Monday, 21 May 2012

The superteam that wasn't

The Schlecks in the SaxoBank days

RadioShack-Nissan, formed from the pre-existing RadioShack and LeopardTrek squads, was put together with one main purpose - to propel a Schleck, probably Andy but Frank would do too, to victory in the Tour de France.

With every day that comes, it looks more as if that's not going to happen. The brothers have had a dismal Spring Classics season during which both of them were embarrassed on the harsh, leg-breaking hills of Flanders and the Ardennes and now Frank has abandoned the Giro d'Italia. Did they spend the winter drinking beer and guzzling frites (or whatever it is that Luxembourgians do in the winter)? Are they both just that type of cyclist that burns brightly for a few years and then fizzles out? Or is something else preventing them, especially Andy, from fulfilling the promise of the last few years?

Something, or someone, such as Johan Bruyneel, perhaps. Frank says that the reason he abandoned the Giro is because he was in pain - "My right shoulder has been hurt and dislocated and since I was sitting wrong on the bike my entire left side is numb. I have been focused and that’s why I’ve kept riding four days after my crash, hoping it would get better every day," he explained on the team's website.

Johan Bruyneel
So does Bruyneel think that his rider did the right thing - after all, nothing's worth the risk of making an injury even worse, is it? Apparently, he's not convinced. "I am very disappointed that he has given up. I am especially disappointed that he has given up and that he has let the team down," he told German newspaper Tageblatt, then goes on to attack the rest of the squad too: "Currently, none of the team at the level that was expected. Only Fabian Cancellara, before his accident. Everyone else has failed. Currently, not one single rider is ready for the Tour de France; not one."

It's not been long since Bruyneel annoyed the brothers with his announcement that their preferred directeur sportif Kim Andersen was banned from accompanying them to the Tour, then refused to give his reasons: "I’m not going to go into any controversy, that’s my version and I’m not going to go into Andy said this or that. The decision has been made and the decision stays like it is," he told Cycling News. Andy, meanwhile, seemed well aware that his status as a Tour de France General Classification contender gives him a certain amount of leeway, saying that whatever happened Andersen would "be in the race." Did he mean that he plans to remain in contact with Andersen throughout the Tour, by internet or phone?

Kim Andersen
Now, I've never managed a professional cycling team and I have every respect for Bruyneel's greater experience in that area. However, I've been a manager for several different companies since the mid 1990s, when Bruyneel was a successful rider, and the most important thing I've learned is that you cannot treat your employees in the way he's currently doing. Some management training programmes instruct that it's more important to be respected than liked. What they fail to understand is that a manager can't have respect unless he or she is liked: being respected is not the same as being feared, and if your employees fear you they'll also hate you. You need to allow them a certain amount of say around the workplace, because if they don't they'll hate working for you. If they hate you and hate working for you, they lose their enthusiasm and start sabotaging your business (and stealing stuff, in the case of most businesses). Then they find somewhere else to work, somewhere where the manager isn't an arsehole.

Bruyneel would be very wise to remember that Andy and Frank have probably got Bryan Nygaard's cellphone number and email address, as well as Andersen's, and that despite the Schlecks' softy, butter-wouldn't-melt choirboy images they've proved once already that they're not afraid to strike out for pastures new, asset-stripping their previous team as they do so.

EDIT 23.06.12
Rumours currently doing the rounds suggest that the Schlecks are indeed planning to form a new team. Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf claims that the Luxembourgian brothers have been convinced that doing is so is the best way forward since Bruyneel's latest legal problems, in which he is being accused of running a doping ring, and have already signed up an un-named German company to act as co-sponsor.

The Schlecks' contract with RadioShack-Nissan doesn't expire until 2014, but the newspaper also says that "some German riders" (also un-named, but not necessarily riders from teams other than RadioShack: Jens Voigt, Linus Gerdemann, Andreas Klöden and Robert Wagner are all German, Voigt having already once followed the Schlecks to pastures new when the three of them left CSC for Leopard Trek) have already been approached and believes that Andersen would be the most likely choice to become manager.

One big question that remains is what will the suits in the Trek boardroom decide to do now? If the current investigations don't spell the death of Bruyneel's RadioShack team - and there's a good chance that they will - can the manufacturer afford to continue its association with them? Will they cut their ties? Frank Schleck, of course, has got a little bit of a tarnish on his public image - that €7000 transfer from his bank account into one owned by a certain Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes a few years back. He was subsequently cleared of all suspicion that he'd been up to anything untoward and he's been every bit as whiter-than-white as Andy ever since. Will that, combined with Andy's angelic public persona, be enough to keep the boys on their Madones in 2013, or could Trek decide that they need to make a complete break from the entire situation, perhaps even taking a year or two out of team sponsorship?


  1. Agree 100 percent on that neither Schleck is looking great, and 110 percent on the analysis of workplace relations. But how many races has Cadel won this spring? One more than Schleck's zero. Are we jumping all up on his back too now?
    I think Johan has just gotten a closer look and realized late what everyone else did long ago, that Andy is never winning a Tour on the road. Unless Johan's got some secret formula up his sleeve...

  2. Very interesting point re. Cadel. I personally think Andy has a Tour in his legs, but it might have to be one in which his rivals suffer misfortune - and it certainly won't be this year.