Yesterday's decision by Vuelta organisers, Unipublic, not to award one of six wildcard entries to Lance Armstrong's Team Radioshack has brought a withering response from team boss Johan Bruyneel who, in a statement on his website, has vowed to work to change the way the sport is run.
Under an agreement agreed between Unipublic, the UCI and 16 of the ProTour teams in 2008, those teams plus six wildcards are invited to this year's race. Teams admitted to the ProTour after 2008, like Radioshack and Team Sky have to rely on wildcard places – the latter got one, Radioshack didn't. Katusha, and Garmin Transitions were the other ProTour teams to make it in, the other wildcard went to Cervelo Test Team and two Spanish Pro Continental outfits (see the full list of teams below).
Team Radioshack are currently 8th in the UCI team rankings and they also have two riders, Tiago Machado and Janez Brajkovic, whose recent performances have seen them jump up the rider rankings. News of their failure to get a wild card entry broke yesterday and this morning Johan Bruyneel let rip declaring "I am not only surprised, I am speechless" at the decision.
"I cannot accept or understand this decision. With Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden, Chris Horner and Jani Brajkovic we had four potential Vuelta winners on the roster we sent to Unipublic… Our 2010 Team goals were the Tour de France and the Tour of Spain. That’s why - together with the need to perform well in the Tour of California – we skipped the Tour of Italy this year."
That decision to miss the Giro, looks to have cost Radioshack dear, along with the perception that the team is set up solely to focus on the Tour de France. Perhaps not surprisingly, Bruyneel doesn't see it quite that way though although he may see the irony in Unipublic, in which Tour de France owners ASO have a 49 per cent stake supposedly criticising RadioShack for focussing on the Tour de France.
"Up until now it has never been accepted that a team manager stands on a soapbox to defend the rights of the teams and the riders. We always have to accept; we don't have many rights.
"After (the Vuelta decision), I take it as a personal mission: from now on I will fight for the interests of the cycling teams. It will be more than just a goal. I will work for it as hard as I've worked for my own team.
"In cycling there are three parties: UCI, organisers and teams/riders. Unlike in other professional sports, the teams and riders are the main actors who are never heard. I will fight for our rights and for other things that rightfully belong to us but we never get.
"There is an abuse of power. Some organisers take away the hunger of potential sponsors to invest in our sport. It is unjust that a new sponsor (RadioShack), coming into cycling with a lot of enthusiasm, is not rewarded for their financial input.
'For me it is hard to explain to my sponsor that 21 other teams are apparently better than us - especially when it isn't true. These actions are unfair to our sponsors as well as a blow to our fans.
“It is high time for ‘professional’ cycling to become professional. The structure of our sport needs to change towards a model of other successful professional sports like soccer, tennis, Formula 1, etc. Today, this is happening to our team and sponsors, tomorrow it could be any other team. Even if some parties don’t like to see or hear this, I will do anything which is in my power to contribute to making this happen.”
Bruyneel's toys exiting the RadioShack pram may not unduly perturb Unipublic who may well point out that RadioShack are more than happy to pick and choose their races when it suits them - missing the Giro for the Tour of California, because the latter gave more exposure to their title sponsor in its home market, And while even Bruyneel's greatest detractors would have to agree that there must be a better way of organising racing than the present set up, his formula for success would appear to amount to giving power to the sponsors with little regard for the sport's history except where it coincided with a sponsor's marketing plan.
Team list Vuelta 2010
Ag2R La Mondiale
Bbox Bouygues Telecom
Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
Euskaltel - Euskadi
Française Des Jeux
Team HTC - Columbia
Team Saxo Bank
Andalucia - Cajasur
Cervelo Test Team
Garmin - Transitions
Sky Professional Cycling Team
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.