30] Also, Ivan Basso, who was Team CSC's 2006 Tour de France general classification contender was removed from the team prior to the beginning of the Tour according to the UCI ProTour rules due to his possible involvement in the Operación Puerto doping case,[31] an involvement confirmed by Basso himself in April 2007.[32] Basso's contract with Team CSC has since ended.

The story of team CSC during the 2004 Tour de France has been captured in a documentary titled "Overcoming".[33]

His best results as a manager in Grand Tours were winning the 2006 Giro d'Italia with Ivan Basso,[34] the 2008 and 2010 Tour de France with Carlos Sastre[35] and Andy Schleck[36] respectively, and the 2012 Vuelta a España with Alberto Contador.[37]

In December 2013 it was confirmed that team sponsor Oleg Tinkov had bought the team from Riis, for a reported sum of approximately €6 million, with Riis continuing as team manager on a three-year deal worth €1 million per year. Tinkov had previously criticised Riis and Contador for their performances during 2013 via social media.[38]

In March 2015 the team confirmed that Riis had been removed from active duty due to differences between Riis and Tinkov. Media reports had initially indicated that Riis had been suspended when he did not appear at the 2015 Milan–San Remo as planned, and that this was due to a disappointing start to the season for the team.[39] On 29 March, it was announced that Riis had been released by the team. News reports cited the "tumultuous relationship" and "difference in character" between Riis and Tinkov as the reason for Riis's departure.[40][41]

In July 2016 Riis and former Saxo Bank CEO Lars Seier announced that they had taken over the Danish UCI Continental team Team TreFor and renamed it Team Virtu Pro–Véloconcept, with the intention of it functioning as the development team for a planned UCI WorldTeam.[42]

Career achievements

Major results

2nd Overall Flèche du Sud
1st Stages 1 & 2
1st Stage 9 Giro d'Italia
1st Stage 2 Tour of European Community
Tour of European Community
1st Stages 7 & 9
6th Road World Championships
1st National Road Race Championships
1st Stage 7 Giro d'Italia
5th Overall Tour de France
1st Stage 7
9th Road World Championships
14th Overall Tour de France
1st Stage 13
2nd GP Industria & Artigianato di Larciano
5th Championnat de Zurich
7th Giro di Lombardia
9th Road World Championships
1st National Road Race Championships
1st Overall Danmark Rundt
1st Stage 3B
3rd Overall Tour de France
1st National Road Race Championships
1st National Time Trial Championships
1st Overall Tour de France
1st Stages 9 & 16
1st Coppa Sabatini
2nd Grand Prix des Nations
3rd Overall Danmark Rundt
3rd Grand Prix of Aargau Canton
3rd Giro dell'Emilia
1st Amstel Gold Race
1st Colliers Classic
1st Stage 4A GP Wilhelm Tell
2nd Eschborn-Frankfurt City Loop
7th Overall Tour de France
1st Stage 5 Euskal Bizikleta
11th Overall Tour de France

Grand Tour general classification results timeline

Grand Tour 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
Pink jersey Giro - WD 86 100 43 101 WD 70 - - - -
Yellow jersey Tour - - 95 WD 107 - 5 14 3 1 7 11
golden jersey Vuelta WD - - - - - - - WD - - -

