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RUMILLY, France (VN) — The news of Alberto Contador signing a deal to return to Saxo Bank after his doping ban ends spread through the cycling world today. And while the news contradicted the popular rumor of the week, team bosses like Johan Bruyneel and Jim Ochowicz were not surprised by the Spaniard’s move.
Contador agreed to a deal that links him to the Danish team through 2015. He won’t return to racing until his retroactive two-year doping ban ends in early August, but will watch this year’s Tour de France with attention. Contador has officially won the race two times, losing his 2010 title to Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) as part of the ban.
RadioShack’s team manager, Johan Bruyneel guided Contador to his first Tour de France win. In fact, the Saxo Bank press release alluded to him today, reading: “A lot of speculations and rumors have surrounded Alberto Contador and his future.”
The rumors were that Andy and his brother Fränk were unhappy with Bruyneel running their team and that they were trying to re-join with their former team manager, Bjarne Riis. Riis, the 1996 Tour winner, signed Contador at the end of 2010 after the Schlecks announced they were leaving to form Luxembourg’s first top team.
The rumors continued that Bruyneel wanted to sign Contador to replace the Schlecks, who have had a difficult start to the season.
“I’ve read it,” Bruyneel told VeloNews of the rumors. “I don’t know if the Schlecks have been taking to Riis, but I’ve not been talking to Contador. We still have a good relationship, but we have a team and contracts [with the Schlecks] in place until 2014. We have sponsors who are committed. The rumors were rumors, at least [as far as] I’m concerned, there was no substance.”
Five days into what has been a difficult and disappointing Critérium du Dauphiné, Schleck spoke to journalists at the same time. He finished in a 23-man group, 13:59 behind stage winner Arthur Vichot (FDJ-BigMat) on Friday. But next month, Schleck will try to beat Sky’s Dauphiné leader Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and others to win the Tour de France. Wiggins’ top sports director, Sean Yates also helped direct Contador for one year, in 2008 with Astana.
“I heard the rumors, but obviously, with the tally he commands, his options are limited,” Yates told VeloNews. “If Saxo Bank wants to continue at the highest level, then they need a big rider. We’ve seen this year they’ve been suffering badly from a lack of a leader. Alberto is the guy to fill that spot.”
Contador was also rumored to be talking to Spanish squad Movistar.
“We know that in Spain there’s a crisis, like the rest of the world,” Yates said. “Alberto commands a big salary and they already have big riders.”
“I don’t think it’s a surprise,” BMC Racing’s general manager Jim Ochowicz told VeloNews. “He went there for good intentions in the first place. What changed was what happened before he signed.”
Bruyneel said that Riis needs to reinforce his team for 2013 to support Contador’s chances in the grand tours. The nine-time Tour de France-winning director said that Riis now needs to sign riders to work alongside Contador’s key companions Sergio Paulinho, Jesús Hernández and Daniel Navarro.
“If you have a multi-year plan, then that’s a good start, but there needs to be a little more support,” Bruyneel added. “With his palmarès, he needs a team around him.”