By Shane Stokes
Long-existing tensions within Team Barloworld finally came to a head this week with the news that directeur sportif John Robertson and his Euro Cycling Promotions setup have lost the managerial position within the Continental Pro team.
Robertson was involved with the squad for several years, securing the Barloworld sponsorship in 2002 with a view to pursuing the long-term goal of taking a South African team to the Tour de France. Since then the squad has showcased some of the best talent from the country, with one of the big highlights being Ryan Cox’s victory in this year’s Tour de Langkawi. However, despite this win, some solid victories in Europe and the signing of former world road race champion Igor Astarloa to the 2005 lineup, the team were unable to secure their medium-term ambition of riding this year’s Giro d’Italia or that of moving closer to ProTour status.
Tensions are known to have existed within the team for some time, due in part to the different management styles of the South African and Italian elements of Team Barloworld. A clear language barrier was also in evidence when Cyclingnews visited the team training camp in Pescara in January. Now, it appears that the Italian wing of the squad has won the internal power struggle, with former world amateur champion Claudio Corti being appointed to head up a new management team which replaces Robertson’s Euro Cycling Promotions.
Robertson was due to speak to Cyclingnews about the matter this week but has been unable to be contacted for comment. However, in an earlier email he stated that he was "really angry with the situation, and the way middle management at Barloworld have handled the team and staff."
Robertson told the South African press this week that he had signed an agreement with the sponsors in August, but that they failed to provide guarantees on October 31. This is contradicted by the official team release, which stated that "the change in management has come about after Barloworld and Euro Cycling Promotions (ECP), the current management team, could not reach agreement on the new 2006 sponsorship contract. Barloworld, who are committed to support cycling have therefore decided to create their own team and management company with Mr Claudio Corti as team manager who will select the riders and support staff for 2006."
Corti competed as a professional in the 70s and 80s. He was a former world amateur title holder and twice Italian champion. Since his retirement from competition, he has been involved in the running of a number of big teams, including Lampre-Caffita, Team Saeco, Polti and Chateau d'Ax.
According to Chris Fisher, head of corporate marketing at Barloworld, the sponsors are fully behind the new structure. "Barloworld is totally committed to the new team and will ensure that the team has the best possible management structure and infrastructure to support it as it goes forward into another exciting year of cycling."
It is as yet unclear as to how this change in management will affect the future composition of the team. When the professional squad was founded, it was seen as a vehicle to ensure the development of South African cycling at the highest level, with Tour de France participation the ultimate goal. And while riders such as Cox will be part of the 2006 lineup, it seems that over time the team is becoming a more multinational one than was initially envisaged, with riders from many different countries likely to be part of the as-yet unfinalised roster for next season.
An angry Robertson suggests that more changes are in store, with some of the "team’s most loyal riders" likely to be dropped. He also claims that he is owed money by the team after personally covering a shortfall in budget.
It is not yet known if he is considering further action on the matter, or indeed what his plans are for next year. Meanwhile, Team Barloworld have stated that they will shortly be announcing the 2006 lineup and race programme.