Friday Group Ride #10

I’m really not sure how we’ve come this far without hashing and rehashing the Bradley Wiggins transfer until we were all sick to death of it. And so, without further ado, let’s make some hash!

What I want to know is: Who is the bad guy?

As you may well know, Bradley Wiggins had a big 2009, converting himself from track legend to Tour de France contender just by putting down the lager and coming into the season a few kilos lighter. After his surprise fourth place in France, there were rumblings and grumblings and rumors that he would move to the brand new Team Sky, under the tutelage of his British Cycling mentor Dave Brailsford. Of course, he had a contract with Jonathan Vaughters at Garmin, and most of the fall was spent determining whether having a contract meant anything in the grand scheme of things.

By now, we know that Vaughters let Wiggins go, reaping some unnamed bounty in “transfer fee” from Sky. Vaughters, while mostly keeping his powder dry, refused to get too snipey about the whole thing, but let it be known that he was “disappointed” to lose his rider. If there were other, more bitter comments, I missed them.

Wiggins, who made no secret of his desire to leave Garmin and let slip with some not-very-nice comments about the holders of his contract, got what he wanted, and so did Brailsford, who also got into some not-so-nice with Team Katusha’s Andrei Tchmil, over the transfer of Ben Swift.

The whole thing revolves around what contracts are worth, how riders should conduct themselves, whether cycling should be prone to the same transfer sagas that rule the football (soccer) world and whether, to modify a phrase, “money makes right.”

The question I put to you this week is: Who is the bad guy and why?

A) Wiggins
B) Vaughters
C) Brailsford
D) None of the above
E) Lance Armstrong

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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24 comments

  1. dacrizzow

    none of the above. the guy wanted to work for a different company for whatever reason and the the two teams worked it out. of course someone will be less pleased than the other but so what, that’s life. move on. it’ll all work out in the end. if a more attractive job offer came to most people they should take it if that’s what they want. in the end you’re just a commodity anyway to be bought, sold, traded, then thrown away.

  2. Touriste-Routier

    Contracts are 2 way streets; if contracts don’t mean anything, or can’t effectively be enforced, why bother having them? In a sense, all contracts are essentially pre-nup agreements- you only break them out if things go sour. While they define a relationship, they don’t dictate behavior, as evidenced by all the breaches that end up in court.

    Wiggins is the “bad guy” here; it was his contract, and he was one who broke it, and failed to live up to his obligations. He may have been induced by Brailsford/Team Sky, but ultimately it was Wiggin’s action and decision. Vaughters was gracious enough/smart enough to come to terms with Sky.

    Only time will tell if the buyout was a good investment. Somehow I doubt it, but that is another subject.

  3. dave1949

    Lance and he was probably doping when he was being the bad guy. I have absolutely no knowledge that this happened but I wanted to sound like a cycling writer for once.

  4. Dazzler.....

    I’m going with Amityskinnyguy. Its got to be Lance. It can’t be pistolero… with such a cool victory salute and all, and wiggo being such a snappy dresser(you know what i mean if you saw the team sky promo shots… what what now tally ho pip…!)…Vaughters is a twack and who even cares about Brailsford.. None of the above ain’t gonna cut it if your gonna dive into this so i’m going with lance. Fuck knows what he has to do with wiggo being a toser, but all the same, its Lance’s fault… what ever happens.
    Cycling, as with most sporting events, is ruled by money. Who will pay me the most to do what i do, sponsor exposure etc etc… Period.That’s just the way the world works… Unless your Armstrong…. and you have more money than you know what to do with, and that private jet ain’t sucking enough fuel to empty your wallet. It isn’t like the old days were you slogged it out and then went back to working in your dad’s butcher shop on monday morning…… It is what it is. Someone waved a cheque that would make the shit in your intestine curdle in front of wiggo and he grabbed it and ran. Go ride 120km and drink a beer in the shower and get over it… spring classics start soon. Who gives a shit about wiggo etc. cause they aint even going to show their over paid skulls in April. I hope my point is taken as intended.

  5. SinglespeedJarv

    Armstrong – should never have come out of retirement
    Wiggins – shouldn’t have signed for 2years with Garmin because he knew Sky would happen
    Brailsford – isn’t stupid. He knew what he was doing, he might have done it all intentionally. I’d heard Wiggins had signed in August – to give them the benefit that may well have been for 2011, but still…
    Vaughters – shouldn’t have let Wiggins go for that little
    None of the above – the UCI should have a better system in place

  6. Lachlan

    D) no bad guys.

