Bullish on Discovery Channel's Tour chances
By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Strasbourg
Cyclingnews caught up with Discovery Channel's sports manager Johan Bruyneel after his team returned from the Tour de France medical checks at the Tour HQ in Strasbourg. Rumours were flying and we asked Bruyneel for his take on the situation with Operacion Puerto. "Definitely what has happened in Spain (with Operacion Puerto) is probably the biggest doping scandal in cycling and maybe even in sports ever," explained Bruyneel. "Much more than the Festina affair in 1998. And everyday, people are aware as it becomes bigger and bigger and it's definitely damaging the sport of cycling. There's been a lot of damage done already but it's getting so big that cycling is losing credibility. When people like the UCI, teams, our sponsors who are not implicated (in Operacion Puerto) start to have the impression that this is damaging their image, that is something else. That's a serious problem for cycling. It's a big deal."
We also asked Bruyneel what his team sponsors were saying to him about the current doping scandal and his frank reply was that "they know that the Discovery Channel team doesn't have anyone involved in this...but at the same time, I think it would be very difficult to start negotiations with a new sponsor for any team. Obviously for teams directly involved, but like with iShares, there was no reason for them to not sponsor (Phonak).
"I don't know exactly the situation is there, but it's bad for everybody. And it's not good that certain teams might go out of the Tour and others might not. It should either be all or nothing. All the information (from Operacion Puerto) needs to be acted on. I don't think we can start the Tour de France with those kind of doubts and uncertainty. It's bad for the riders and there's already enough suspicion around. No one, not the riders, or the media or the the fans will be able to focus on the race. I don't think the Tour De France needs this and I hope their will be something resolved soon for everybody's sake."
As for how the tumultuous situation was affecting his Discovery Channel riders as they embarked on their first Lance-less Tour De France, Bruyneel was far more optimistic. "We've got a good vibe; the guys are motivated and they've all been preparing for the Tour for a long time knowing that Lance won't be here. The team atmosphere is relaxed; everybody is in good spirits and we're going to go out in this year and take every opportunity we can get. It won't be in the past like with Lance; we're interested in it all...stage wins, sending someone in a break, team classification. Everything that's in front of us and we have a shot at it, we're going to go for it and try to get it. It's a logical choice that we make an about face in our tactics as we have a different ballgame now. So I am confident that the team is good, that we have some very strong guys and that we're going to be an important factor in this year's Tour De France."
April 2, 2009 - Valverde indignant over possible suspension
April 1, 2009 - Valverde: Italy requests two-year suspension
March 13, 2009 - Le Monde newspaper hit with fine over Puerto allegations
March 2, 2009 - WADA president Fahey asks for Puerto evidence
February 24, 2009 - Spanish federation seeks access to Puerto blood bags
February 20, 2009 - CONI considers Valverde case while UCI awaits verdict
February 19, 2009 - Valverde under criminal investigation
February 11, 2009 - Valverde summonsed for Operación Puerto in Italy
February 8, 2009 - Eight charged in Operación Puerto