Bruyneel: RadioShack and Astana are like night and day
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Bruyneel: RadioShack and Astana are like night and day

by Ben Atkins at 3:01 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
RadioShack boss talks Astana, Vino and Armstrong's Tour de France chances

Johan BruyneelWith the Tour of California in full swing, Johan Bruyneel, the manager of US team RadioShack, is in great demand. In an interview in Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, Bruyneel reflected on the team’s first season so far, how it differs from his previous team, Astana, and whether or not Lance Armstrong really can win the Tour de France this year.

Other than a few stage wins, the only major successes for RadioShack so far have been Chris Horner’s victory at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Sébastien Rosseler’s win at Brabantse Pijl. This is not a problem for Bruyneel though, as the team’s focus comes in July. “Even though I had eight of the nine Tour riders from last year,” he said, “it was a race against time to put together this new team. I deliberately chose a homogenous group with a lot of experience: "Veterans", focusing on the Tour.”

Those few victories are cause for optimism for the Belgian. “There have been bright spots: the Portuguese Tiago Machado, Ben Hermans, I'm happy despite his broken foot,” he continued, “and especially Sebastien Rosseler. Of these riders, we have not yet seen everything. Rosseler is almost certainly in the Tour Selection. The rest of the core Tour team ride here."

The new RadioShack team of 2010 is entirely different to the Astana team of 2009, he says. "Day and night difference,” he said with a deep sigh. “That was never my team. I ran Astana, but this was Vino's [Alexandre Vinokourov – Ed] team; this is Vino's team and not that of Contador.”

Astana was always Vino’s team

The big issue towards the end of his tenure at Astana, says Bruyneel, was the thorny matter of the return of Vinokourov from his two-year suspension for blood-doping at the 2007 Tour de France. “I banned Vinokourov,” said Bruyneel. “I enforced that contract, but what was a previous contract with the Kazakh policymakers worth? Bullshit.

“Vino was never really gone,” he continued. “2009 was a disaster in that respect. I was under constant pressure from the Kazakh federation to re-sign him. I refused, but then they started with arrears of payments. The problem with the Astana team is Vinokourov… If Astana still exists in the future, then he will also be the manager."

It should be remembered however, that the Astana team was originally created out of the ashes of the Liberty Seguros team of 2006. Vinokourov himself recruited a number of investers from his native Kazakhstan to step in after the Spanish insurance company walked away as the team and its manager, Manolo Saiz, were embroiled in the scandal of Operacion Puerto.

"I'm still waiting for the final quarter of last year,” he said. “It is a lot of money that big riders, a number of staff and I have not got; I’ve now challenged Astana in court.”

More unpaid wages for Astana 2009?

This is not the first time that issues of non-payment to riders have been levelled against Astana. On the run in to last year’s Giro d’Italia the team’s very existence was called into doubt, and riders deliberately wore jerseys with the names of the non-paying sponsors faded out, before payments were eventually made.

“The problems were with the old Kazakh leadership,” Bruyneel said, “The new policy and people I can’t say anything about. I learned a lot over the past two years, but Radio Shack is a blessing in return. This is my familiar environment: Bill Stapleton, Lance and I regard [ourselves] as partners."

A number of rumours have been circulating, claiming that the American team is to end prematurely. Claims that the company may be for sale to a multinational company, which may drop the team sponsorship are entirely false though, says the Belgian.

"I heard [the rumours],” he confirmed. “Error. RadioShack continues. We have a contract for two years with option for two additional seasons. Because the rumours going around I asked that question of the big boss. His answer was clear: ‘Is Radio Shack for sale? No. Can somebody buy Radio Shack? Yes, everything in the world can be bought.’"

lance armstrong“Armstrong really can win the Tour”

Despite all the publicity around the team at its home race, the Tour of California, the RadioShack team has been created as a vehicle to take seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong to an eighth win in the race. A lacklustre spring from the American, including withdrawing though illness from a number of scheduled races, has caused many commentators to say that there is no way he can be competitive come July.

Not the case, says Bruyneel.

"Everything is in the past, you can judge him at the prologue of the Tour,” he said. “Now it begins: the last fifty days to Rotterdam have arrived. I see in his eyes that everything must give way to one goal.

“The Tour of the Gila in New Mexico in early May was not really a reference. Armstrong had trained very hard. Levi won on the first day. So I put Lance and Jason McCartney and to work to help Leipheimer in the final. McCartney controlled it on the flat, Lance on the hills. The last stage he was on the front uphill for 70 Kilometers. Obviously you will be out of place in the final standings."

All eyes though, he admits, will be on reigning Tour champion Alberto Contador, the only man from the nine at last year’s Tour that Armstrong and Bruyneel left behind. "He is the top favourite and we are the underdogs,” he conceded.

“We understand this,” he said, “Armstrong, [Levi] Leipheimer and [Andreas] Klöden and I. We start in Rotterdam to try to win the Tour, and not to ensure that Contador loses at all costs… It won’t be easy, but I still believe that Lance Armstrong can win an eighth time."

Although last year’s Tour was apparently one of massive internal conflict within the Astana team, there are no hard feelings between Bruyneel and his former champion, he claims. "My relationship with Alberto is good,” he said. “I saw him in Nice and he came after the Critérium International to sit next to me on the plane; we talked for half an hour. I feel that he has nothing against me, as I have absolutely nothing against him.

“It was not easy last year; not for him, nor for Lance or me."

RadioShack is at the Tour of California, it says, to take a fourth successive victory for local rider Leipheimer; Armstrong has said that he will do all he can to ensure of this success. No matter what happens in the US race though, the RadioShack season, as Bruyneel says, will be judged on the roads of France this July.

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