Friday Group Ride #122

The drama of the week has distracted us from the drama of the week. Let’s get back to it, shall we?

Despite suspicions that the apparent turmoil at Team RadioShack-Nissan was just that, apparent, a bit of strategic misdirection from Johann Bruyneel ahead of the Tour, Andy Schleck has now pulled out of the Grand Boucle with a fractured tailbone. Bruyneel has been targeted in a USADA investigation into systematized doping, and team owner Flavio Becca has, allegedly, withheld the riders’ May salaries (via Inner Ring) to express his disappointment with overall performances.

Now the Schlecks, who have publicly fallen out with Bruyneel, are rumored to be looking for a new team, possibly a return to Bjarne Riis’ SaxoBank squad. What?

We have been here before, with the ridiculous game of musical chairs that saw the Luxembourgers leave SaxoBank to start Leopard-Trek, while Alberto Contador joined Riis and won the Tour (later to be DQ’d for doping). Both of those teams lined up against Radio Shack, then under the leadership of Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong, which subsequently merged with Leopard-Trek. All those deals were undergirded by competing sponsorship dollars from Specialized and Trek, each of whom desperately wants a TdF winner on their machines. There just weren’t enough serious Tour contenders around to support three teams after Armstrong finally quit, so that merger made some sense, except that Cadel Evans won the last Tour for Andy Rihs and BMC.

You know what, forget musical chairs. This is a freaking Russian novel with too many characters, too many plot lines and too much melodrama.

Obviously (maybe), the Schlecks can’t go back to Riis, who just re-signed Contador to a three-year deal. The other rumor is that they’ll go to Astana (the former home of Contador and Armstrong), but that will only put Vincenzo Nibali in an awkward spot. He just signed on to be their main GC man.

As with all big name/money transfers, nothing is clear this time of year. It’s our Russian novel, written with a stick, in sand, too near the tide line.

This week’s Group Ride asks a series of crazy questions: Will the Schlecks leave the Shack? If so, does it even make sense for Flavio Becca to own a cycling team with or without RadioShack also involved? And who benefits most from the chaos? Bjarne Riis and the soon-to-return Contador? Team Sky, with Bradley Wiggins coming on song at possibly the right time? Or someone else? BMC? Look into your crystal ball, get out your Russian-English dictionary, take a wild stab. How will it all play out?

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30 comments

  1. A Stray Velo

    The Shack will fold on it’s own.

    Becca doesn’t have any money.

    I don’t think anyone really benefits except Riis. He’ll probably sleep better now knowing that the Leopard project was a bad idea just like he thought.

    I see a new team forming in the future… Trek needs a racing team just like all the “big” industry players. Radioshack will silently drop out as a sponsor seeing as how neither team was ever any good accept at riding in the back of the pack. Which leaves room for something new…

    Sounds like another drama filled July like always.

  2. rashadabd

    First, the contracts they signed are a major hurdle and that issue has to be resolved first. That being said, the Schlecks will leave in my opinion if Buryneel stays or the circumstances create a major fued with Becca. If Johan is dismissed and Radioshack pulls out, I think the team will be reformulated around them with a new sponsor and new management. If they are let out of their contracts and leave, Saxo Bank clearly could use their points having lost Contador’s and I could also see Astana or Omega Pharma trying to use some of their big bucks to entice them. Should be an interesting couple of months either way.

  3. Paul I.

    The idea of the Schlecks going to Saxo is ridiculous, they need support riders for Contador, not a couple of high-strung prima donnas. That said, there are teams that have money and could use a viable GC candidate. Katusha and Quickstep are ones that come to mind. Perhaps even Liquigas after they lose Nibali.

  4. rashadabd

    An interesting darkhorse imo would be Argos Shimano, they just got major financial backing from a big oil company, have great young sprinters and need serious GC threats to take their team to the next level. They are all but assured to be on the World Tour level next year and adding the Schlecks would be huge. It’s a long shot, but a fun one to think about.

  5. rashadabd

    Paul,

    I beg to differ. Saxo Bank’s primary concern right now is staying afloat. To do that, they need to maintain World Tour status (which is in question), to do that, they need to replace Contador’s lost points. I can’t help but believe they would view the Schlecks as a goldmine and a gift from heaven as a result. These folks all have history as well as the Schlecks rode for Saxo Bank (and with Contador) before.

  6. Alex TC

    What about Cancellara in all this? Now that Andy is not riding the Tour and Bruyneel is facing problems ahead with USADA, it´s all about Scheck this JB that but I´m intrigued with the silence and calm from the swiss camp.

  7. Alex TC

    And yes, I totally agree that the Schlecks and also Cancellara took the wrong way by leaving Saxo and Riis. It never seemed to me like a good idea, the whole deal and how is was made. Now it looks like a stupid move that cost a few productive years on their carreers.

