Leopard-Trek are due to merge with RadioShack to form yet another ‘superteam’ in the world of pro cycling. While it’s exciting times for all the major players in the merger such as Johan Bruyneel and the Schleck brothers, many riders are being left in the lurch.
Consider RadioShack rider Fumiyuki Beppu’s coy tweet on the day that the merger was announced:
They Don’t Care About Us”..Music By Michael Jackson
Beppu was not one of the riders announced in the press release who will be making the move from RadioShack to the new hybrid team.
Another rider left to sort out his future is Philip Deignan, who had this to say in an interview with cyclingnews.com, who I hope will forgive me for the extensive quote:
We’re all pretty shocked about it… It wasn’t something that we were expecting. We know that it was strange that there were no signings in August… So we were expecting changes but I don’t think anyone was expecting the team to stop. We’re shocked and disappointed that the management have left it this late to tell everyone about it.
We haven’t heard from them and we’ve not had any explanation. We’re all pretty disappointed. We had no explanation but the obvious reason seems down to money. But the riders are in the dark the whole time, we’re the last ones to know about these things.
I’ve had a really bad season. I had an injury and viral infection all season…We’re all just trying to cope as best we can. We’re all trying to stay focused but it’s difficult. A lot of the staff here have families and mortgages and there’s over 50 people involved.
What is the most depressing thing about these quotes from Deignan is that these comments weren’t made in the wake of the Leopard-Trek/RadioShack merger. These comments were made almost exactly a year ago when it was announced that Deignan’s Cervelo Test Team would cease to be and would eventually ‘merge’ with Garmin-Transitions to form the ‘superteam’ Garmin-Cervelo. Deignan was not made a part of that merger and was left to find a team for himself and ended up at RadioShack for the year.
Yes, this is the second year in a row that Deignan has had to deal with the same shit. But this year could be far worse for the man from Donegal.
Teams need riders with UCI points in order to ensure that the accumulation of their rider’s points places the team in the top 17 in the world on the points scale. This is to ensure that the team qualifies for a ProTeam license. Riders keep their points with them for the results of the previous two years, so it’s not just this year’s results that are taken into account when determining next year’s Pro Teams, the results from the previous year are also still attributed to the riders in the form of these precious UCI points.
This time last year, Deignan could still rely on his results from the 2009 Vuelta (a stage win and ninth overall) in order to sell himself as an attractive rider (with plenty of UCI points) to potential suitors.
But another year has passed, and now Deignan is forced to deal with the same situation but without the comfort of those UCI points.
His comments in the cyclingnews article that he “had a really bad season. I had an injury and viral infection all season” also pretty much apply to this year. The past two years have been torrid for Deignan with no real results of note. He currently has no UCI points.
So although Deignan has proven he can perform in a Grand Tour, perform domestique duties and is an excellent rider to have in a team, the way the UCI system works means that on paper, Deignan is now essentially worthless.
The Leopard-Trek and RadioShack press releases announcing this upcoming merger contain phrases such as:
a further milestone in the development of this exciting young project
the bright future of our athletes
a great milestone for our team and our global sport
our sponsors’ continuing commitment
will dominate cycling for years to come
I’m sure all the riders and staff that have been left without jobs find this spoon-fed PR shite as nauseating as the rest of us.
This is not a merger. It is a cull. And the fact that it is being dressed up as a triumph for cycling is insulting to cycling fans. But most of all, it is insulting to all the riders who will now struggle to earn a living next year in the sport that they love because of the gross mismanagement of that sport.
Deignan also hasn’t been helped by Radioshack’s emphasis on the US races (understandable given their sponsor). The races where he has performed best (in a domestique role) – Colorado etc – wold largely have been ignored by the majority of the European peleton. However if Ag2R are signing riders of the ‘calibre’ of Jimmy Casper, there is still hope he can find a home (if he regains any sort of fitness)
Your comments about the teams management and sponsors/owners are a little unfair surely ? In all environments companies are cutting back or merging. Cycling is not a high profile sport, and these people aren’t running charities. If they don’t get bang for their buck, then why should they continue to prop up a team ? Nobody wants to see good riders high and dry, but then again a good rider should have no problem finding a team to take him. In Deignan’s case, he has no results or performances to speak of for 2 years as you point out, and he himself admits. Why should we expect that a pro team would employ him ? Because he’s Irish ? Unfortunately the cycling world is discovering like the rest of us that budgets are being squeezed everywhere, and if you can’t make a good contribution to the team, you’re a drain on the finances.
