Matthew Lloyd, the Australian rider on the Omega Pharma – Lotto team got fired today.
In times past I’ve often found the various incarnations of the Lotto team to be rather chaotic, surviving from one month to the next, often with ability to lose a race by strategic bungling and above all, some chaotic recruitment (eg here and here) and man-management skills. That’s harsh but for years they’ve been a distant second to national rivals Quick Step.
In recent times though that’s changed. They’ve refocussed with Philippe Gilbert as their leader and André Greipel was a useful addition. There have been other changes and some measures they’ve toppled Quick Step.
But it seems the office politics haven’t gone away. Only this morning I brought tales of a split in the team that’s got traction across the cycling media. Rather than countering with some good news, they’ve now fired Aussie rider Matthew Lloyd.
The team press release makes oblique references to “image” and states banned substances are not involved:
Recent incidents during the first races disputed in 2011 by Matthew for our team made this collaboration impossible… …Our team’s image cannot be connected to Matthew’s behaviour any more, therefore the unanimous decision taken by the BCC board of directors… …For the sake of clarity: this has nothing to do with the use of forbidden products
It sounds strange and for a team concerned about its image, the press release just invites more questions and leaves people wondering what on earth is going on. Clearly something went wrong at the Tour of the Basque country, his only race with the team this year given he’s struggled a bit thanks to an off-season injury.
We can only speculate about Matthew Lloyd. Some are suggesting he’s signed one of the apparent pre-contracts with the big new Aussie team, GreenEdge, a topic first raised by this blog. You could also note that he’s just bought a house very close to the Aussie team’s new base in Varese. Certainly some teams are taking exception to this idea in private too.
But be careful when joining the dots, especially as the team’s owners have denied these deals exist to me but the conspiracy theorists amongst my readership might respond that since the deals can’t be admitted in public they have to be denied.
It of course could be something totally different, a personal issue perhaps and if so, here’s hoping it’s fixed. But would a team dump a rider needing help?
Regardless it’s a big blow to Lloyd’s road career. Losing your job is bad enough but all this just as he was trying to come back from injury is a significant setback.
Lloyd’s not had a big start to the season. An accident whilst training last December delayed the start of his season, he was forced to watch the Tour Down Under as a spectator. His first race got pushed back to the recent Tour of the Basque country and he didn’t make it to the end, a tough ride for someone hoping to succeed in the Giro d’Italia starting in just over three week’s time. Now that chance looks lost, unless a team wants to hire him on a temporary basis, something that’s possible but exceptional.
A longer term problem is that Lloyd’s 2010 season wound down fairly soon after the Tour de France, now he could find himself waiting until 2012 before resuming racing, effectively an 18 month break without solid racing and no grand tour in his legs. Fellow Aussie Heinrich Haussler has said he’s lost an edge thanks to injuries from 2010 which kept him out from racing; Ivan Basso also said he needed a full season in his legs to get strong again after a two year doping suspension.
A long term worry for Lloyd and suddenly plenty of questions for him and the Omega-Lotto team. You get the feeling nobody wins here.