• Bjarne Riis with former employee Fabian Cancellara at this year's Tour Down Under. Riis now boss of NTT Pro Cycling says Brailsford is selfish (Getty)Source: Getty
NTT Pro Cycling part owner and boss Bjarne Riis said Dave Brailsford was 'selfish' after making comments about benching Team Ineos at the Tour de France if he believed measures taken against COVID-19 were insufficient.
1 May 2020 - 9:17 AM  UPDATED 1 May 2020 - 9:29 AM

The former Tour de France winner also warned professional cycling would be left in dire straits if there was no return to competitive racing this year with a potentially catastrophic impact on teams. 

“I think the UCI, the teams, the riders should stick together, and do what is best for cycling and not just individuals,” Riis said about Brailsford's comments in a Zoom call he and NTT Pro Cycling co-owner Doug Ryder took with a number of journalists last night (AEST).

“I was not very happy about his comments. It's selfish. It’s not up to him to decide.

"Now is the moment cycling should stick together by doing the right thing and not thinking of yourself in terms of what is best for your team, but what is best for the sport.”

Riis also said he deferred to the UCI and Tour organisers ASO and that he trusted Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme to make the right decision once cleared with French health authorities. 

“I cannot imagine [Tour director] Christian Prudhomme would want to start the Tour not feeling it is safe,” Riis said. “I trust these people to take the right decision. We should follow that. I disagree with Dave Brailsford when he said we should decide if it’s safe or not.”

Brailsford did also appear to defer to authorities in his comments to The Guardian on 17 April 2020 but said the situation would continue to evolve. 

“We would reserve the right to withdraw the team should we deem it necessary," Brailsford said.

"Whilst the race is on, we will plan to participate, but equally we will monitor the evolving nature of how things play out, as we did prior to Paris-Nice.

"We will monitor the situation very carefully and of course take note of national guidance and all advice.”

“This is a sensible, responsible and reasoned approach.”

“There will be a lot of debate generated about the rights and wrongs of the transitions out of lockdown across all aspects of society, including sporting events. Equally, most people recognise that the learning from transitioning out of lockdown will only take place once it begins."

Competitive racing has been suspended until August, impacting on the three Grand Tour events with the Tour de France postponed to Aug. 29-Sept 20 and new dates still needing to be set for the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana.

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Riis said he was confident the races would still go ahead but also conceded the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to further postponements and hand the sport a major blow.

“It’s important for all that racing continues as quickly as possible but it is particularly important that the Tour de France goes ahead,” said the Dane, now manager and co-owner of NTT Pro Cycling Team, one of 19 on the World Tour.

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“It is the biggest race and the race that gives the sport its biggest exposure. I’m a believer that it is possible, if it held under the right circumstances. There is a lot of hope that it will go ahead but in the end we have to trust the decision makers,” he said. 

The Tour is the biggest event on road cycling’s calendar and the sport’s most lucrative race by far.

Pushing back its dates from July impacts on the Vuelta in Spain, which will now start later in the year, and a slot must be found for the Giro d’Italia, originally scheduled for May.

“I think there is space on this year’s calendar for all three tours but it will be pretty hectic."

Riis and Ryder also confirmed NTT Pro Cycling riders and staff agreed to reduce salaries during the coronavirus pandemic, riders wages, the UCI rules state, cannot fall below €38,000. 

“There is a lot of fear and uncertainty for teams who might be forced to merge or even to fold. But we have to accept that people losing their jobs is happening in all aspects of society at the moment.”