Bruyneel Quits, What’s Next?

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.

15 wins
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.

Background Check
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.

What Next?
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 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?

52 thoughts on “Bruyneel Quits, What’s Next?”

  1. I think a wholesale change is in order. If Inner Ring’s speculation is correct with the possibility of the involvement of the former Highroad management coming in, it would be like 2006-07 all over again. Isn’t R-N-T in the same place as T-Mobile/Telekom in 2006? We could be looking at Highroad 2.0

    Stapleton, Rolf Aldag & Co. come in as the management team. Cavendish is on the market and available. Spidertech just announced they’re “suspending” their operations for next year. Johan Bruyneel and Fränk Schleck are apparently no longer on the payroll which frees up a lot of cash. There is an opportunity here to get immediate results for sponsors and do so with a squeaky clean manner.

    Put Andy Schleck up as either a free-agent or for 2013 have him concentrate on the Giro and Vuelta with the Tour being dedicated to Cavendish. Timmy Duggan (from Spidertech), Jens Voigt and Fabian in a leadout train for Cav? If ever there was a path to redemption, it’s right there right now for the taking.

    • This would be brilliant. Talk about the phoenix rising from the ashes.

      I was pretty surprised to see the Spidertech news as they seemed to be finally getting some real results and taking a year out could mean they don’t come back, to say nothing of where all the rider contracts would go…

    • Since Bruyneel is part owner of the team (as is Lance?) he’s not going to simply walk away from that asset. He will have to be bought out in some manner. Nice severance bonus.

    • Brilliant idea, but remember Highroad only existed because T-Mobile money kept flowing in. When the money dried up, so did the team. Without that lifeline this time, the (fairly) sponsorless RSNT 2013 might be too low-budget for your plans.

  2. Good summary of RSNT. BUT what about the Schleck’s prefered sporting director, he is still there. It is true there are too many tainted names involved at the top. The UCI should, if they had any sense, stop issueing management licences to people who have a doping past, Failure to do so will surely result in more young riders ‘making the wrong choice’, and other clean riders paying the price.

    I won’t hold my breath – remember McQuaid himself was banned for life by the IOC.

  3. That is exciting to hear that Stapleton may come back. He is a class act. I wish he were the UCI president.

    I love this part, “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.”

    Oh man! That would be awesome! I hope this turns into a circular firing squad.

  4. Having Bob Stapleton at RSNT could be a good move, but Fabian Cancellara’s position seems fairly untenable if Bruyneel continues to have any involvement at all with the team.

  5. It would not surprise at all if the reason Bruyneel chose arbitration was that he said to certain people “make this go away or we all go down with the ship”. If anyone knows where the bodies are buried it is Johan. He appears to the casual observer just narcissistic enough to bring the whole house of cards down with him. Hopefully he doesn’t damage the sport any more before the door hits him on the way out. There is still a lot to be played out, though i admit i’d expected a bit more defiance and %^$ you from him before the arbitration.

  6. It’s hard to see what JB’s defense is. He always struck me as the kind of person whose arrogance has no bounds. Maybe that is blinding him to the inevitable. Perhaps he also has less to lose. He has nowhere near Lance’s wealth to sustain a pleasant life without employment, a chatitable cause to focus on, or continued support of diehard fans and sponsors. So, he might as well fight to the end since he doesn’t have much to retreat to.

  7. Bruyneel thinks that the public announcement was unfair as he is being tried without explaining himself. Not so when RSN made a public statement about Frank?

    “Our team attaches great value to transparency. Because of this, we can announce the following as a response to the adverse analytical finding of xipamide in Fränk Schleck’s urine sample of July 14 during the Tour de France…However, the team is fully determined to collaborate with the anti-doping agencies in order to resolve the matter.”

    Now Bruyneel eats their words.

  8. All I can guess is that Bruyneel offers the following defense: 1) since it seems riders were paying for and doing the doping individually, he claims it was not team policy or overseen by the team; 2) some riders and staff have claimed they were unaware of doping and he calls them as witnesses; 3) Lance might be the only one he was directly involved with but Lance could refuse to testify; 4) he calls other team managers who are still active to testify that the same was going on at other teams and thus forces the complete blow up of the sport if he is penalized. Perhaps out of all this he gets a 2 year ban rather than lifetime. I think it would be complete bs. But, how else can he fight the evidence they have?

    • +1
      Maybe he’s hoping for a UCI jurisdiction fight with CAS for the none-US people involved so he can piggyback on that. Tygart can’t understand why he is fighting so maybe its UCI related on SOL or jurisdiction.

    • Armstrong wasnt the only rider he was involved with – Barry and Zabriski for example. DZ’s affadavit describes the cafe meeting with Bruyneel and Del Morel where Bruyneel introduces them both to the EPO program

      • Hamilton talks about Bruyneel arranging trips to Valencia with himself, Armstrong and Livingston for blood transfusions. Bruyneel was in the hotel room, keeping a look out, while the blood was taken.

  9. Why wouldn’t Becca just “cash him out” and be done with him? I’m happy the malarkey about the “greatest DS in the history of cycling” has gone into the trash can along with the BigTex mythology. This guy was a scumbag from the start, learning all kinds of cheating tactics during his time as a racer. Look for him to get a job at BigTex’ cancer foundation, though he’ll be working from home via the ‘net. The ex-HTC folks taking over the RadioSchleck mess is a wonderful idea but who knows? I doubt the USADA vs The Belgian hearing will ever take place. Same with UCI vs Kimmage…can even the UCI be so clueless as to proceed with that in light of the revelations of the past few weeks?

