Johan Bruyneel this afternon left his position as General Manager of the Radioshack Nissan Trek (RSNT) Cycling team by "mutual agreement" . The Belgian's role with the team had clearly become untenable in the light of the revelations about his involvement in systematic doping contained in the evidence published by USADA to support its Reasoned Decision for the lifetime ban it imposed on Lance Armstrong. In a separate development the French sports paper L'Equipe today floated the theory that RSNT rider, Frank Schleck tested positive for a banned diuretic at last year's Tour de France because he was poisoned by his team manager, Johan Bruyneel.
While Schleck himself put forward sabotage by persons unknown as a potential reason for failing that doping control, it's somewhat surprising to see the theory advanced in print - although perhaps less so in this of all weeks given some of the revalations in the Armstrong dossier. But it should be underlined that the theory, appearing under the heading "Fränk Schleck au coeur d'un règlement de comptes” [Frank Schleck at the centre of a settling of scores] as part of a wider piece is just that, one theory among many.
Schleck is due to face a disciplinary hearing of the Luxembourg cycling federation on Monday following an earlier hearing at the end of August, reports Wort.lu, which adds that according to L'Equipe's article, Bruyneel's supposed motivation to slip the unaware Fränk the diuretic Xipamide, if that is indeed what happened, was in response to his desire to leave the team alongside brother Andy; the reasoning goes that a banned Fränk wouldn't be able to ride elsewhere, and that Andy, who has missed most of the season due to injury, would remain with the team.
In it's press statement RSNT linked Bruyneel's departure with USADA's Reasoned Decision in its case against Lance Armstrong published earlier this week.
"The Reasoned Decision published by the USADA included a number of testimonies as a result of their investigation. In light of these testimonies, both parties feel it is necessary to make this decision since Johan Bruyneel can no longer direct the Team in an efficient and comfortable way. His departure is desirable to ensure the serenity and cohesiveness within the Team."
Ironically the Radioshack Nissan Trek team has been far from serene or cohesive ever since the merger, less than a year ago of the Radioshack team managed by Bruyneel and the Leopard Trek team that suppled RSNT's star riders with more or less open hostility shown towards Bruyneel and his methods by the team's leading riders.
Meanwhile, former world time trial champion Cancellara, who spent the opening week of this year’s Tour de France in the maillot jaune after winning the Prologue in Liege, was speaking to the press on the Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps at the end of a season that also saw him suffer a multiple fracture of the collarbone in the Tour of Flanders. During the press call which came before the announcement of Bruyneel's departure Cancellara made plain that he would have difficulty working with the Belgian.
The ups and downs of Cancellara’s year and that of his RadioShack-Nissan team would on their own have provided plenty of plenty of material for the journalists present on the mountain, but unsurprisingly the fallout from the Armstrong affair dominated discussions, according to Belgium’s Het Laaste Nieuws.
Cancellara revealed that he hadn’t read the full decision yet, but planned to do so. “It reads like a book,” he said. “I’ve heard that in 200 pages, Bruyneel’s name appears 129 times. I want to know what happened. I don’t know if I can work with Johan. I don’t know what the future brings, either for Bruyneel, or for the team. It’s not in my hands.”
Unlike Armstrong, Bruyneel has elected to fight USADA’s charges through arbitration. With that hearing due to be held next month, it’s perhaps surprising that the Armstrong decision reveals so much detail of the case against Bruyneel, but it’s difficult to see how he can escape what is likely to be a lifetime ban. In any event, his relationship withe RadioShack-Nissan now appears to be over.
The 48-year-old Belgian, who as team manager with US Postal and Discovery Channel led Armstrong to his seven Tour de France wins and secured two more through Alberto Contador, became manager of RadioShack-Nissan when RadioShack and Leopard Trek merged at the end of last season.
He was expected to manage the team during this year’s Tour de France, but pulled out after USADA pressed charges against him. The team’s participation in the race was overshadowed by Schleck testing positive for a banned diuretic, revealed during the second rest day in Pau.
“I don’t know how the team owner, Flavio Becca, will react,” said Cancellara, who recently committed himself to the team for the 2013 season. “In the past two years, he’s had a lot of problems with the team. He’s losing money, not getting wins, and is suffering problems with his image.
“Any normal businessman would have thrown in the towel by now, but I don’t think Becca will. There’s one thing I do know for sure – Armstrong [who had ridden for RadioShack prior to the merger] has nothing more to do with this team.
"Lance was apparently a systematic doper. He doped on a scale that cycling has never seen before seen. He has really destroyed a lot. I hope now that Armstrong was the ‘Last of the Mohicans,’ the last keeper of the generation of Ullrich, Basso, Landis and Heras,” he added.
Of those, Ivan Basso, banned in the wake of Operacion Puerto after admitting only that he considered doping, is still riding of course.
"Today riders are once again paying the price for what went wrong six, seven years ago. That's not fair. Lance has ensured that the early years of my career are wasted years. I hope that we can finally put this period behind us. It won’t happen immediately, it takes time, but it must happen.”
Cancellara concluded by saying that while the peloton was previously fuelled by drugs during what he termed “the golden years of doping,” the sport was more professional now, with the emphasis on attention to detail, which was what he placed his own faith in rather than doping.
“It has changed," he said.
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.