After two weeks of rumors, the merger of Team Radio Shack and Leopard Trek was confirmed yesterday evening. As a result, two World Tour squads jammed with talent, egos, and (unfulfilled) expectations will now have to find a way to co-exist as one.
Here are my initial thoughts on the situation:
1. Shouldnâ€™t this have happened a year ago? With Lance Armstrong and Andy Schleckâ€™s long-professed mutual admiration (and shared disdain for Alberto Contador), many of us thought this merger was to take place last season. Had that been the case, jobs might have been spared, races would have been won, and several people would have a lot less eggs on their faces. As it stands now, several ridersâ€”many of whom will likely be from Leopardâ€”will lose their jobs less than a year after taking a big leap of faith and following Brian Nygaard (who at the time had no real managerial experience whatsoever) and the Schlecks to Leopard. No wonder Stuart Oâ€™Grady was so quick to jump ship for GreenEdge.
2. As for Nygaard, I canâ€™t figure out how someone so pivotal in the creation and development of Leopard Trek might now be standing on the outside looking in. Sure, Flavio Beccaâ€™s the owner, but how did Nygaard neglect creating a provision whereby he would be protected should something like this occur? Nygaardâ€™s rumored to be destined for GreenEdge, but you would you trust him? Not sure I would.
3. That said, I have a feeling we can expect big things from the new Radio Shack-Nissan-Trek formation in 2012. The talent was always there, while the leadership and direction were lacking. Johan Bruyneel is a proven champion when it comes to managing a team from both a sporting and a business standpoint. Heâ€™ll certainly ensure that Beccaâ€™s investment is not wasted. Furthermore, proven directors such as Dirk DeMol, Alain Gallopin, and Jose Azevedo will get the most from the teamâ€™s riders, an improvement over Kim Anderson and his colleagues.
4. Of course, Bruyneelâ€™s biggest project will be finding a way to win the Tour de France with Andy Schleck. A master or preparation and reconnaissance, Bruyneel will ensure that no stone is left unturned in getting Andy onto the top step of the Tourâ€™s podium. Is Andy up to the challenge? Without the mental toughness of Armstrong and the all-round talent of Contador, getting Schleck to Paris in yellow will be Bruyneelâ€™s greatest test yet. And with Bruyneel and a core of veterans at his side, there will be no excuses left for the younger Schleck should he fail. Expect 2012 to be the make-or-break year of his still-young career.
5. And speaking of veterans, Iâ€™m curious as to how Chris Horner feels about the merger. Never afraid to speak his mind, I wonder if Chris will accept yet another supporting role at the Tour de France. Then again, Horner will be 40 next seasonâ€”does he have a right to expect more?
6. Lastly, with the collapse of HTC-HighRoad and the fusion of Radio Shack and Leopard Trek, there will be many talented riders hitting the open market perhaps a year or two earlier than they had expected. Look for the smaller teams to benefit the most, as theyâ€™ll be able to sign quality talent as discounted prices. I suspect domestic American and â€œwannabeâ€ global teams like Skil, Vacansoleil, and TeamType1 should benefit the most from the surge in the talent pool. Time will tell.
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