  8. nrs5000

    ужасная ситуация. Shack to fold. Trek maybe to stick with Schlecks on a new team who will try to get Kim Andersen to come with them (again). Or else they try to go to Quick Step or Katusha? Can’t see them joining Contador at Saxo. The Schlecks currently have four UCI points between the two of them. They don’t help Saxo in that regard very much although Frank will probably score some points in Switzerland and France, and they don’t fit on the same team as Contador, who will get Saxo into enough races regardless of points.

  9. nrs5000

    @Alex TC — not to mention now Riis who has lots of inside information on their abilities is directing their #1 nemesis. The Schlecks by contrast don’t seem inclined to listen to Brunyeel very much.

  10. Shawn

    Great post! However, it seems more like a reality TV show than a Russian novel to me. There is no narrative arch to the story, only annoying characters repeating their shtick.

    Between bad results and scandal, I can’t see Bruyneel being around next year. Do the shack and nissan then pull out? Quite possibly. Will Becca flip the bill without outside sponsors? Beats me. If not or if the Brothers Schleck get out of their contracts, I can’t see them going to Quickstep. If they can’t work with Bruyneel, Lefevere isn’t going to be to their liking either. Maybe a Pro-Conti team wanting to make the jump up will sign them and their entourage? (I would suggest GreenEdge as a landing spot if not for their stated policy of slowly growing GC contenders…but ya never know.)

  11. cormw

    What about Garmin? Do they have room for the Schlecks? Can’t really put all of your GC aspirations on Ryder/Danielson/VdV… I could see JV taking a run at that pair.

  12. Quentin

    RadioShack as currently constituted seems doomed. Flavio Becca will leave the sport he was clearly never suited for meddling in. On the other hand, Trek, Nissan, and apparently RadioShack, seem committed to staying in the sport, but it’s not obvious whether they would want to try and salvage the current incarnation of the team, or start over. I think several old timers will retire, the others will find jobs elsewhere, leaving the Schleck brothers. I don’t think Riis has the money he would need to get them back, if he was interested. Same with Garmin, even if they might actually be a pretty good fit there. Astana is from a corrupt part of the world, so surely they can find the money and stab Nibali in the back if they want to. However, what about Green Edge? They don’t really have any true GC riders, and their new sponsor might have the cash to get the Schlecks.

  13. Souleur

    you must learn from history, lest we doomed to repeat it

    and given the schlecks start up of Leopard, here is what will happen, and i must say, your all just wrong

    The schlecks will leave Leopard, their semi-self created magnificant team, and summon the smartest and richest Hedgers on wall street, that indeed they are worthy of yet a bigger and better team.

    Patterned in the ‘too big to fail’ model, they will put forward a marketing brand that will be better, bigger, faster and more as they throw that trailer trash mercedes in the ditch. Call it a bail out, but more intelligently it will be a neo-pawn model, a partnership with General Motors and GoldMan-NutSacks, an alaAmericana model. Think about it, we all know what goes together and nothing goes together like bikes and cars; bikes and wall streeters, like peanut butter and Campy. This smart new business model will pour millions more dollars into their team in the promise that we may be just like them, afterall, like a cheap Euro wanker mater-de they do seem deserving of all these things based on their palmares to date.

    Next year, they will selectively not do any races that are not worthy of their presence, and as they tweet themselves into oblivion, their following will be record setting, they will publish a book on their many successes, young girls will throw themselves in their arms and they will make Zuckerburg look like a genius.

    so..ok, I have no clue, and just want to get through the TdF first, and really don’t care

  14. Alex TC

    I don´t know but I´d guess this whole mess will affect the value of the Schlecks in the peloton. I mean… since they left Saxo they´ve won some races and titles but certainly not up to their promise, or potential. But more than that, they seem to not work well with Bruyneel, Becca and a few others around them. May be a sign, and indicative, maybe not.

    I´m just a cycling lover and amateur but if I was a sponsor or DS looking for a winning team (not only individuals) that´s something I´d consider. Plus, during these years they haven´t displayed a willingness to work hard on their negative points, especially Andy and his subpar time trialing. But I could be wrong…

  15. Jan

    Do points count for more than one year, or does the system only count the points you’ve earned in a given year?

    If it’s just for one year, then do the Schlecks have enough points this year to be really valuable to SaxoBank for points? Thanks, from a beginner at understanding this stuff.

  16. rashadabd

    I think one of the interesting apsects about all of this as a bike lover is that Trek could end up wihtout a pro team to support (I respect Trek’s product, but actually ride a Cervelo R3 and proabbly will stick with that company unless major changes occur). That may leave them pushing hard for the RSNT team to stay intact in some form or for another team built around the Schlecks to happen.

  17. James

    I’ve never been very enamored of the Schlecks. They are boneheads at tactics, they whine too much and they are grossly overvalued. They are good for an occasional stage win but little else. As long as the grand tours have longish time trials there ability to win races is minimalized. But all of you know this, I’m sure. I just wish they would concentrate on what they are good at and quit basing their whole season on the TdF…do a Cunego and go for stages and Classics.