Further reading

See also


  1. 1 2 Matt Rendell and Susanne Horsdal (2006-07-02). "Life After Lance". The Observer.
  2. "Tour no longer lists Riis as champ after doping admission". Associated Press/ESPN. 2007-06-07.
  3. 1 2 3 Augendre, Jacques (2009). "Guide Historique" (PDF) (in French). ASO. p. 95. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  4. 1 2 3 "1996: Bjarne Riis" (in Dutch). 12 May 2003. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  5. Mader (1995), p. 48-50.
  6. Mader (1995), p. 151-152. Afterword by Laurent Fignon.
  7. "Me encuentro mejor que nunca" (in Spanish). El Mundo Deportive. 11 July 1993. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  8. Jeremy Whittle (2 May 2008). "Bjarne Riis's year without lying: 'Now I feel free'". New York Times. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  9. "Bjarne Riis: Bearing the burden of truth". Cyclingnews. 11 March 2009. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  10. "Danish TV claim Riis used drugs in 1995". Cyclingnews. 14 January 1999. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  11. (French) Les curieuses statistiques de Gewiss, Cyclisme & Dopage
  12. Sample chapter of John Wilcockson, "The 2007 Tour de France: A New Generation Takes the Stage", 2007. ISBN 1-934030-10-4
  13. Voet, Willy; Fotheringham, William (2002). Breaking the Chain: Drugs and Cycling: The True Story. Random House. ISBN 0-224-06117-8.
  14. "More doping allegations". Cyclingnews. 30 October 2000. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  15. Bjarne Riis: Jeg har taget doping, Politiken
  16. "Latest: D'Hont book; Tinkoff say yes to Hamilton and Jaksche". Cycling News. Future Publishing Limited. 1 May 2007. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  17. "Dietz says Telekom doctors offered EPO". ESPN. Associated Press. 22 May 2007. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  18. "Doctors confirm involvement while working for Telekom team". ESPN. Associated Press. 23 May 2007. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  19. "Telekom teammates of past Tour winners admit taking EPO". ESPN. Associated Press. 24 May 2007. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  20. "Team CSC Press Release" (Press release). 2007-05-25. Retrieved 2008-10-19.
  21. "Riis, Tour de France Champ, Says He Took Banned Drugs". 2007-05-25. Retrieved 2008-10-19.
  22. "Riis confesses to doping offences". BBC News. 2007-05-25. Retrieved 2008-10-19.
  23. "Former Tour de France winner Riis admits doping". 2007-05-25. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  24. "Riis out of the Tour record books". 2007-06-07. Retrieved 2008-10-19.
  25. "Danske aviser hårde ved Riis". Retrieved 2007-06-26.
  26. "Bjarne Riis: Jeg tror, Contador bliver frikendt. Jeg tror på hans uskyld" (in Danish). Politiken. 7 November 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  27. 1 2 Riis, Bjarne (November 2010). Pedersen, Lars Steen, ed. Riis – Stages of Light and Dark. (English edition translated by Ellis Bacon, published in 2012). p. 500. ISBN 978-1-907637-51-3.
  28. "Bjarne Riis discusses doping past in new autobiography". VeloNews (written by AFP). 8 November 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  29. Werge (2005), p. 149
  30. Mark Watson (17 November 2012). "Pressure on Bjarne Riis Increases Further". Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  31. John Ward Anderson (1 July 2006). "Doping Scandal Rocks Cycling". The Washington Post. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  32. "Basso handed two-year doping ban". BBC. 15 June 2007. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  33. Website for the documentary Overcoming
  34. Gene Bisbee (28 May 2006). "No surprise: Ivan Basso wins Giro d'Italia; Tour de France is next?". Biking Bis. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  35. "Tour de France 2008". BBC News. 2008-07-27. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  36. Shane Stokes (29 May 2012). "Andy Schleck awarded yellow jersey for 2010 Tour de France9". Velo Nation. Velo Nation LLC. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
  37. "Alberto Contador wins Vuelta a España for the second time". The Guardian UK. 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited. Associated press. 9 September 2012. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  38. Farrand, Stephen (2 December 2013). "Tinkov buys Saxo-Tinkoff team from Riis". Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  39. "Tinkoff-Saxo confirm Riis suspension". 24 March 2015. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  40. Hood, Andrew (29 March 2015). "Tinkoff-Saxo, Bjarne Riis part ways". Velonews. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  41. Farrand, Stephen (29 March 2015). "Tinkoff-Saxo and Riis part ways". Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  42. "Riis returns with team, Dumoulin goes home - Tour de France shorts". 23 July 2016. Retrieved 23 July 2016.

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