Rumors are flying that Leopard-Trek and RadioShack are poised to fuse their two teams for 2012 under the guidance of Belgian sport director Johan Bruyneel.
Both L’Equipe and La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Bruyneel could take over management of the Leopard-Trek team next season as part of a fusion that would see RadioShack folded into the Luxembourg-backed squad.
Both stories cited sources that a deal is imminent, but there was no official comment from any of the interested parties. Calls to Leopard-Trek team manager Brian Nygaard and sport director Kim Andersen went unanswered Wednesday.
One rider who would not be happy to see the potential joining of forces between Bruyneel and the Schleck brothers is Alberto Contador.
The Spanish grand tour specialist, speaking on Teledeporte during Wednesday’s broadcast of the 11th stage at the Vuelta a España, said “Leopard-Shack” would represent a tough rival.
“The creation of this block wouldn’t be any good for me,” Contador said during the broadcast. “It would be an incredible unit for the grand tours.”
Contador won two Tours de France under Bruyneel, but the pair split acrimoniously with the return of Lance Armstrong to Astana in 2009. Bruyneel backed Armstrong’s bid to win the Tour that year, leaving Contador to struggle against rivals within the Astana team en route to his 2009 Tour victory.
If the Leopard-Shack story proves true, Bruyneel could offer the Schleck brothers some tips on how to beat Contador. Though they were never especially close, Bruyneel still knows Contador well enough to know what his vulnerabilities might be.
Logistically, a merger could prove messy. Bruyneel likes to run his own ship and that would likely mean the departure of many of Leopard-Trek’s existing management team.
Also, with a cap of 30 riders for a ProTour team, some riders would likely have to be shed from the two team’s respective payrolls.
Contador, meanwhile, confirmed he will not race again this season and called the 2011 campaign a “success.”
Contador is also hoping Bjarne Riis can sign more riders to bolster the Saxo Bank-SunGard line up for 2012.
“There are not a lot of riders on the marketplace right now,” Contador said. “Bjarne is working and I hope we can strengthen the team in the coming weeks. I believe we will have a strong team and you have to remember that this year much of the Tour team raced the Giro before, so it was difficult to recover.”
On his ongoing clenbuterol doping case, Contador admitted that the unending drama cost him during the 2011 season. Contador tested positive for clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour, but was cleared by Spanish officials in February to resume racing.
“It can be distracting, but I tried to stay focused on the bike,” he said. “It’s true that at certain moments you have doubts and I didn’t have the same tranquility that I did in other years. You notice it and it wears you down.”
Contador said the Tour de France will remain his top goal for 2012, but first is the matter of his still unresolved case.
A hearing finally has been scheduled for November 21-24 before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. Contador said he will be present.
“I am confident that everything will end up well and closed before the year is out. I would like to go to CAS, apart from all the work, when someone speaks you can reach a lot of conclusions,” Contador said. “The case is in the hands of my lawyers. I have confidence in their work.”
Contador could face up to a two-year ban and the disqualification of his 2010 Tour victory.