  18. Tricky Dicky

    It is a good post, thanks. Intriguing. My two cents:

    - I find it hard to believe that RadioShack and Nissan will remain as sponsors after all the scandal around the team. Perhaps the only thing that might save that would be a Team Telekom style clear-out, bringing in clean skin management. Don’t forget that Trek is in up to its eyeballs in this scandal too (Lemond dispute etc). If there’s a clear-out, with benign management (ie Kim Anderson), the Schlecks may stay.

    - Saxo won’t want them now they have Contador. The team needs points and the Schlecks don’t have any. They’d love Cancellara back and will probably also take Fugslang back, and perhaps Jens Voigt if he rides on.

    - I struggle to see Garmin taking Schlecks. There is a bit of a whiff around Schleck the elder remember (payments to Fuentes etc). If JV wants to maintain the super-clean status and his team has a US focus, why bother? Likewise Greendedge where the focus is on developing Aussies.

    - Astana won’t have the same qualms that Garmin should have, but they have spent up big on Nibali and Kreuzinger. Can’t see it.

    - There’s rumour of a new Swiss team. I reckon that will be the new home for both of them and Cancellara. The question mark is where will the points come from to get them to the right status.

  19. Eric Toth

    Great post.

    What about Rabobank? Luxembourg is close enough to the Netherlands in geography and disposition to be a fit. Genzink and others will really have to fight hard to shine and/or ride in suport of Andy. Kim Andersen is just what Rabo needs to break out of the also ran protion of the peloton.

  20. Nick

    Crystal ball says: in search or ever more expensive and hugely underperforming stars, BMC signs the Schleck brothers.

    Sorry, couldn’t help myself. :)

  21. sophrosune

    There are just too many conditionals to enumerate so let me just say how it’s all going to shake out. Radio Shack/Nissan is history. The Schleck brothers will go to Omega Pharma where they are still looking for a Tour contender. The Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang will end up at Saxo Bank and possibly the Belgian Maxime Monfort as well. The other riders on the team, the most notable for the US audience is Chris Horner, who could find a place on BMC. But the really big fish is Cancellara. If Saxo doesn’t get either Fuglsang or Monfort, then I would look at Lotto as a possibility for him.

  22. LD

    The Schlecks are running out of time. Their reputation is now proceeding them and they have become the punchline of too many jokes. Talented yes but unless they are willing to listen to a team manager and stop holding hands up the climbs, well, ………….if i was a team manager I don’t think I would consider them for my team.

  23. scaredskinnydog

    The crystal ball shows many things…
    On the Schlecks- Frank and Andy quit cycling and open a very sucessfull fly fishing guide business.
    On Becca and Bruyneel- They seem to be having a conversation in very close quarters. It looks like Becca is asking Johan, “How long you in for?”.
    On Radioshack- They fire everyone but Cancellara and Jens.
    On the Tour- Radioshack is allowed to participate after arguing that Jens rides like 8 men. Fabian Cancellara goes on to win. A skinny Cav leads the green jersey competiton into the final week only to crack and go on a twinkie binge, gaining 10 pounds and losing the jersey.

  24. Geetee

    No way that Greenedge will comteplate the brothers. At least I hope not. Orica Greenedge management have stated that a part of the team ethos is development of Australian riders, (albeit not an exclusive strategy). First point – the brothers are just too much hard work, and why do they apparently only come as a pair?. Second point – there are youngsters on the Orica GE squad who have great potential on the road once they come out of Olympic track programs – Bobridge, Meyer etc. They are learning from masters like McEwan and O’Grady. They dont need to import Luxembourg bad habits.

  25. Walter

    What was the arrangement with Becca coming to RS Nissan? Did he buy the team from Bruyneel (& LA) or just bring $$$ as a sponsor? That structure may dictate the future of the team.

    If Becca bought it, his financial problems may sink the team altogether. If he is just a minor financial partner or sponsor, the structure may remain with a Telekom/Stapleton-style cleanout.

    High drama all around…that’s for sure! Pity that it detracts from the riding and the racing.

  26. Mark Schwitau

    Two quick points:
    I don’t think we can completely bash the Schlecks for not trying and refusing to work on time-trialing. I’m quite sure they are working to limit losses and trying to improve what they can. Perhaps we just don’t see that work. Most of us don’t train daily with the Schlecks.
    Secondly, the bloggers and some media put riders like Cunego and the Schlecks in the losers bucket. I don’t think that’s fair. These guys come back year after year and really go for it. Cunego doesn’t quit and start a bike-clothing company because he didn’t winn all of his objectives …. He keeps coming back. Fighting and spinning and rouelling and climbing. It’s admirable to me. Even more so when you are not at the very tip top of the profession. The same can be said of the Schlecks. They are back every year training and trying to win. And they they haven’t gotten that top step, but these guys are pretty damn close year after year. How many of us in “blog-land” are in the top three people in our profession ….. Worldwide.

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