Today brought the news that Johan Bruyneel will stop as general manager of the Radioshack-Nissan team. The decision seems obvious given his name appears 129 times in the USADA reasoned decision but note today’s team press release said he “contests the validity of the procedure as well as the charges against him.”
Yet there good grounds for his departure before the USADA report was published, for example the team’s dismal performance. And if he’s gone, there’s still a team in need of new direction plus the removal of one director on one team only makes us look at the other squads.
If Bruyneel steps down from one job we don’t know if he has quit the team for good. The press release says the team and Bruyneel “decided to end their collaboration” but Bruyneel’s statement says “I have decided to step back from my official team activities” which is ambiguous. This matters for two reasons:
- if the team wants a UCI licence for 2013 then the UCI Licence Commission will be sitting soon and the “ethical criteria” required to award a licence would be under strain. The UCI rules specify, amongst other things “the principles of transparency and good faith” and a 129 mentions in the USADA report is enough to endanger the team’s future
- Bruyneel is a part-owner of the team after his Radioshack team merged with Leopard this time last year. Luxembourg real estate king Flavio Becca owns the licence but not everything in the team. The terms are not known but is Bruyneel surrendering all ownership of a stake in the team, of the squad’s service course and other aspects? Or just stepping down from a defined job and forgoing the generous salary?
Note he stepped back from some things already, for example he sat out the Tour de France because of the allegations.
If ownership isn’t clear, there’s no uncertainty with the results and publicity. It’s been a horrendous season for the US-Luxembourg team on the road and in the headlines. There were some things that escape all managers like the crashes of Fabian Cancellara in April and Andy Schleck in June. But Schleck was slipping up way before this as he struggled for a result.
Bruyneel was supposed to toughen up the brothers and improve their time trialling but the season started and the first images didn’t show much of a change in aerodynamics. Talking of friction, things went sour when Bruyneel tried to split the brothers up. And all this before a positive doping test right in the middle of the Tour de France for their biggest name. Enovos, a sponsor, fled in in August. By now the team has 15 wins, with only Saxo Bank, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Lampre and Ag2r faring worse. And this morning Fabian Cancellara said he couldn’t work with Bruyneel. In another sport any manager in charge would have been pushed out.
But in cycling the team manager is often the owner, so they can’t sack themselves. Radioshack-Nissan has been a complicated team because of the reasons above, Bruyneel isn’t just the manager, he owns some of the assets. If he was just a hired gun on a freelance contract (reportedly €150,000 a month) then it’s likely he would have been booted out.
Yet you wonder why Bruyneel was in charge in the first place. To an outsider there were all the Tour de France wins and more. But at the time of the merger there were twin investigations into the Bruyneel’s past, one with the US federal investigators and another from USADA. Now we see that the wins were triumphs in covert pharmacology.
But go back and put yourself in the position of Flavio Becca, would you have hired someone under investigation? Yes he was, and still is, innocent so Bruyneel has had every right to hold a Belgian licence under UCI rules. Yet when an employer faces a choice about who to hire, is it prudent to pick someone under investigation? And can they do the job full-time with the Feds on their back? Becca has just found the answer.
Perhaps the merger of two teams meant Bruyneel’s arrival was inevitable? But there’s a wider point here in that we still see teams managed by a lot of old faces. If you wanted to start a team from scratch you probably wouldn’t have started like this. Many teams aren’t looking for new people though, we see Ekimov appointed to Katusha and Vinokourov taking over Astana.
Bruyneel wants to contest the charges against him. His best hope is that the UCI seeks to challenge USADA in any way possible, whether on jurisdiction or the statute of limitations as this could do a lot of work against him. The published witness testimony doesn’t leave him with much hope, especially since the blacked-out names in the documents have been saved, perhaps specifically for his hearing.
A plotting strategist and mastermind, Johan’s worldwide exposure and marketability enable your company to attach itself with the success and credibility Johan has built throughout his entire life.
That’s from Bruyneel’s website and you sense lucrative invitations for motivational speaking will dry up. But if his reputation takes a hit, he remains a wealthy figure. Don’t forget he’s retired form the sport before. This is one of the troubling aspects with the verdicts reached because prize money has been banked, taxed and spent and those who got away with cheating for so long are millionaires. This asymmetry is a problem because doping brings rewards, you can strip results but recovering the money is very hard although there are ideas. If we wonder how well they sleep at night, then with their kingsize beds with silk sheets they probably still sleep fine.
The Radioshack-Nissan team seems in an odd position. They should get their licence for next year but Flavio Becca has never seemed happy with the team and Radioshack is having a tough time with sales and profits and the managers who agreed to the sponsorship deal have left. But with Cancellara, the Schleck brothers it remains attractive for sponsors if well managed and Trek needs to stay in the sport. So new managers are coming in. Here was my take in September:
I understand former HTC-Highroad manager Rolf Aldag could be joining Radioshack-Nissan for 2013.
— the Inner Ring (@inrng) August 22, 2012
I since gather Aldag has an offer with Omega Pharma-Quickstep. But the old Highroad team isn’t over yet as there’s talk of Bob Stapleton and Allan Peiper reappearing, a radical change for the team.
Bruyneel is out of the team but it’s not clear if this is complete and permanent or just a retreat for now. But note Dr Pedro Celaya has been deleted from the team website too.
Tyler Hamilton writes “whenever I watch the likeable gangsters on Sopranos I think of Johan” and this is amusing but like The Sopranos there’s a dark side and you wonder if Bruyneel is tempted to reveal where some of the bodies are buried when it comes to his time managing Contador or to give his side to why payments were made to the UCI’s anti-doping effort.
The USADA report painted such a strong picture that Bruyneel probably had to got for the sake of the UCI licence and to appease the already nervous sponsors. But hiring him in the first place doesn’t seem to have been ideal and annoying the team’s star riders has only made things worse. The disastrous year continues with this negative news but with fresh management coming in there is every chance things can pick up although these big changes can take a year or two to bring fruit, just as Rabobank.
Once again this is the story of one team but if the USADA report teaches us one thing, it is the system nature of doping across the sport. Once riders left the employment of Bruyneel they were often caught doping elsewhere. So just as we ask tough questions of Bruyneel we need to put the spotlight on others too, both old and recent appointments at some teams are not encouraging. After all, when a rider is caught by a positive test years later they sometimes express frustration to be caught whilst others go undetected. The same is surely true with some team managers. If Bruyneel has gone, who is still there?