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Monday’s EuroFile: Management shakeup at Phonak

Phonak cycling team officials announced Monday that manager Urs Freuler and director Alvaro Pino have been replaced by Belgian John Lelangue, an employee of the Amaury Sport Organization, which promotes the Tour de France. After a tumultuous season, in which three of Phonak’s top stars were charged with doping violations and the team excluded from the upcoming UCI ProTour, team owner Andy Rihs announced that the employment contracts of Freuler and Pino “were terminated by mutual agreement.” "The team's owner Andy Rihs has decided ... to install a new management at the heart of the Phonak

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John Lelangue - seen here before the prologue of the 2004 Tour de France - has been named as the new general m ...

John Lelangue – seen here before the prologue of the 2004 Tour de France – has been named as the new general m …

Photo: AFP (file photo)

Phonak cycling team officials announced Monday that manager Urs Freuler and director Alvaro Pino have been replaced by Belgian John Lelangue, an employee of the Amaury Sport Organization, which promotes the Tour de France.

After a tumultuous season, in which three of Phonak’s top stars were charged with doping violations and the team excluded from the upcoming UCI ProTour, team owner Andy Rihs announced that the employment contracts of Freuler and Pino “were terminated by mutual agreement.”

“The team’s owner Andy Rihs has decided … to install a new management at the heart of the Phonak team that will guide it to a more sure future, crowned by success and based on ethical values,” Phonak said.

In a press release issued on Monday, Rihs said he was “convinced that in John Lelangue an ideal fit could be found for the position of team manager.”

“I have known John Lelangue for several years,” Rihs continued. “He makes sure the team will quickly get more international attention, respect, and recognition.”

The 34-year-old Lelangue, a former manager at Merckx cycles, was an employee of the Belgian Olympic Committee before signing on as a spokesman for the Societé du Tour de France in 1994. He held that post until 1998 and since has moved up the ASO hierarchy, most recently holding the post of deputy competition director.

Lelangue’s ASO connections are seen as an indication that Phonak intends to pursue its hope of securing a wild-card spot in this year’s Tour de France, despite its exclusion from the UCI ProTour for the coming year. Rihs has also publicly expressed a goal of securing a ProTour license in 2006.

Lelangue said that he believes that he can help change the direction of a team thought to be one of the world’s top teams until this past summer, when a series of doping allegations rocked the squad.

First, former world road champion Oscar Camenzind tested positive for EPO. After admitting taking the drug, he promptly retired from the sport. Then in September, team officials announced that Olympic time trial gold medalist Tyler Hamilton had tested positive for blood doping at both the Athens Olympics and the Vuelta a España. News of Hamilton’s positive was soon followed by a report that his teammate, Santiago Perez, had also tested positive for the same infraction. Both riders are disputing the test results.

Without commenting on the two pending cases, Lelangue said he already has a lot to work with and fully expects the team to be a major factor in the peloton in the future.

“I am taking over a team that is among international cycling’s absolute top teams in terms of riders, organization and financial background.” he said. “After 10 years with the Tour de France I very much look forward to this challenge.” Lelangue’s first task is to hire a new director sportif, who is expected to be introduced at the team’s training camp in Mallorca later this month.

Lelangue added that Phonak would sign the new ProTour Ethical Code, even though it has not been issued a 2005 ProTour license.