Behind the yellow Tour de France curtains there's a battle going on between Johan Bruyneel, the Belgian manager of the Astana team from Lance Armstrong, and fellow Belgian Michel Wuyts, the iconic commentator of the Flemish sports channel Sporza. As a result Bruyneel and his Astana team are currently boycotting all Sporza journalists at the Tour de France by not allowing individual interviews.
The row came to the surface on Wednesday evening when Sporza showed footage of Lance Armstrong being asked by the team's PR-manager Philippe Maertens to ignore its journalist at the finish line in Perpignan. Armstrong didn't seem to know what was going on and said, “but these are your compatriots,” and eventually walked away.
Bruyneel explained on Thursday through his blog in the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad that Sporza wasn't the problem but their cycling commentator Michel Wuyts. According to Bruyneel, the commentator has always been negative in comments towards him, the Discovery Channel team, the Astana team and Lance Armstrong.
A sharp column written by Wuyts in a local sports magazine at the start of this year's cycling season could've been the straw that broke the camel's back. Bruyneel reposted the column (in Dutch) on his personal website and guided his followers to this post through Twitter.
The column describes the comeback from Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France in a cynical style as a show in which Armstrong rode a day ahead of the others to be in the spotlight. 'The Boss' was followed in the car by a beaming Bruyneel, 21 days in the spotlight shouldn't be taken away from a 100% honest and simple Flemish boy.
Armstrong – with lone star and longhorn - finally won on the Ventoux. The rest of the peloton, the credible riders, rode the next day in all anonimity but according to the rules. At the back of the bunch a boy who once had a sharp look in his eyes is struggling, Alberto Contador's climbers legs are now fragile spokes.
Aside from his fictitional column, it's hard to judge whether Wuyts possesses a completely negative attitude towards Bruyneel and all he has been linked during the past decade. For sure the journalist hasn't kept his quiet about the doping speculations surrounding Armstrong or the arrogance he feels surrounds the team led by Bruyneel. Yet on other occasions Wuyts also heralded Bruyneel and his riders.
The Sporza channel reacted on Thursday, saying that it regretted the situation and said it was willing to discuss the situation with Bruyneel. During the live coverage of stage six Wuyts didn't talk about the row although he did refer to it once while talking about Cofidis' DS Alain Deloeuil who had a hard time pronunciation Route du Sud winner Przemyslaw Niemec' name and then turned it into Njemek. “It's good that there is at least one DS with a sense of humor,” Wuyts said.
When going through the comments about the boycot in the Flemish media there are mixed emotions. Interesting to read is that some people are referring to the fact that Astana's PR manager Philippe Maertens is also working for Sporza's rival channel VTM.
It is clear that nobody is winning with this situation. The biggest loser will be the normally spoiled Flemish Sporza TV-spectators who're missing out on original Astana comments as four of the team's riders are featuring in the current top-5 of the Tour de France.