By Jeff Jones
Australian Matthew White has become the next rider to be saved from the Sony-Ericsson disaster, landing on his feet back at Johan Bruyneel's Discovery Channel team. White rode for US Postal between 2001 and 2003, but left the team to join his friend Stuart O'Grady at Cofidis, where they enjoyed two successful seasons together. But the pair left the French team at the end of this season, and when the opportunity came up to ride for Giancarlo Ferretti at Sony-Ericsson, it seemed too good to be true.
As it turned out, it was, and both O'Grady and White were among a number of ProTour riders without a contract for next year. O'Grady recently signed for Team CSC, while White will join Discovery Channel, both riders getting 12 month contracts. Although the money won't be as good as what they were on, that all-important spot in a ProTour team will keep the doors open for 2007. What's more, both CSC and Discovery are considered two of the best teams in the world. It's not a bad way to end up from a potentially disastrous contract situation.
Cyclingnews spoke to White in Sydney, not long after he had reached a verbal agreement with Bruyneel for next season. "I left US Postal in good terms," White emphasised of his departure from the team in 2003. "I got on well with everyone, but I was chasing goals that I obviously wasn't achieving, like riding the Tour de France. I was happy to go to Cofidis and ride for Stuey."
When he knew he was leaving Cofidis, Discovery came back into the picture. "I was in contact with Johan in August, tossing up options. I rang him two weeks ago, but he had no money. Then they've had a sponsor change in the last couple of days, with a new one coming in. There was a bit of surplus money and I got a message from him. We started chatting, and we just came up with an agreement.
"I'm pretty happy. Obviously the situation with myself and Stuart was mind-boggling. I was pretty rattled for the last few weeks. You leave Europe with a two year deal with one of the great directors in the sport, and you come back to Australia, switch the phone on and find that it's fallen through. It's been a pretty hard two weeks mentally, especially after having one of my best years. At the end of October, it's a pretty frightening situation to be in. I contacted all the ProTour teams and there was a lot of interest, but it couldn't have come at a worse time. Either they'd filled their last two places on that day or there was no budget left. I didn't really want to go back to a continental team. Three week races suit me better.
"I think I'm the first person to go back to Postal [Discovery] that has previously left. I never had a problem with them; they're a good group of guys. Going from Postal to Cofidis, I appreciated what I had at Postal. The logistics, management...all the little things."
White has no idea of his program for next season, as the deal is not even inked. "For sure I won't be starting in Australia," he said. "I'd like to throw my hand up for the Giro. Whether I do the Tour...? This year I proved I can do both. I'm always good in May. If they need me for July, I'm old enough and strong enough to do two grand tours. If they need me for the classics or whatever, I can do those. That's one thing that Johan knows: I'm a versatile rider."
White is a little disappointed that he couldn't stay with O'Grady. "We certainly worked well as a combination. We tried asking a couple of teams to take us as a pair, but when we realised how bad it was, we had to look after ourselves. Who knows, in 12 months time, we might be back together?"
The Sydneysider certainly doesn't know yet. "I'm happy with it. We'll see how we go. I might finish off my career [with Discovery], I don't know."