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MILAN (VN) — Leopard SA, the management firm behind the RadioShack-Nissan team, announced Friday that it would sever ties with Johan Bruyneel following Fabian Cancellara’s suggestion that a management shake-up was imminent. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on Wednesday made public its investigation files incriminating Bruyneel in its investigation into Lance Armstrong and a doping conspiracy at the U.S. Postal Service team.
“Acting in mutual agreement, on October 12 Leopard SA and Johan Bruyneel decided to end their collaboration. From this day on, Johan Bruyneel will no longer act in the position of general manager of cycling team RadioShack-Nissan-Trek,” the team said in a press release. “The Reasoned Decision published by the USADA included a number of testimonies as a result of their investigation. In light of these testimonies, both parties feel it is necessary to make this decision since Johan Bruyneel can no longer direct the team in an efficient and comfortable way. His departure is desirable to ensure the serenity and cohesiveness within the team.”
Het Laatste Nieuws had reported earlier on Friday that Cancellara had expressed doubts over his ability to work with the Belgian manager in the future.
“I don’t know if I can still work with him,” said Cancellara. “Bruyneel’s name is listed 129 times in that 200-page document.”
Bruyneel is scheduled to face an arbitration panel next month to contest the USADA charges, but two days ago, the agency made the public aware of just how much of a role he played in Armstrong’s doping legacy. It charged him with nearly everything — including assisting and encouraging his riders to use drugs and illegal methods — from 1997 to 2010.
The Belgian said he would “step back from my official team activities in order to concentrate on my defense” and shield the team from “unnecessary distractions.” Bruyneel said he was disappointed that USADA publicly released information that could ultimately impact his case.
“I am surprised and extremely disappointed that USADA released information in the public domain relating to their pending case against me before I had been given any opportunity to review the evidence and provide my defence against it,” he said. “I still hope to be able to defend myself in a forum free from bias, although I now fear that USADA’s calculated action may have irreversibly prejudiced my case. It is a troubling facet of USADA’s approach to this case that it appears not to respect basic principles such as the right to be heard and the presumption of innocence.”
In its “Reasoned Decision,” published on Wednesday, USADA detailed Bruyneel’s role in the doping ring it uncovered within the Belgian’s teams.
“The overwhelming evidence in this case is that Johan Bruyneel was intimately involved in all significant details of the U.S. Postal team’s doping program… He alerted the team to the likely presence of testers. He communicated with Dr. Ferrari about his stars’ doping programs. He was on top of the details for organizing blood transfusion programs before the major Tours, and he knew when athletes needed to take EPO to regenerate their blood supply after extracting blood. He was present when blood transfusions were given. He even personally provided drugs to the riders on occasion.
“Most perniciously, Johan Bruyneel learned how to introduce young men to performance enhancing drugs, becoming adept at leading them down the path from newly minted professional rider to veteran drug user.”
Cancellara is a multiple-time world time trial champion and the 2008 Olympic gold medalist. He has won multiple stages of the Tour de France, held the yellow jersey and dominated the spring classics. His first major win was the prologue of the 2004 Tour de France, ahead of Armstrong.
“Lance was apparently a systematic doping sinner. He doped on a scale that cycling has never seen before seen. He has really destroyed a lot,” Cancellara said. “Now, I understand how a team like U.S. Postal could put all eight or nine riders at the front in a mountain stage. In the golden years of doping it was all very simple: ‘train and load’. ‘Loading’ the word riders would use for doping. … It has changed [now].”
After several years with Bjarne Riis’ CSC/Saxo Bank teams, Cancellara announced a three-year deal with Leopard-Trek for 2011 to 2013. Bruyneel took over management this year with Armstrong’s former sponsor, RadioShack, and it has not been the same since. In 2012, USADA’s investigation intensified and forced Bruyneel to skip the Tour, where Fränk Schleck failed a doping test and was sent home.
According to various reports, Cancellara wanted to leave the team and break a contract estimated at €1.65 million for one year. Last month, however, Bruyneel announced he would stay. Cancellara is again uneasy after agency’s report.
“It reads like a book,” he said. “I want to know what happened. But I don’t know what the future brings. Neither Bruyneel nor for the team. It is also not in my hands. I don’t know how the team owner, Flavio Becca is going to react.”
Given the U.S. agency’s evidence against Bruyneel, Becca was forced to make a management change.
“I don’t know, but of course it sounds logical,” press officer, Philippe Maertens told VeloNews on Friday before the announcement. “For the moment that’s not the case, but the team will have to do something.”