The morning after the night before for RadioShack-Nissan. It was already close to midnight on Friday when news of the team's decision to part company with manager Johan Bruyneel broke in China, but by the start of the final stage of the Tour of Beijing on Saturday morning, the reaction of RadioShack’s riders had already been coordinated – no comment.
Andy Schleck was widely rumoured to have had a distant rapport with Bruyneel since he took over the reins following the merger of RadioShack and Leopard Trek last winter, but in the shadow of Changping stadium on Saturday, he was carefully holding his counsel.
“I am in China for the Tour of Beijing, I’m not going to talk about Johan Bruyneel,” said Schleck.
The sheer weight of evidence against Bruyneel in USADA’s reasoned decision on the Lance Armstrong case, released on Wednesday, made his position at the team untenable, even if the Belgian claimed that he had “stepped back from his activities to concentrate on his defence.” The 1,000-page dossier features testimony from 26 individuals as well as documentary evidence that points to a systematic doping programme at Bruyneel’s former US Postal Service team.
Sitting outside the team van, Daniele Bennati told Cyclingnews that RadioShack-Nissan’s riders in Beijing had agreed not to make any immediate comment on Bruyneel’s departure.
“We said that we wouldn’t make any comment about the matter,” he explained. “Of course, there was a bit of apprehension. I think that’s normal, but we can’t make any comment about it because they are old stories that don’t involve us.”
Saturday was Bennati’s final race in the colours of RadioShack-Nissan, as the Italian has already agreed a move to Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank for 2013. Bennati signed for the start-up Leopard Trek team in 2011, which merged to become RadioShack-Nissan under Bruyneel’s management ahead of this season.
“I came to Leopard to what should have been a long-term project,” he said. “That didn’t happen and last year there were changes. That said, finding a sponsor in this period isn’t easy. In cycling now you can’t take anything for granted. But I wasn’t unhappy this year or last. RadioShack is still a big team and I hope that the sponsor will continue.”
RadioShack-Nissan’s Jan Bakelants was in the thick of the racing on the last stage of the Tour of Beijing, infiltrating the day’s early break before yielding on the final climb under Ryder Hesjedal’s impetus. On crossing the line, he too was reluctant to speak about Bruyneel.
“Riding my bike is my job and everything that comes around it doesn’t interest me,” Bakelants told Cyclingnews.
By that point, Andy Schleck had already abandoned, the Luxembourger climbing off around 40 kilometres in. “We are building up 2013 and Andy had a good training in China so far, so we decided it was more reasonable not to insist,” explained directeur sportif Jose Azevedo, himself a former rider at US Postal under Bruyneel’s management.
After missing the Tour de France – where his brother Fränk tested positive for Xipamide – due to a fractured pelvis, Schleck was in Beijing simply to begin his preparation for next season. A campaign that will begin with at least one major change.