Pat McQuaid has defended the reputation of Leopard-Trek’s team directeur Kim Andersen, reaffirming that he is 100 per cent behind the new squad that is captained by the Schleck brothers and Fabian Cancellara.
Andersen left Bjarne Riis's Saxo Bank-SunGard team last year after it emerged Andersen was working on the Luxembourg team with Brian Nygaard. He tested positive twice as a rider, which under current laws would have ended in a life-time ban from the sport.
Nygaard and many of his Leopard-Trek riders have sung Andersen’s praises, and McQuaid, who attended the team launch in Luxembourg last week, also added his support.
“He’s already answered several times in relation to his past and present and his future. Yes he was positive as a rider but so was Bjarne Riis [ed - Riis never tested positive but admitted to doping]. They still do good work now. Kim has every right to earn a living and be involved in cycling as he does good work,” McQuaid told Cyclingnews.
“I’ve never heard any rumours and all I’ve heard about him as a team directeur has been very good and I don’t want to use the word positive but it's very encouraging that he’s a very good sports directeur so I’ll leave it at that.”
McQuaid also echoed Nygaard’s sentiments that cycling had become too immersed in doping stories and scandals and that a move towards concentrating on the sporting achievements and racing would be in the best interests for the sport and its fans.
McQuaid suggested that sections of the media focus far too much on doping, often looking for scandal and speculation where none exists.
“Andersen was positive in a different time with different rules and different standards. You can go too far and try and look for something that’s not there and a lot of media go too far looking for something that’s not there. He’s worked with several teams over the past several years and there’s never been any inclination that he’s been involved in anything to do with doping.”
“It’s not that simple to go and find guys that can manage teams and motivate riders. There are not too many around and he’s got a proven ability in that. The reputation he has a team directeur is second to none.”
“There are certain sections of the media that go too far and are only interested in sensationalising stories and Nygaard was correct in saying that we need to bring it back to the cycling. Let the authorities to do their work and support them and allow the riders to races.”
Nygaard and Andersen certainly have the firepower at their disposal to showcase success on the road. Along with the Schleck brothers, who will both head towards this year’s Tour de France as potential winners, they have signed four-time time trial world champion Fabian Cancellara. The Swiss rider was one of the stand-out performers of last season, winning from March until September. A number of other shrewd signings mean that Leopard-Trek head into the new season as the number one ranked team in the world.
“I’m not so sure if they’re the most powerful team in the world though. They’re the number one ranking because of the sporting level of the riders but in terms of riding a bike race in the peloton I wouldn’t rate them any higher than many other teams,” McQuaid told Cyclingnews.
Globalisation or nationalisation?
Last week’s presentation in Luxembourg City – which 4,000 fans attended – demonstrated the growing popularity that both the Schlecks but also Luxembourg cycling has gained in recent years.
While the UCI has worked on globalising the sport, bringing races new territories, a recent spate of teams with strong national identities have also sprung up, with Leopard joining Sky, Astana, Euskaltel and probably an Australian team, with strong national identities.
“It’s surprised me that it’s gone this way,” McQuaid told Cyclingnews.
“It’s not anything we set out to do or anything like that. But as you get more stars coming from different countries, then the possibility of what happened with the Schlecks and the Luxembourg team is more likely to happen because they’ve got a lot of strong riders. It might happen with a Japanese team in the next couple of years.”
“It’s not something that’s necessarily inevitable but it’s not something that’s good or bad. Globalisation is bringing in more teams from a more diverse array of nations and that’s a good thing.”
Saiz to return?
McQuaid also commented on the possible return of controversial Spanish directeur sportif Manolo Saiz. The former ONCE and Liberty Seguros team boss left the sport after being arrested in conjunction with Operacion Puerto. Although no formal charges were ever raised he was seen as a key individual in training methods and techniques during the 1990s and early 2000s.
“I haven’t heard anything at all. Everyone has the right to earn a living but whether he’d be welcome or not is another story. It’s not something I’d like to comment on. It’s all hypothetical.”