The 39-year-old Guercilena, who was a directeur sportif at the team for the past two years, oversaw his first training camp as manager in Luxembourg this week after taking over the reins from Johan Bruyneel during the off-season.
Bruyneel took over as manager last year following the merger of the RadioShack and Leopard Trek teams but he departed in October in the wake of USADA’s reasoned decision on the Lance Armstrong case, which detailed his management of the systematic doping programme in place at the US Postal team.
Schleck endured a trying 2012, compounded by the fractured pelvis that ruled him out of the Tour de France and his brother Fränk’s positive test for Xipamide at the race.
“He needs to take pleasure in the bike again,” Guercilena told Le Quotidien. “This year, for different reasons, that wasn’t the case and that’s normal, I think. Fränk and Andy always had the feeling of losing something with the merger. [Team backer] Flavio Becca and Johan Bruyneel’s idea was to improve the team but psychologically, those who had been there for the creation of the team had the sense of losing something.”
Guercilena said that Schleck would again target the Ardennes Classics and Tour de France, and that the team would be built around him in July. “It will be up to him to make the big effort, so as to find the inner-strength to make use of his great talent and find his level again,” he said.
According to Guercilena, Schleck will ride the Tour Down Under, Tour Mediterranéen, Tour de Haut-Var, Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of the Basque Country as preparation for the Classics, although his pre-Tour de France build-up is yet to be established.
In 2012, Bruyneel opted to put the two Schleck brothers on separate race programmes, much to their chagrin. While Guercilena could understand the logic behind the move, he said that he would select Fränk for the Tour de France should he manage to avoid suspension for his Xipamide positive.
“The idea of having a different programme isn’t bad in itself for certain races and that might even benefit Fränk in some circumstances because he’s also a rider capable of winning big races,” Guercilena said. “But for the big objective of a season like the Tour de France, you can’t lose a guy like Fränk from Andy’s side. I don’t consider them as brothers but as two guys with great strengths in the mountains.”
Guercilena gave his support to Fränk Schleck’s claims that he had not knowingly used the diuretic Xipamide and expressed his hope that the Luxembourger might avoid a sanction.
“I think we’re talking about a contamination, I’m convinced of that. I’m certain that he is right and respects the rules,” Guercilena said. “I hope that he won’t be suspended or at least that it won’t be a big suspension.”
Taking over from Bruyneel
Bruyneel’s heavy implication in the Lance Armstrong affair overshadowed his season at the helm of RadioShack-Nissan and the Belgian was finally replaced as manager in October. Rather than look for a big name manager from outside, chief backer Flavio Becca opted to recruit internally, selecting Guercilena, who was previously a coach and directeur sportif at Mapei Espoirs and QuickStep.
“I can’t hide that I had a good experience with Johan Bruyneel,” Guercilena said. “I worked for 10 months with him and I recognised his qualities as a manager. He had his problems, we know what they are. He couldn’t stay in the job in those conditions. Mr. Becca decided to change and to put in place some new ideas. We can’t change the history of a team but we can improve it by adopting another vision. That’s Mr. Becca’s idea.”
Becca’s “new vision” involves a greater emphasis on young talent but the sporting directors from 2012 all remain on board, with Kim Anderson, formerly number two to Bjarne Riis, and Bruyneel’s long-term collaborators Dirk Demol, Alain Gallopin and José Azevedo dividing responsibilities. Josu Larrazabal has also been recruited from Euskaltel-Euskadi as coach. “Josu has studied in Italy and has a lot of international experience,” Guercilena said.
Speaking to Cyclingnews earlier in the week, Fabian Cancellara expressed his wish that Guercilena continues to work closely on a one-to-one basis with the riders in spite of his new role as manager, and the Italian said that was his intention.
“I have an agreement with Mr. Becca and I’m going to work with the riders. I think that’s important. If you only do office work and you’re away from the races, it’s difficult to understand how to improve the team.”