  10. Curious? October 12, 2012 at 11:50 pm
    I think they should go get Steve Bauer. He could bring across half of the SpiderTech crew and they would have a great team.


    Steve Bauer is good friends with LA and Spider Tech was launched with Lance’s help. This relationship could prove to be awkward. Maybe Steve’s 2013 team choices had something to do with all that’s going on now.

  11. I don’t see why Radioshack with only 7,040 US-Mexico retail based (brick & mortar) stores that are loosing massive money and have nothing to offer the European market of professional cycling for that matter should continue it’s contractual obligations? They should sue LA for damages. USPS + Discovery Channel and all the other’s who sponsored this unethical behavior should do the same?

    Nissan should do the same. Although Nissan’s demo is way more targeted towards professional cycling fans?

    TREK…..well for them not to know about the DOPAGE would be insane? Considering they knew Bruyneel was selling equipement on the black magic to pay for the whole DOPAGE manifest. They’re in my mind just like NIKE providing financial support for cheating and illegal activity. You could even look to see that TREK ask is US House Representative Jim Sensenbrenner to raise concerns about the USADA….

    US cycling and ALL sponsorship is doomed I think this is just the start of a massive corporate drought that will change the landscape forever hopefully for the best? But, for companies to continue with support of the LA brand or anything he has touched is unethical and I don’t see how it’s shareholders or customers will put up with validating an broken evil man….a broken system….a broken sport?

    All these dopers coming forward now after making millions off of the LIES and still being able to continue in the sport is sickening and wrong. Hincapie’s email to Besty Andreu years ago threating her is a prime example of why even BMC should drop Hincapie Sportswear as a sponsor? But, then again BMC is a joke of an operation to begin with….a billionaire’s toy soldiers.

    • Trek wholeheartedly supported LA, to the extent of trashing Lemond. Bizarre behaviour, I thought at the time, even more sure now that it was stupid.

  12. Any team with nothing to hide now would surely be rushing to release rider’s blood profile data pronto…

    or their latest results at least…

    …wouldn’t they?

  13. The RadioShack sponsorship was a corporate boondoggle from the get go. An example of horrible corporate governance of a public company. Its former director of marketing (fired a few months ago) was constantly tweeting about flying around the world to races to places where Radioshack had no stores and hobnobbing with pro cyclists. They weren’t mislead by LA. Rather they were using corporate resources to buy their way into hanging out with Lance. The public shareholders should be suing the company.

      • Well done.

        With regard to villains, I’ve been thinking about the idiom, “A Man’s Man,” which is often a favorable term of respect and admiration for a chap with grit, bravado, and depth of character. In this line of thought, perhaps Mr. Gunderson, a.k.a. Big Tex, a.k.a, Never Tested Positive, can very well be considered “A Douchebag’s Douchebag.” LOL

  14. Vitus:

    Herzog might understand, based on his documentary, My Best Fiend, the relationship, and akward turn of events, between Bruyneel and Armstrong.

    Had Kinski been alive, he could have revisited his famous role as Aguirre by donning a pith helmet, grabbing a few Amazonian monkeys, and been well on his way towards building a new UCI cycling empire that would have made the USADA and WADA quake in fear.

  15. A small but, as far as I’ve seen virtually unreported part of the USADA report which surprised and depressed me is the section about testing and advance warning.

    There is an allegation that at least two teams were maintaining a lookout for doping testers at the 2010 Tour i.e. people stationed above carparks, in hotel lobbies etc who then warned the team of the arrival of testers. (The fact that they helped by advertising themselves in marked Tour cars and with badges and other visible ID is laughably sad.)

    For me that casts a shadow over the claims that things are much better now.

  16. What is unfortunate about this investigation, if allegations prove themselves with merit, is that some of these guys are great physical athletes, but emotionally they seem to be very weak.

    The tour in Korea about what riders did and were told to do this year is an example.

    The USADA report seems to hint at twisted hierarchy relationships. That a group of people in a large organization, and some of the teams who reported to them, sought out people who needed validation by allowing themselves to be told what it means to be a Good person, which was to obediently follow their rules, enforce them upon other members, and be silent about their activity to anyone who did not belong.

    Regrettably, the report concludes in their findings, although not in these words, that there was never a shortage of people who sought that lower level of validation from those who should have never been in charge.

  17. With regards to the service course etc, Leopard-Trek’s “old” facilities are, from what I understand, still in use down here in Luxembourg. In which case, they could easily demote Johan from being operationally involved via the service course to being just a shareholder. Whether that appeases the UCI is an interesting question but given he could probably ruin McQuaid and Verbruggen, I’d bet they’d let that one slip. Even if that seems like a conspiracy theory, don’t forget that Becca has been under investigation in Luxembourg since before he owned the license and it’s caused no issues so I bet as long as he’s not involved day-to-day, they’ll ignore it.

  18. A bookstore recently decided to move Lance Armstrong’s memoir Every Second Counts to the fiction section of their establishment. In an image posted to Reddit, the book has been given a new “FICTION” stick along with a price tag that haunts the nightmares of every author on the planet. If you’re keen on picking up a copy of the tome, you can do so for only one pound.

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