Fuglsang calls Leopard-Shack merger a ‘disaster’

Dane speaks his mind on the team and USADA investigation after run-ins with Johan Bruyneel kept him out of grand tours

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There’s no love lost between Jakob Fuglsang and RadioShack-Nissan boss Johan Bruyneel.

After missing out on racing a three-week grand tour this season due to a season-long conflict with Bruyneel, a bitter Fuglsang characterized the merger between RadioShack and Leopard-Trek as nothing short of a “disaster.”

“It’s been a disaster. You had two teams who won big races last year and this year, we were down to five riders who actually won something,” Fuglsang told VeloNews. “It’s been a disaster for the team. There are no other words.”

The promising Dane is putting a tumultuous season behind him and leaving for what he hopes are greener pastures at Astana for 2013.

Fuglsang’s problems at the new RadioShack-Nissan squad began early when he openly spoke his mind on issues surrounding the team. Then he broke his hand, keeping him out of the Giro d’Italia and, once Bruyneel got wind that Fuglsang had started investigating his options, the Dane says his chances to race the season’s major WorldTour races diminished.

“Johan was not probably happy about what I said, but I believed and I spoke out,” he said. “They didn’t like that, but that’s how I am. I think it shouldn’t make a difference. You should be able to say what you want unless you speak badly against the sponsors. In the end, I am not going to lie, so if someone asks me something, I am going to tell them the truth.”

The “truth,” according to Fuglsang, was that the merger wasn’t working. Two teams that were winning races in 2011 were not in 2012.

“RadioShack were winning races last year; Leopard were winning races last year, and you put them together and you believe they’re going to win even more races, but in the end, we didn’t win anything,” he said. “We have top riders as (Chris) Horner, (Andreas) Klöden and the Schleck brothers, who haven’t been able to find the shape they had last year. Or haven’t had the luck. Of course, you need luck to win races, but they didn’t have the legs to win.”

Fuglsang said he was frustrated to miss out on the season’s major dates, a bone he points to, along with his conflict with Bruyneel, behind his desire to leave the team.

“I didn’t ride one single grand tour, thanks to Johan Bruyneel,” Fuglsang said. ” I was the only one they kept out of WorldTour races.”

With the UCI points system rigged toward riders taking points with them the following season, many team managers are hesitant to let riders race important WorldTour races, knowing that any results and points will go to a rival at the end of the season.

That seems, in part, to be what kept Fuglsang out of the grand tours. Following the injury that forced him out of the Giro, Fuglsang was surprised when he wasn’t selected to race the Tour de France or the Vuelta a España, especially after posting solid results that included overall victory at the Tour of Luxembourg in June.

“(Bruyneel) kept me out of the Tour because he believed that I had signed with Saxo (Bank-Tinkoff Bank); that’s what I think. In the end, he didn’t want to let me ride the Vuelta because he knew that I was gone from the team,” Fuglsang said. “He told me the reason that he didn’t want to give me the chance to race the Vuelta was about the points, but when you look now all the riders who are leaving the team and they kept them in the big races.”

Even though Fuglsang decided to split, RadioShack’s future seems secure, with major sponsors standing by the team despite an uneven season both on and off the road.

Injuries to team stars Andy Schleck and Fabian Cancellara and a doping positive for Fränk Schleck undermined the team’s performances on the road while the ongoing U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation involving Bruyneel provided plenty of distraction off the road. Reports that riders were not receiving payments on time before the Tour also stirred discontent.

Fuglsang jumped at the chance to leave, taking an offer with Astana where he will ride alongside high-profile signing Vincenzo Nibali. The ex-mountain biker said he believes things will be easier at Astana, despite the potential conflict with Nibali in terms of who will lead the team in the grand tours.

Although he has won such races as the Tour of Austria and the Tour of Luxembourg and ridden onto the podium with third at the 2010 Tour de Suisse, Fuglsang has yet to deliver a major GC ride in a grand tour. His best was 11th in the 2011 Vuelta, though in other grand tours, he’s ridden in support and to learn the ropes. This year was supposed to be his big breakout season, but things went sideways within the team.

At Astana, he hopes to have a chance to shine once and for all. He knows, at 27, it’s time to step up.

“It’s going to be a really big change. They want to put me in the role for the captain,” he said. ” It’s my dream to do the Tour as a captain, especially for the future. It will be a few years when I can battle with the big guys.”

Fuglsang said riders and staff at Astana would wait to see the routes for the three grand tours before starting to talk strategy at team meetings this fall. Nibali, third in this year’s Tour, will be the team’s rider of reference.

“Maybe I will be for the Tour, and Nibali the Giro and Vuelta. We still have to see after the parcours is out,” he said. “Nibali did well to finish third in the Tour; I also understand if he wants to do the Tour again.”

For his soon-to-be ex-teammates at RadioShack, Fuglsang only wishes the best.

“I believe the team is going to stay together, that’s for sure,” he said. “Whether it’s going to be the same management, that’s another point. There is the USADA case with Johan, so we have to see what happens with that.”

On the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong, Fuglsang didn’t hold back, either. Always true to speak his mind, the Dane said it’s not good for anyone, but added that cheaters need to pay if they’re caught.

“In the end, it’s shit for the sport. It doesn’t bring anything good for the sport,” he said. “On one hand, perhaps they should just leave it. On the other hand, I always appreciate that cheaters get caught and that they get a penalty, if it’s now or in five years. At least it sends a signal out that you get caught sooner or later if you fool around and don’t follow the rules. Hopefully that can stop some people from damaging the image of the sport.”