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TDF’11 Rest Day Chat: Saxo Bank’s Brian Vandborg
Bjarne Riis doesn’t do things by halves; and press conferences aren’t the exception – no chain motels for Saxo. “Chвteau de Rochegude, Place du Chвteau, 26790 Rochegude” says the invite. It doesn’t disappoint, honey coloured sandstone, archways, fountains, artworks and a beautifully shaded patio where Alberto and Bjarne hold court. But we’re not here to write down the same as all the other journos; we’re here to interview Danish strongman Brian Vandborg – one of the key men for keeping Alberto out of the wind on the flat stages.

Vandborg turned pro for CSC in 2004 and spent three seasons there, taking a stage in the Tour of Georgia and the Danish time trial championship along the way.

For 2007 he was with Discovery Channel before going back to Danish team GLS for 2008.

The next two seasons saw him head south to Italian Super Squadre, Liquigas.

This year he’s back in Danska with Saxo.

Here’s what he had to say to PEZ on the second rest day.

PEZ: Did you get caught in the traffic nightmares, last night?
Brian Vandborg: Apparently it was the busiest day of the busiest weekend of the year in France.

It took us nearly four hours to do 100 kilometres – if we’d known how bad it was going to be we’d have avoided the autoroute and used the normal roads.

The only good thing is that today is a rest day.

PEZ: What’s the rest day format?
BV: Similar to the first one, we’ll do one hour or 90 minutes maximum on the bike, not too much.

Tomorrow will be a hard day but not a crucial one – so a short run is fine, we might even stop for a coffee.

PEZ: And is ‘home’ still Tuscany?
BV: Yes, I have a new place; there are 11 Danes living close to me, from Saxo and Leopard – and I think more will follow.

PEZ: Returning to Bjarne at Saxo, was it like coming home?
BV: It was like completing the circle – I think it was good for all of us for me to be away from the team when I didn’t get renewed with CSC.

I gained more experience when I was away, especially at Liquigas.

It’s good to learn new stuff; I started late but had talent and was spoiled for my first three years as a pro.

It was good to see how other teams did things.

PEZ: How different is Saxo to CSC?
BV: It’s definitely different to back then – we had more ‘names,’ like Voigt and Julich.

Now that I’m back we have less ‘names’ but the ones we do have are the biggest in the sport.

That makes team work even more important – that was always Bjarne’s thing, but even more so, now.

I think it’s better for Bjarne because from what I hear, the team was becoming a little divided.

PEZ: Has Bjarne changed?
BV: Definitely, he’s more out going and whilst he wants respect and us to be maybe just a little scared of him, we don’t ‘freeze’ when he sits down at the dinner table anymore.

He’s a man that deserves and gets respect, but he jokes around a little too, these days.

I think writing his book was really good for him – it was like self therapy.

PEZ: What are the main differences between Liquigas and Saxo?
BV: With Bjarne, all the little things count and he’ll try things out.

Also Brad McGee is very knowledgeable and still remembers what it’s like to be a rider.

Liquigas is more ‘old school’ – ‘we’ve always done it like this.’

As an example, at Liquigas they were always concerned that you’d get too fat so they wouldn’t let you eat right after a race – but that’s when you have to eat, when your body is crying out for nutrition.

If you don’t eat then, you end up eating biscuits late because you’re so hungry.

Liquigas wasn’t undemocratic but it’s much easier to say what you really think at Saxo.

All of that said, I really enjoyed my time there and it certainly eliminated any prejudice I had against Italians.

PEZ: The early Tour stages, why so dangerous?
BV: Every team has a leader and at the start there were maybe 15 teams who thought they could get a rider on the podium.

And then there were finishes where guys like Gilbert thought they had a chance as well as the sprinters – so you have all of them up there, plus guys like me trying to keep our GC guys out of trouble.

And the bad weather didn’t help, we had a least some rain every day for the first 13 stages – and whilst the roads may be OK for one day races, they’re not for a race like this.

PEZ: What about Alberto’s crashes?
BV: I think he felt the one where he hurt his knee; it was swollen for some days after.

Mentally it’s hard for him – he never crashes; and then he’s on the floor four times!

Even yesterday it was so nervous, my shoulders were cramping because I was so tense.

The average was 48 kph but it would have been well over 50 if the parcours hadn’t been so technical at the start.

PEZ: How much of a disadvantage was it being off number one in the TTT?
BV: In that region we had quite a few ‘boo’s’ from the fans; I think that rather than rising as the day went on, the wind dropped – but that’s not an excuse.

It was short and we did all we could – our two small Spanish climbers are only 60 kilos but they did contribute more than we expected at the start.

PEZ: It strikes us that Alberto gets a little stronger every day?
BV: Shhh ! don’t tell anyone!

He’s a diesel and he needs retuned, we believe in him and we’re comfortable that on the hard stages he didn’t lose any time.

He’s not had a super day yet and he usually has a couple of them in a stage race.

The stages over 2,000 metres are his habitat – riders like me go ‘boom!’ because there’s no oxygen, but he rides well in those conditions.

PEZ: How were the Pyrenees for you?
BV: I didn’t cope so well on the last hard day in the Pyrenees; if it’s 6% I can sit and pedal but when it’s 10/12% I find that very hard.

PEZ: How do you recover from a Grand Tour?
BV: You need rest, but also recovery rides.

Ideally on the Monday I should go for a ride but I have to fly home and I’ll probably be a bit hung over!

I have a criterium on Thursday, San Sebastian on Saturday then the Tour of Denmark the following week.

PEZ: Is the Tour too big?
BV: That’s a hard question – it’s so good that the race gets the sport out there the way it does, but yesterday was so hectic – there were motorbikes everywhere.

Maybe they should work out shortcuts for the motorbikes to pass the bunch?

And whilst I don’t have all the facts, I believe that the race makes a good profit.

We shouldn’t have to stay in shitty hotels; the transfers are too long and there should be more cops on escort duty after the race – they should use some of the profit for those things.

PEZ: And will Alberto win?
BV: For sure!


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