Good article Cillian. I personally don’t see that the recent mergers are either wrong or right. As a fan of the sport, I would like to see as many teams as we have been used to, but the 2 recent mergers are an example of life as we have come to know it since 2008 and new economic realities. As ever with UCI it does seem that riders are the last concern, particularly those at the domestique end of the stick. However, there is an opportunity now for continental teams to use their commercial nouse and sign the likes of Deignan as part of a growth strategy, a bit like Wolves to use a football parallel.
I hope and think that Deignan will be ok to get a semi decent team somewhere. He had a better season than he credits himself with considering he might have been under- raced early season. But I do get the point that chasing breaks and shielding Leiphimer carries zero UCI points and as the teams scramble for top 18 status he has a challenge. It’s frustrating cause I don’t think he got a fair crack at Radioshack. Take AG2R, all riders get a chance at securing results. Perhaps they may rehire him if they secure top 18 status in time.
@John – Yes, definitely an issue. Hopefully any potential employers will take his decent performances in those races into account.
@LVC – Sure, companies are cutting back or merging. But this is not a merger. This is a team folding, and another team offering to employ many but certainly not all of their staff. And yet, the team is trying to dress this ‘merger’ up as a good thing for cycling. It isn’t.
As for Deignan’s performances. As I said, he’s had two years hampered by injury and illness. Perhaps this is an indication that he is prone and unreliable, fair enough. But on the flipside, perhaps he has just been unfortunate, and next year, with his full health he could produce excellent results. But the UCI’s rules has encouraged potential employers to look at a rider’s points instead of their actual ability and potential performances.
This whole issue of points again comes down to cycling’s quirk that it is a team sport where victories belong to individuals. The riders who chase down breakaways, shepherd their leaders to the foot of big climbs, provide leadouts for sprinters and fetch bottles from the car – the UCI don’t attribute points for any of these things. Points are only awarded for the order in which you cross the line. The current system trivialises all the work and effort that goes into a strong team performance – work and effort carried out by individuals who must suppress their own ambitions for the good of the team. Where’s the justice in that? Where’s the incentive for domestiques to these things anymore when the UCI literally values them as worthless.
You say “if you can’t make a good contribution to the team, you’re a drain on the finances”. Should a good contribution to the team be judged solely on points?
@David – He could definitely do worse than a return to AG2R. Would be nice to see himself and Roche on the same team eh? I hope he gets sorted soon.
The response to LVC regarding an overemphasis on individual points to determine a rider’s “value” brought to mind something I continue to see coming out of JV’s Garmin-Cervelo project (unfortunately, sans Deignan). They win Team Classifications, intentionally and repeatedly. An adjustment to add a few evenly distributed individual points for Team Classification wins would help the domestiques accrue some currency. Is that too obvious? This would make sense for multi-day stage races, but perhaps this requires recognizing a new category for best-placed team in the single day races. It doesn’t seem too complicated when compared to the mystery you deftly unraveled regarding UCI’s Worlds selection criteria…
Just a thought on a related topic: if I were a commercial manager of a team and in need of an extra significant sponsor, I would be high-tailing it down to Mercedes and saying ‘come over to us’. With the surge in quality German riders you could sweeten the deal for them. Amazing how Leopard mismanaged that one!
I’m also amazed how HTC couldn’t secure a major sponsor, as one of the best performing teams and all! Sponsoring pro cycling is good value, it’s a long season, usually two team ensembles competing in different parts of the world, and it’s a low salary sport. Consider the €100mil spent on the final transfer day of the premiership. In cycling terms you could buy 10 peletons for that if you took an avg wage of €50k @ 200 riders for ease of math. For essentially European wide exposure, it is a wonder Aldi and Lidl aren’t active at such bargain basement prices! Sorry for digressing and rambling a bit but there are a few issues connected in the super team formation era.
I would think that this might be actually an opportunity for Deignan to reconstruct his career. He is a big talent and he has had little opportunity since the beginning to really prove what he capable of. Radio Shack could not have been good for him anyway, in terms of his own development and why he didn’t get a ride at Slipstream last year beats me. I’m sure he will find a team and it may be a step back but it could be just what he needs, to start from scratch and get a chance to rise to the top of his game. He has a lot more than one Grand Tour stage win in him, lets hope he now has lovely Irish luck he also deserves at this point.