    Its business, and in the end everyone got something they wanted -a move – cash to compensate etc..

    And while contracts should mean something, they should also be negociable – after all, when it comes to sport its someones life, not a contract to supply staples.

    Some of the comments around it got a little too harsh, but that was all part of the negotiation tactics and pressure. Hopefully they all move on.

    In timely fashion, the latest Rouleur ‘Z’ cover story points out that Lemond did a similar jump to break his ADR contract after ’89.

  7. Touriste-Routier

    Lachlan, while it is business, all contracts are negotiable; they are negotiated before they are signed- both parties give and take in order to reach the agreed upon terms. Multi year terms carry upside/downside risk for both parties; if there is not an acceptance of this risk, then parties shouldn’t make those commitments.

    Whether you are company selling staples, a company providing a service, or are an individual subject to an employment contract, the commitment is the same. Sure it is Wiggin’s “life”, but he made the commitment; no one forced him to sign the agreement. Remember, the team has a “life” too, and deserves to prosper/receive a return on their investment.

    While I acknowledge that everything is subject to renegotiation, there needs to be pros for both sides to change the terms. If the Wiggins issue was entirely about salary, his renegotiation should probably have revolved around, “I am worth more; pay me more, and I will commit now for an extended term with Garmin”. Maybe this discussion happened, and wasn’t well received by Team Garmin, so he took a different course.

    In the end, his contract wasn’t renegotiated, it was broken. The negotiation resolved around what Garmin would receive in settlement of the contract breach. I don’t think we can fairly say that everyone got what they wanted. Vaughters’ statements seem to be more of resolution than satisfaction.

  8. Adam

    Wiggins. If he had had a rubbish year and Garmin said ‘you’re not worth the kit we give you and we’re “renegotiating” the second year of your contract and putting you on your ass’ we wouldn’t even be debating who the bad guy was. Why is it different if it’s the other way around?

  9. Doug

    My vote is that no one is the bad guy. Contract negotiations and resolutions are of more interest to lawyerly types than to me personally. Team sports coverage is filled with such non-news in the off season. Wiggins is to be understood for wanting to be on a team where he fits and gets paid lots… logical. Although some possibly interesting psychological fencing took place before money eventually talked the loudest, the story in toto is a yawn. Let the classics begin! Then we’ll have some real stuff to talk about!!

  10. Greg

    Brailsford turns out to be the behind-the-back-behind-closed-doors-man here. he has so far succeeded in pissing off most of the other pro teams by bullying his way in with more money than can waved at the others.

  11. Lachlan

    @ Touriste-Routier

    NIce though it might be for the admin boys otherwise, the reality is that in every business I’ve ever seen, contracts are never black and white “a to b” as written at the start of events. They always change. Just a fact of life. And in terms of sport, its far far more complicated…. unless you count business profit before a human’s right to change their mind about who they are employed by.

    It is his actual real, human, life. A pro team “life” to further marginal marketing goals of a company is insignificant in comparison. And no employee of a company should be bound the way athletes are sometimes expected to. (+1 to Adams comment above on that front!)

    Thats why JW may be expressing more ‘resolution’ than ‘satisfaction’ but ultimately was willing to accept a compromise given the human being in question and his obvious feelings.

    I would, and have in the pat to clients, cautioned companies that they do more damage in trying to surpress an athletes personal choices, than they ever could by holding on to someone who expressly does not want to work for them any more. It is not only bad humanity, it is really, really bad business smarts.

    And if you think Garmin got bad return on investment from the 70’s throw-back known as Wiggo… then you didn’t see last year’s Tour de France ; + )

    Besides, Garmin have got plenty more going for them. They dont need a forced employee sulking his way round the season with everyone asking him about how it feels!

    1. Padraig

      Lively and funny comments; thanks everyone.

      I have one thing to add to the discussion: A former team director with knowledge of the players involved told me that Wiggins wanted out of the team long before Brailsford came calling. He just didn’t seem to like the way the team was run. There were several specific issues he had, but the long and short of it is he wanted to leave Garmin even before he had a team to go to.

  12. Champs

    I blame Barack Obama and his Marxist… wait, that’s a different meeting.

    Brailsford and Wiggo share a fair bit of blame. Sky was a foregone conclusion, so it’s hard to understand why the Garmin contract wasn’t written up with that in mind — it’s not like 2010 couldn’t have been a year on option. Money issues… those are harder to solve. He was probably underpaid.

