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  • Inside line: what Bjarne Riis did next

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    Recognising potential is one thing. The question is what you do with it. Morten Okbo heads to Norway with Team Virtu Cycling talent Alexander Kamp

    Photographs: Morten Okbo
    Virtu Cycling Team, Morten Okbo

    It’s like when cycling makes fun of football. You think Ronaldo has even heard of Chris Froome? No. Does any rider want to join a cycling team the way a footballer wants to join a football club? No.

     

    Ever heard of a kid who dreamed of joining a cycling team that still existed when that kid was old enough to join? No. What is probably left of that team when that same kid grows up is a couple of jerseys on Ebay.

     

    Cycling has nothing sustainable to offer except it’s rich history, so we indulge in that and that only, meanwhile all this means nothing to the World’s current and future generations who have an attention span of 75 seconds, which is the last kilometre on Alpe d’Huez when Marco Pantani was alive. Tell me: are you the one going into the Amazon conference room pitching three weeks of racing where nothing happens 95 percent of the time?

     

    All of this is on Bjarne Riis’ mind. Because while he has a couple of racing teams, he is trying to figure out how to make money around them. Think Business clubs. Ride Like A Pro. A traveller’s agency. A villa in Italy as base camp.

     

    You may think Oleg Tinkov acted like a lunatic, but there was nothing crazy about how he saw the cycling business model. I mean lack of. Bjarne Riis understood that early. These days he is sorting what lies ahead, and whilst being busy doing that, he has also rounded up most of cycling’s talent in Denmark. Yes. Pretend Bjarne is Jon Landau for a moment. What was it Landau saw in Bruce Springsteen?

     

    Read: Tornado Tinkov – assessing Oleg’s stint as WorldTour team owner

     

    Mostly professionel cycling relies on short romances, stupidity or both. And I’m sorry to break it to you like this, but one day someone on Earth is going to fix what everybody in this industry – except for a few powerful organisations- accepts needs fixing. A qualified guess is that this person is eight years old and lives in China.

     

    * * *

     

    Now I am in one of Bjarne’s team cars in Norway. The reason is that one of his young riders, Alexander Kamp, has promised me he’ll try and win two upcoming races – the UCI 1.2 level GP Sundvolden and GP Ringerike. Alexander is a potent kid, he became national champion in 2016 and has two third places to back up that this wasn’t a coincidence.

     

    When you consider the competition in Denmark, this is no small matter. We have both young and experienced WorldTour riders, and our juniors, U19 and U23 talent is outstanding. And then we are back at Bjarne being John Landau, the future of rock n roll. I’ll write that again. Those kids are the future of rock n roll.

    Virtu Cycling Team, Morten Okbo

    I’ve had an eye on Alexander for some years. I believe the young man has potential. Could he be an old school champ in the making? Who knows. But it’s the way he says things. The way he does it. Alexander has been surfing teams for too many years, but he is not at fault for doing so, because teams fold fast on this level. He’s had a promising beginning, and the question is, if he can make the next jump, because there are a ton of riders at this level dreaming about a World Tour-contract. Only a few make it.

     

    Okay. Alexander has, despite being social minded and acting wonderfully entertaining around his teammates, chosen the anti-social monk-like lifestyle, because he believes it’ll make him a better rider. He lives and trains by himself in Calpe.

     

    Gallery: Quick Step training camp on the Costa Blanca

     

    This year he has been half injured, but he is fighting his way back now. So what does a young man with an monk-like mind do? He goes off to Sierra Nevada for sixteen days and trains by himself.

     

    “How’s it going?” I ask him one day a couple of weeks back.

     

    “Better. I leave the car at the bottom, so I’ll have to ride up the mountain every day. My plan is to peak in May. It’s now I need to show myself again. And I’ll start by winning this weekend. My Dad is coming down to scooter-pace me before the Tour of Norway, which is my main goal. But these races will be my start at getting good results.”

     

    * * *

     

    The Virtu Cycling team car is a new Mercedes. Latest edition. Royal blue. The bikes are Storck, wheels HED. Bjarne always knew how to cut a deal. Before the start, Alexander gets a little telling-off from DS Michael Gregersen, because he heads off alone to the sign-in. “We do things together,” says the DS, now behind the wheel as we get ready for the race to begin. “But it’s Alexander. He does things his way. He said, he felt good this morning, so we’ll support him and another rider. The last climb will decide who has the legs. If Alex says he is ready, you can believe it.”

     

    Gallery: Arctic Race of Norway 2017, the most beautiful race in the world

     

    The race begins outside the Sundvollen Hotel, where all teams are staying for the weekend. The race organisation wear Tour of Norway t-shirts and the director is Birger Hungerholdt, an elderly, handsome man more tanned than Dag Otto Lauritzen. The start goes. We head off. The parcour is like a small version of Il Lombardia, it’s up and down around a big lake all day. This is a race where riders fall out of the back one by one. Literally, it’ll be last man standing.

    Virtu Cycling Team, Morten Okbo

    Skip ahead. Four hours later on the four kilometre climb above Sundvollen Hotel, Alexander takes the win. At the podium Birger Hungerholdt tells DS Gregersen that he will ban him for coming back. This is Gregersen’s fourth win in five years as DS of Danish talent. Alexander is relaxed, sipping water, waiting to go on the podium.

     

    * * *

     

    “Acid-bath, is what it was,” he says. “But it’s all up in your head. Matti Breschel told me about it once. It’s like this. Your body can’t go on. Today, I’m on the limit before the last kick on the last climb. But my mind overrules it. It overrules the pain. I knew I had to get over the top first man in order to win. If you can get that sorted -the pain I mean- you’ll push yourself further than another rider.”

     

    Later DS Gregersen breaks it down to the riders. All are hanging in a hotel room. Some have already eaten, some are waiting for massage.

     

    “We had a plan, and you stuck to it. Everyone delivered. You should be proud of yourselves. We are only five riders here, so it is important that we stick to the tactics. All right. Another race tomorrow. We’ll talk in the morning.”

     

    Alexander and I go the the bar and order a couple of beers. We talk about nothing and everything. The usual gossip. There is a wonderful moment of flirtation between the bartender and our young man. Like in all good stories, the winner should take it all.

     

    Read: Cancellara – Take it. Test it. Scan it. Do what you want.

     

    The day after at GP Ringerike, Alexander escapes alone on the town-circuit in Hönefoss. It’s a tough circuit and he is caught before the finish. Still, he manages to place second in the sprint.

     

    “Fuck! I placed myself poorly in the end. Fuck!”

     

    Two days later I get a text from Alexander. He is back in Spain, his Dad is about to arrive to help scooter-pace him, and he has just bought a pair of old school shoes. Since he has befriended the bartender at the Norwegian Hotel on Instagram, he is now contemplating using his prize, a two day stay at the hotel, to go visit her to see what could happen.

     

    That, to me, is potential.

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