Frankie Andreu has told Cyclingnews that he has no concerns over managing Francisco Mancebo as part of the 5-hour Energy/Kenda Racing Team. The team was formed through a merger of the Kenda/5-hour Energy squad run by Inferno Racing and On the Rivet Management's Competitive Cyclist team. Andreu had formerly managed the Kenda squad, while Mancebo rode for the Competitive Cyclist team and won the National Racing Calendar (NRC) in 2012.
The match of Andreu with Mancebo raised eyebrows when the merger of the two squads was announced last month. The Spaniard was linked to Operación Puerto in 2006 and was prevented from riding the Tour de France that year. He retired that season and escaped a suspension, but he returned to professional cycling within a matter of months and despite never returning to the WorldTour level, he has been a consistent presence on the US domestic racing scene.
Andreu, who admitted to taking EPO during his career and testified against Lance Armstrong as part of USADA's investigation into doping at US Postal, has reformed his reputation as a team director with a zero-tolerance stance against doping and as an advocate of clean sport. The merger of the two squads brings together Andreu's stance with a rider who has never been sanctioned for his own links to Puerto.
"On the Rivet were able to bring over riders and I was able to bring over my riders too," Andreu said when discussing the merger. "They've had a strict anti-doping policy that I support and when I get there I'll make sure we're all on the same page."
"I know what Mancebo's done in the US in terms of racing results but that's because that's where I've been directing. He's been strong here, sometimes riding liking Superman, but other times he's been vulnerable. He's been up and down. The other thing I know was that he was fourth in the Tour de France . I don't remember him from when I was racing and the first I really became aware of him was when he got fourth in the Tour. I paid more attention though since he's been in the US.
"I know that there's the association of his name with the Puerto documents but I don't know enough about how direct that link is or when his name was mentioned in the documents. I don't know. It's not like I've researched the guy. He's been with On The Rivet for three years and now he's part of the one squad that we're bringing together.”
Andreu added that he'd had several discussions about issues that needed raising with the formation of the new team, including the stance on anti-doping. However, he added that following meetings with the team's owners, he had no concerns about working with Mancebo in 2013.
"No. I don't. I don't have any concerns of him riding now. I’ve spoken at length to the On The Rivet guys and I've brought up my concerns and they've addressed them in a way that I thought was correct. They understood my concerns and were all on board with what I had to say about running a clean team for everybody. It's not just about Mancebo, it's about all the riders. I don't want to single him out, it's the same for everyone. I trust that On the Rivet were doing the correct things since he's been racing for them in the US. The most I can do is have a conversation and follow these guys around and say it's this way or the high way. And it's in all the contracts, too, which most teams have now. There's no tolerance, so if you do anything you're going to be fired.
"There weren't really concerns but his name was associated with Puerto and so I wanted to address that and if they've had conversations with him about his past. I need to learn a little about his past and talk to him about his past."
Make or break
The new squad will hold its first training camp next month in Georgia and will follow this up with a team presentation. It's a make-or-break year for the new team though. Both former teams missed out on several important invitations to the biggest races on the US calendar and Andreu admits that another repeat of those circumstances could harm the sponsorship situation.
"At the moment I'm trying to find some races in March. We'll be focussing on the NRC that Mancebo won that last year. We'll try and repeat that with him or one of the other guys on the team. I have some really strong, talented guys on the team this year. Our main emphasis is to try and get the invitations to the main races that we've missed out on in the last couple of years. California, Colorado and Utah, that's everything for the sponsors and it's been proven in the past that if you don't get into those races, the sponsors aren't happy and they're not too willing to stick around.
"If we don't get into the bigger UCI races, I think this will be a make or break year for sure. These big races have so much power and control, and I feel for them because it's a hard selection, but you have to share that selection process with other teams."