Citing differences “with business strategies and the direction the team is headed,” director Frankie Andreu has ended his contract with Rock Racing.
The former professional, with nine Tours de France on his résumé, assumed director’s duties on the team owned by Rock & Republic fashion designer and CEO Michael Ball, at the beginning of 2007. Recently, however, Andreu said he’d become unhappy with the way that the program was being run. Andreu said he increasingly had concerns about the business model of the team and felt that he his authority as team director was gradually being undermined.
“Some of the ways that they’ve handled the sponsors that were considering coming on to the team made me uneasy,” Andreu said. “I also had problems with the fact that I had no input at all in decisions about riders joining the team.”
Ball was quoted in a recent interview as saying that he saw himself as the “the guy” when it came to making major decisions on the team.
“He’s definitely the director sportif,” Ball said, referring to Andreu’s role. “He’s a significant part, but I don’t know what the traditional sportif is, I couldn’t tell you. But in terms of race strategy and that type of thing, he’s certainly part of it. But in terms of day-to-day business, you’re talking to the guy.”
“It was something that was uncomfortable for me,” Andreu told VeloNews. “We mutually agreed to a separation and to end our obligations to each other for 2008.”
Andreu declined to cite specific hiring decisions, but said he had not been consulted regarding several recent additions to the team.
“Those were Michael Ball’s decisions,” Andreu said. “It’s his right to decide, but as a director it’s very hard to run a team when you have no input in the hiring of riders. Often, I would find out when they sent out an email welcoming so-and-so to the team. That’s especially difficult when I am the one who is then responsible for handling and working with these riders.
“For three or four riders, at least, I wasn’t even told they were talking to these guys, let alone that they had hired them,” he said.
Rock Racing has recently inked contracts with Colombian Santiago Botero, once the subject of an investigation in connection with Spain’s Operación Puerto scandal, and American Tyler Hamilton, who has struggled to return to racing since his 2004 positive for blood-doping. Andreu said that two recent rumored signings – that of former T-Mobile climber Oscar Sevilla, another Puerto suspect, and retired world champion Mario Cipollini, apparently occurred after he ended his contract around Christmas.
“Yeah, I heard those, too, but I was already off the team when that stuff was done,” he said.
Andreu said he remains unsure about Ball’s recent statements regarding the team’s “win-or-be-fired” policy.
“Well, with Michael Ball, he’s very outspoken and does his share of trash-talking, but I don’t necessarily think it comes down to that,” Andreu said. “I mean, he wanted us to win in ’07 and we had a good year and I enjoyed working with the riders a lot. We won some great races and we didn’t win some, but when it came down to it, the riders on the team came back for this year. Maybe he’s taking a more aggressive approach for ’08 and he’s definitely stepped up with the number of riders he’s hired, but that certainly wasn’t the driving philosophy in 2007.”
Andreu said he is uncertain about his own plans for the coming year, noting that “my calendar is pretty much open at this point.” He said he may explore the possibility of starting his own team in the future, “maybe just so this sort of thing doesn’t happen to me again.”
“Fundamentally, I think most of the cycling world, at this point in the sport’s history, is pretty much on the same page about the direction in which it needs to develop,” Andreu said. “Rock Racing does a lot of things that are different from anyone else. They have their own agenda and they have their own goals and they have their own way of setting out to achieve those goals. I’m not entirely comfortable with the way they are hoping to do that.”