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By Ted Arnold
Early December is usually a relaxed time for the U.S. Postal Service team, but news of Roberto Heras’s imminent departure spoiled the quiet of the team’s annual kick-off training camp in Austin, Texas. The camp serves as a relaxed way to start planning for a new season and for new team members to get acquainted with each other. VeloNews correspondent Ted Arnold caught up with Johan Bruyneel in Austin on Thursday to discuss the rapidly unfolding developments. VN: When did the situation with Roberto begin to unfold?
JB: About 10 days ago his agent called me and wanted to have lunch — he told me there was a proposal from a team for Roberto and he asked me what my opinion was about letting Roberto go. I told him that I had no opinion, it wasn’t going to happen. There is a buyout clause in his contract that is an important amount of money; apparently they are willing to pay that. There is nothing more than that — everybody is writing that he is leaving but there has been no official communication, there has been no negotiation. We’re just waiting and we’ll see. Shit happens.
VN: What is the amount of the buyout?
JB: That’s internal information.
VN: It presents a new situation for the team. Do you think Roberto will try to challenge in the Tour de France instead of the Vuelta?
JB: It all depends on the objectives of his team. If he can win the Vuelta, you have to watch him in the Tour de France, but the Tour de France is not the Vuelta, either.
VN: With your background riding for Saiz, did it surprise you that Saiz went after Roberto, and how personal was it to you?
JB: It’s not personal. They started a new team and lost their leader (Beloki). They need a new leader, and I understand that. The only thing I think is a little bit sad is that they could have contacted me about that and said, “This is what we want to do, is there a possibility to do that?” Not just sending a lawyer and saying that “this is what we’re going to do.”
VN: You have more than enough riders capable of riding the Tour de France without Roberto; do you feel like the team will be less capable?
JB: If the case presents that Roberto does leave, I am going to replace him.
VN: From outside the team?
VN: So until the buyout, you still consider Roberto your rider?