2011 Vuelta a España, stage 10
Monfort in the stage 10 time trial, where he finished tenth. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

Maxime Monfort’s great performance so far through this Vuelta a España is being overshadowed by the surprise announcement that his Leopard-Trek squad will merge with RadioShack next season.

Monfort, who started sixth overall going into Friday’s stage, said that the incomplete picture of how the fusion of the two teams will affect riders and staff has cast a pall over both squads.

Leopard-Trek started the season full of ambition and big goals, but it’s suddenly racing in what will be in its final grand tour after the unexpected announcement that the Luxembourg-based team will be managed next season by Belgian veteran Johan Bruyneel.

VeloNews caught up with Monfort before the start of Thursday’s stage to gauge his reaction to the news:

Q. Maxime, there hasn’t been a lot of information available from either team, what have you heard as riders?
A. We don’t know a lot. We know that a few riders will be kicked out of the team. That’s not fair, of course. I don’t think it will be a problem for me. I am more concerned about the group that we have created over the last few months. I don’t know much more than what I have read in the media. I know we will have a very, very strong team on paper. That’s the positive point.

Q. Did anyone see this coming?
A. It’s a big surprise. Apparently, the management was not satisfied with the results. We targeted to win the Tour and one of the classics. The results were not bad, but we did not achieve those goals. It’s like that. Professional cycling is a business. It’s the same thing in all business. You have to be the best, if not, you’re out.

Q. What’s the mood inside the team bus the past few days?
A. The feeling is that some people are afraid of being left without a team. They are afraid for their jobs. We don’t think further than that, we’re just thinking about those guys who have a family, who bought a house, who have to pay their bills. It’s not easy for them. The atmosphere is a bit heavy.

Q. How well do you know your possible new boss, Bruyneel?
A. I only know him from his time with Lance Armstrong and with Contador. I hear he is a very good manager. I hear he is strict. Maybe that is what we need to manage a team that is so strong that we should have.

Q. Have you heard anything about your future? A. Not officially. I suppose with the season I am riding now, it will not be a problem to stay on the team for me. I don’t know what’s going to change within the team in terms of the contracts. First I want to stay focused on the Vuelta. On Monday, I will have time to think about that.

Q. You are having a very good Vuelta, did you come here with the idea of a strong GC?
A. This is the first time in my career that I’ve done two grand tours in the same season. I didn’t know how it would turn out. First, I targeted to finish in the top 10 or maybe a stage win. I soon realized that I could do better. I was fifth after Angliru and now I am sixth. If I have good legs, I will keep this spot.

Q. Will this strong Vuelta change your idea about your future potential as a rider?
A. I also know it’s the Vuelta. It’s a nice race, but it’s not the Tour de France. Maybe the level of riders is quite high here this year, but the pressure here from the teams, the riders, the media, everything, is less than at the Tour. I have done four Tours, so I know the difference. I am happy to perform in a race like this and then help my teammates in the Tour de France. My career will be like that for the next few years.

Q. Many say this is the hardest Vuelta ever, what do you think?
A. It’s a really hard Vuelta. We go really fast every day. We have a lot of climbs. Everyone is very tired, especially me after the Tour de France. It’s a pro race, and they’re all like that now.

Q. Will you race the worlds?
A. No, by a mistake by the Belgian federation that I am not picked for the worlds. But to tell the truth, I am tired, I need a rest after this race. We’ll see later if I go to the Italian classics. First, I need two weeks’ rest to see how I feel.