World cycling’s governing body, the UCI, has today anounced that RadioShack Nissan, the team formed through the merger of the former RadioShack and Leopard Trek teams, and the new Australian outfit GreenEdge [full story on them tomorrow - ed], have both succeeded in obtaining ProTeam status for the 2012 season.
With commendable foresight or unseemly haste, depending on your point of view, within moments the former had confirmed its roster for the coming season.
The squad will comprise 30 riders drawn from 14 different countries under the management of Johan Bruyneel, the man who guided Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador to a total of nine Tour de France victories at US Postal Service, subsequently known as Discovery Channel, and Astana.
For the past two seasons, Bruyneel has been manager of RadioShack, but the merged team’s licence is held by Leopard S.A. and it is registered in Luxembourg, the home country of two of his most high profile new charges, the Schleck brothers.
The irony of now being managed by the man who in 2009 helped engineer Contador’s victory in the Tour de France, while the Spaniard now races for his own former Saxo Bank team, isn’t lost on Andy Schleck.
Describing the turn of events as “amusing” in an interview published today in Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport, the 26-year-old, runner-up in the last three editions of the Tour de France, twice to Contador then this year to Cadel Evans, insisted that he is determined to go one better in cycling’s biggest race.
This July, he took the maillot jaune from Thomas Voeckler on Alpe d’Huez, 24 hours after a storming solo ride had seen Schleck storm to victory on the Galibier. Evans, however, limited his losses well that day and was able to take the jersey off the Leopard Trek rider the next evening following the penultimate day’s time trial in Grenoble.
Schleck revealed that he’d been saddened by his failure to win the race, but acknowledged that “we know that Cadel is stronger than me against the clock.”
The 2010 Tour had been in effect determined by the infamous moment on the Port de Balès on Stage 15 when Contador profited from his rival’s chain slipping and managed to establish what would prove to be a race-wining advantage. Reflecting on that year’s race, Schleck said “I wanted to win, I believed I could win, but I wasn’t lucky.”
Of course, Schleck could yet turn out to be designated the winner of the 2010 Tour de France should the World Anti-doping Agency and the UCI win their appeal against Alberto Contador’s exoneration by the Spanish national federation, the RFEC, on charges relating to his positive test for clenbuterol on that year’s race.
That appeal was heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week, with a decision due within weeks, but as he has maintained throughout, Schleck insists that a potential disqualification of Contador is not the way he would wish to win the Tour.
Admitting that he’d been following proceedings through the media, he added: “Whichever sentence is returned, my life won’t change. The road has already written its story and given its verdict, I’m not interested in anything else.”
In a press release from RadioShack Nissan Trek – UCI rules regarding the number of title sponsors a team can have mean that the bike brand’s name is dropped from its officially registered name – Schleck said that after reflection, he believed that under Bruyneel he could finally achieve his dream of taking the maillot jaune all the way to Paris.
“When the new management structure was announced, I was a bit unsure of all the changes. But after talking with Johan and really understanding his philosophy, it’s very clear that having him lead this team is in my best interests, as well as in those of the team.
“He’ll help me build upon my strengths and improve my weak areas. In addition to that, I don’t think anyone understands race strategies and tactics better than Johan. Adding that to the work I’ve been doing with Kim Andersen makes me believe that I’ll have the best opportunity yet to stand on the highest podium spot.”
Brother Frank, third on the Champs-Elysées podium this year, outlined that the merged team possessed riders capable of supporting a GC challenge in the Tour.
“We have riders that can perform in the mountains, on the flats, in the sprints, in time-trials,” he explained. “When I look at all the names and think about all the victories these riders have achieved in the past, I can’t help but be filled with excitement and optimism.
“After only the first meeting in October, it was clear that this group is very motivated to achieve success, not only at one race, but throughout the season. Our strength does not lie in any one individual, but rather the collective team. I think that is what will benefit us the most as we battle our competitors.”
RadioShack itself experienced a frustrating Tour de France in its debut season of 2009, with leader and seven-time winner Lance Armstrong seeing his GC hopes dashed due to a series of crashes.
This year, the team’s Tour was blighted by crashes, with Yaroslav Popovych, Janez Brajkovic and Chris Horner all withdrawing through injuries sustained on the race, as did Andreas Klöden, runner-up in 2004 and 2006.
“For me to continue with Johan was an easy decision,” said the 36-year-old German. “Besides the misfortune at the Tour, 2011 was one of my best seasons with victories in numerous races. I have been on teams with other great riders so this situation is not new for me.
“If the Schlecks have the best opportunity to win the Tour, I will fully support them. If there is an opportunity for me and Johan decides that it gives the team the best chance to win, I will be ready for the challenge. But I have goals in other races as well – either to win for the first time or defend my title.”
Another of those RadioShack riders whose Tour was ended by injury, Chris Horner, reflected: “2011 had its highs and lows for me. Certainly the crash at the Tour was the lowest point, but I also had one of my career highlights when I won the Amgen Tour of California.
