Bjarne Riis back in elite cycling as team manager of NTT

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Bjarne Riis, the 1996 Tour de France champion who admitted to doping following his retirement from cycling, is back in the sport as team manager of NTT Pro Cycling on the World Tour.

It marks the return of Riis to top-level men’s cycling for the first time since he left his his role as team manager of Tinkoff-Saxo in 2015. He has since been trying to establish Danish-based teams in the lower tiers of cycling.

NTT Pro Cycling, the first team from Africa to compete at World Tour level, said Wednesday the Danish company that Riis co-owns, Virtu Cycling, has invested in one third of the shares of the operational company behind NTT Pro Cycling. Based in South Africa, it was previously known as Team Dimension Data and has been on the World Tour since 2016.

“I have, in reality, not been away from cycling,” Riis said at a news conference in Copenhagen. “During the time I have not been on a World Tour team, I have been observing what has happened out there.

“We’ll create one of the world’s best cycling teams.”

In 2007, Riis admitted to using the blood-booster EPO from 1993-98, including during his ’96 Tour victory. Riis wasn’t sanctioned because time limits had expired, but he said he no long considered himself a worthy winner of the Tour, the most prestigious race in cycling.

“I have committed errors in the past,” the 55-year-old Riis said. “But I am convinced that people who know me, know what I stand for and they know what I think.”

Douglas Ryder, founder and team principal of NTT Pro Cycling, said being able to call upon the “expertise and breadth of experience that Bjarne Riis will provide” is “another significant moment in the history of this team.”

The 2021 Tour is scheduled to depart from Copenhagen, with the first three stages held in the city and elsewhere in Riis’ native Denmark.

“It is a dream come true,” Riis said. “I see it as the ultimate bonus when the team lines up at the start of the Tour de France in 2021 in Copenhagen.”