By Gregor Brown
Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere, facing an emotionally charged separation with reigning World Champion Paolo Bettini, defended his decisions on Thursday. The pair will part ways at the season's end after ten years together when contract negotiations fell through. Bettini was angered that Lefevere signed German Stefan Schumacher, a rider with similar skills as the Italian, but who is seven years younger and in need of a team after his Gerolsteiner squad failed to secure a new sponsor. He ended the negotiations on Thursday.
Lefevere and Bettini have been at odds over a contract extension for 2009 for much of the summer. Bettini, who was going to retire at the end of the season, decided to race another year, but Lefevere felt that Bettini's price was too high and said the Italian had refused to budge on his demands.
"You can't say that Schumacher costs the same money as Bettini, it is totally different. His [Bettini - ed.] remarks are not even correct," Lefevere said to Cyclingnews Thursday.
Lefevere explained that Bettini knew of his budget concerns, and emphasized that he did not choose Schumacher over Bettini. "I already said it in August; I said I am still in negotiation with two guys. Because I signed Schumacher did not mean I did not want Bettini, but is not the same price and it is very different. I am the manager. I am the guy who has to bring the good news and especially the bad news."
The two did not see eye to eye in contract negotiations. "I was speaking with Paolo at the Giro [d'Italia] and then I was speaking with him at the [Tour de] Wallonie. I said, 'I have too much respect for you, I am in a difficult position, and you know I have less money.' I asked him to make a proposition to me. If he says '100' and then says '98' it is not a real proposition It is not cooperation."
The duo joined forces with the Mapei squad ten years ago and their run seems to now have come to an end. "It was a great ten years and a good period for me," said Lefevere. "In the last six years, he brought me a lot of wins." Despite winning back to back World Championships, Bettini's number of victories has declined in the past two years, and before stage 12 of the Vuelta on Thursday, he had only three wins this year.
"I think that often riders forget that they are paid for this," Lefevere underscored. "It is a similar story for football in Belgium; they say they don't have respect when they are not renewed."
Bettini, however, felt differently. "It would be normal that after the ten years I represented the team that I would get an extension. But I understand that the market is difficult," said the Italian. "I am disappointed to find out in mid-September that they are not counting on me."