“That was a very important race not only for me, but also our sponsors and I imagine with our strong American ties that the goal remains the same in 2012. I may be forty years old, but I believe I have the perfect combination to achieve top results – the motivation of a neo-pro combined with the experiences of a seasoned rider.”
Bruyneel himself believes that he has a roster that will enable him to once again have one of his team challenging for top honours in France next July.
“It’s too early to decide the complete Tour de France team, but I know we’ll have numerous riders who can compete for the top podium step in Paris,” he maintained
“Certainly Andy has come the closest, as he has finished second the past three years. I’m excited to work with him and Fränk, two talented and successful riders, who I believe will continue to rise in the eyes of the cycling world.”
This weekend, the Belgian, who now lives in London, accompanied another of the big-name riders he will be managing next year as Fabian Cancellara undertook a recce of parts of the road race and time trial routes for next year’s Olympic Games.
This year was, by Cancellara’s standards, a disappointing one, narrowly missing out in wins in Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, in both of which he finished second, plus the Tour of Flanders, where he was third. He also lost his world time trial championship to Tony Martin, finishing third behind the German and Britain’s Bradley Wiggins.
“I’m a rider that puts a lot of expectations on myself to win. So it was tough for me last year when I didn’t win Flanders or Roubaix. Those experiences have made me even more motivated and stronger, both physically and mentally.
“Besides strong men like Robert Wagner and Joost Posthuma, we’ve added Hayden Roulston and my fellow countryman and friend Gregory Rast to the group of riders for the cobblestone classics. And in the car we’ll have Dirk Demol, who was a Paris-Roubaix winner himself. The classics are still a few months away, but I have no reason not to be confident.”
Bruyneel added: “Fabian is a very special rider. His palmares reads like a cyclist’s dream – He’s won the World Time Trial Championships four times, national championships, an Olympic Gold Medal, Tour de France stages, worn the Yellow Jersey and then victories in Paris-Roubaix, Flanders, Milan-Sanremo.
“After all these achievements, some riders would lose motivation, but Fabian has that winning drive that lies in all champions. I’m honored and excited to help build upon all his success.”
Team owner Flavio Becca, the Italian-born businessman based in Luxembourg who got Leopard Trek off the ground with the help of former team manager Bryan Nygaard, said that he believed Bruyneel was the right man to take the team forward.
“In our inaugural season we had many podium places in the classics and Tour de France,” he explained. “Oliver Zaugg completed the season with a spectacular Tour of Lombardy victory and we secured third place in the UCI World Tour ranking.
“But like any owner, whether it is in business or sports, I am constantly looking for ways to improve the team. Johan Bruyneel is a leader who has a proven record of unparalleled success. He maximizes talent, employs winning strategies and motivates riders and staff to achieve greatness. I am confident that Johan is the best person for our team.”
Bruyneel himself described the challenge of having to whittle down two of the sport’s stronger teams to produce the roster announced today.
“I’ve never been one to shy away from challenges so when I was presented with this opportunity, I immediately saw the potential of the idea. We collectively decided it was a win-win partnership for all parties.
“After that, we became focused on putting together 30 riders, which was a tougher task than I’ve ever experienced in the past.
“Combining Team RadioShack riders that we made an agreement with for 2012, with existing Leopard Trek riders resulted in 42 riders, 12 over the maximum limit for World Tour teams. We worked hard to ensure that every rider’s contract was honoured and that each one had a place to ride in 2012; if not with RadioShack Nissan Trek, then with another professional cycling team.
“With the roster of 30 riders finalised, we can now spend all our time and effort in preparing this group for the challenges that lie ahead,” he added.
Bruyneel himself may have an additional challenge to face relating to his days at US Postal Service, with an investigation continuing in the United States into allegations of systematic doping at the team made by former riders including Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton.
RadioShack Nissan Trek 2012 roster
Jan Bakelants (BEL)
Daniele Bennati (ITA)
George Bennett (NZL)
Matthew Busche (USA)
Fabian Cancellara (SUI)
Laurent Didier (LUX)
Jakob Fuglsang (DEN)
Tony Gallopin (FRA)
Linus Gerdemann (GER)
Ben Hermans (BEL)
Chris Horner (USA)
Markel Irizar (ESP)
Ben King (USA)
Andreas Klöden (GER)
Tiago Machado (POR)
Maxime Monfort (BEL)
Giacomo Nizzolo (ITA)
Nelson Oliveira (POR)
Yaroslav Popovych (UKR)
Joost Posthuma (NED)
Gregory Rast (SUI)
Thomas Rohregger (AUT)
Hayden Roulston (NZL)
Andy Schleck (LUX)
Fränk Schleck (LUX)
Jesse Sergent (NZL)
Jens Voigt (GER)
Robert Wagner (GER)
Oliver Zaugg (SUI)
Haimar Zubeldia (ESP)
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.