Patrick Lefevere, the Omega Pharma-Quick Step manager, has hinted that cycling's recent doping headlines may have put him off signing a Grand Tour contender. The Belgian team boss spoke at the launch of his 2013 team, and against a backdrop of news dominated not only by the Lance Armstrong saga but decades of institutionalised doping.
Lefevere is certainly not immune to signing controversial figures. Although he won a lawsuit against Het Laatste Nieuws in 2007 after allegations of doping were laid at his feet, the Belgian has worked with the likes of Richard Virenque and Johan Musseuw in the past.
At the team's presentation in Gent, Lefevere talked about the firepower his team now posses, especially in the one day ranks. "We're one of the best teams in the world and our ambition is to become the best team in the world," he told Cyclingnews.
However, the team lacks a genuine three-week leader. In 2012 they rode with Levi Leipheimer in that capacity, and although he faltered in the Tour de France, he was still planning on leading the team in 2013. That situation changed when he was fired by the team for his involvement and testimony in USADA's investigation into doping at US Postal. Leipheimer was instantly dismissed and his vacancy was not replaced by a like-for-like rider. Lefevere has already made no secret of the fact that he has no regrets over firing the American but today he stressed that the history and subject of doping was not an issue that should be placed on one rider.
"It's not just about Levi. Unfortunately for cycling the past gives me reason as to why I didn't take GC riders. I think has a lot has happened in the last year and I hope for cycling that the future more beautiful than the past," he told Cyclingnews.
"I think if you look back at the general classification of the three big tours and you look to the crosses next to the names, it speaks for itself."
Cyclingnews pointed out that a number of one day stars, including Belgians, had also been embroiled in doping.
"Yeah, you look at the past but today is the first day of the rest of our lives, especially for cycling. We have to leave the past. Maybe that's hard to do in your eyes but the major case of Armstrong this week was from 1999-2005. Puerto was before 2006.
"You can't forget the past, you have to learn from the past, but people make mistakes and they'll make them in the future. Lets hope that in the future they are small ones."
Lefevere has stated that he was unaware of Leipheimer's past when he signed him in good faith at the end of 2011. However, if that was the case, he should have been more aware. In 2004 he talked to Floyd Landis's agent about a possible move from US Postal. In the end the move came to nothing and Landis opted for Phonak. He later tested positive at the Tour, with Lefevere saying that legal action should be brought against the rider. Even when Landis lifted the lid on the culture of doping in 2010, Leipheimer was still seen as a safe bet. In Lefevere's defence it is virtually impossible to run a team without any links to past doping and he has been savvy in the market, signing the excellent Brian Holm and Rolf Aldag as directors.
"If you're a professional manager of a big cycling team you talk to 180 managers a year, good riders, and less good riders. With Landis I spoke to his manager but just like I spoke to others. I spoke to the manager of Stefen Shumacher too and I signed him on the Friday and on the Monday morning he turned positive. The UCI could have phoned me on Friday and told me."