This morning Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Bici reports that RadioShack Nissan-Trek manager Johan Bruyneel has terminated the contracts of all the team riders except for classics superstar Fabian Cancellara.
An undisclosed staff member of the ProTour team was quoted as saying “When Frank Schleck pulled out of the Giro against his orders, it was the final straw. He went ballistic. There’s a non-performance clause in the contracts and he decided it was time to do something dramatic.”
Relations between the powerful Bruyneel and the Schleck brothers have hit new lows in the last month. The teams’ classics plan blew up when Cancellara broke his collarbone, Andy Schleck admitted his Tour preparations were “behind schedule, Chris Horner managed only 13th place in the recent Tour of California.
The squad has been beset by injuries and bad luck. Not even the hiring of special team consultant female rapper Lil’ Kim has yielded positive results. Bruyneel said after the failures in Liege-Bastogne-Liege that the entire team needed to go back to “square one.” Now it appears that an even more dramatic move has occurred.
Just one day ago Bruyneel told Luxembourg newspaper Tageblatt that the team situation was a disaster. “Currently none of the team is at the level that we expected. Only Fabian Cancellara was, before he crashed; all the others have under performed,” said Bruyneel. “Currently there isn’t a single rider set for the Tour de France. Nobody.”
While the rumor has yet to be confirmed, the story sent shock waves through the world of pro cycling. Andy and Frank Schleck have refused comment but at least one source claims there have been urgent conversations with mentor Kim Andersen and Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis.
Fabian Cancellara refused to be drawn in by the allegations. “I am focused 100% on Bayern Runfahrt. If the rest of the team is not there, I will ride anyway,” said the Swiss star. “There have been some disagreements, the situation is not good but we are adults. A solution will be found.”
Flavio Becca, the financier behind the RadioShack Nissan Trek squad, has asked for calm. “Johan is upset. We are all disappointed by the performance of the team. It is not what we had envisioned,” said Becca. “However, we cannot jump to conclusions. He tore up all the contracts but not into small pieces. We can tape them back together.”
The possible legality of Bruyneel’s move to terminate the contracts is open to question. Each team and rider negotiates their own own set of expectations however most contracts set out grounds for dismissal based on conduct detrimental to the team.
UCI legal expert Pierre Blague said that Bruyneel may well be in his rights to fire the riders. “That is a question for Bruyneel and Becca concerning the specifics. However, if both parties had agreed to a set of conditions regarding dismissal then he has every right to do so.”
The mass firings, coming less than six weeks before the Tour de France, throw into question whether the team will even take the start in Liege on June 30th. Gazzetta Dello Bici has speculated that Bruyneel is already discussing a merger with Michael Rasmussen’s Christina Watches squad. The idea would be to build a team around the Danish climber with Cancellara focusing on winning the time trials.
When asked about the possible merger, Rasmussen was coy. “It is an intriguing possibility. My condition is good and a return to the Tour would be a dream,” said Rasmussen. “There are many details to be discussed. We shall see.”
Rumor or not, what’s clear is that the turmoil at RadioShack Nissan-Trek has reached the point of implosion. It’s a possibility that frightens everyone including ASO boss Christian Prudhomme. “It would be a catastrophe not to have the team and the Schlecks in theTour de France. I cannot imagine it,” said Prudhomme. “And Rasmussen is a — what is the word? — nut ball. We don’t ever want him back.”
Fabian Cancellara had the last word in this strange fiasco. “I will be in France if I have to book my own hotels and bring my own mechanic,” said Spartacus. “I don’t need a team to win a time trial. Whatever happens with Andy and Frank and Johan, I don’t care. I ride my own race.”