    One thing I didn’t think to mention last week that spoils the tours of Qatar and Oman… no podium girls.

  13. randomactsofcycling

    Wiggins. He’s a mug and clearly believes he belongs on the back pages with Ashley Cole. If you are unhappy and want a move, fine. Everyone deserves to be happy at work.
    But show some respect, if not class.
    Compare this soap opera with the Cadel Evans move to BMC. All the negotiations done on-the-quiet. Very old school and total class, from both John LeLangue and Evans.

  14. souleur

    D) tis business, and i for one am glad cyclists can make money now, versus those who were great generations ago who rode themselves impoverished.

  15. Big Mikey

    This isn’t about legal law, as both parties worked out a compromise due to the fact that GS was going to lose BW to Sky due to the (lack of) enforceability of the contract per European contract law (imagine that), this is about perception and behavior. And while Vaughters was mostly restrained, Wiggins let slip some less than exemplary behavior/comments. A very nice touch given that Garmin worked hard to support his fourth place in the TdF. They gave him the shot to focus on the tour, and he repays it by acting like an entitled brat.

    Doesn’t matter. He’ll barely make the top 10 this year.

    Then again, the Lance theories above sound credible…. Are we sure Trek wasn’t involved somehow as well?

  16. Touriste-Routier

    Lachlan- Some good comments; we just have different views. I am skewed by my having a strong sense of honoring my agreements (my word is gold) and personal responsibility, being an entrepreneur with employees, and having been in breach of contract (and other) litigation a few times. This is not to insinuate that you are not honorable…

    Contracts don’t change without formal/mutual agreement, but the acts which they govern sometimes do; let’s call it tolerance for variance. Of course words can be vague, which leads to different interpretation, and conflict, though the binding length (term) of contracts usually are B&W.

    Pro sports ARE big business. In the situation of Wiggins leaving, it isn’t a profit vs. human rights issue. I am not sure how today’s athletes are unfairly bound to their employers (in the post Curt Flood/Free Agent world), though some may be, but I don’t see this in pro cycling. I am also not sure why hired athletes should be treated any differently in regards to employment law than non-athletes. I agree that disgruntled employees are a bad thing, so it is probably best Wiggins left Garmin.

    Sure a human life is different than another entity’s life, but consider that organizations have finite existence too, and that many people (50 – 70 in the case of typical ProTour teams) owe their livelihoods to them. Wiggins co-workers are affected by his actions, so his breach of contract affects more than him.

    I admire JV for reaching a settlement with Sky, and his stated reasons for doing so. In litigation, generally the only parties who “win” are the attorneys; both plaintiff and defendant suffer, even if they prevail in the proceedings. JV was smart enough to recognize this.

    As for Garmin getting a good ROI on Wiggins, that is up for interpretation. They invested a lot in him (compensation, resources, support), and probably were looking for a multi-year pay-off. 4th place in Le Tour is admirable, but only Garmin Management can say whether that was enough to satisfy them.

    1. Padraig

      While I think an examination of the issues surrounding the contract buyout are interesting, and would be even more so if we had the full details, for me, the issue here is Vaughters vision as a team director. To the degree there was some offense to be taken in all this, some injury experienced, I believe Vaughters feels something he had the vision to develop was purloined. I also believe he had every right to be offended that way.

      It’s no surprise that Wiggins was fast; that much was known. What Vaughters did was see the potential in him to do more than go toe-to-toe with Fabian Cancellara. Rather than seeing his development in an extrapolitive way, Vaughters had the real vision to see within Wiggins the ability to be a great GC rider and go toe-to-toe with Contador. There’s no reason to think Brailsford saw that potential in him. And that’s why Vaughters was pissed. Wiggins wouldn’t have been worth so much if Vaughters hadn’t seen the potential in him that even Wiggins himself didn’t have the ambition to want for himself. Vaughters wanted more for him than he wanted for himself. Vaughters didn’t just find a diamond, he cut it.

  17. Jonny

    Hey Robot you forgot to include LeMond on the list…..just kidding :)

    I vote for D, maybe some hurt feelings but no bad guy. I agree with Big Mikey he’s going to have a hard time making top 10 this year.

  18. Ant Lockyer

    Vaughters got a load of money for someone we think isn’t going to do any better in the tour than he did this year.

    In mind mind there is no bad guy and no losers.

    1. Vaughters got his money
    2. Wiggo got his money
    3. Brailsford got his man
    4. I got more cycling coverage on Sky TV

    If we do need a bad guy though let’s involve Virenque.

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