To avoid a collision, the most successful U.S. Tour racer veered off-road, careening downhill through fields before rejoining the peloton — and winning the race.
As rain fell on Gap last July, the manager who oversaw Armstrong’s unprecedented and unmatched 1999-to-2005 winning streak was trying to bring another messy race day to a close.
Johan Bruyneel had lost four team members to crashes or illness. He shepherded the remaining five, exhausted, into the RadioShack team bus for massages and food.
Tempers were fraying. Bruyneel bristled when a reporter brought up a sore subject: the relatively paltry sums the teams get from Amaury Sport Organization, owned by a family that has run the Tour since 1947.
The 50,000 euros or so his team would be getting from ASO wouldn’t even cover expenses for hotels, meals and gasoline, said the Belgian Bruyneel, then 46.
‘Take a stand’
Bruyneel said the time had come for the riders, the stars of the show, to get a bigger chunk of ASO’s television revenue.
“You have to take a stand at some point,” he said. “It’s normal that someone who gets the biggest part of the cake doesn’t want to share it, but the riders and the teams are the key players.”
As cyclists geared up for the start of this year’s Tour on June 30, the rebellion that stirred in Gap last year has built against ASO, which owns the Tour and the Criterium du Dauphine and Paris-Nice events in France and has a 49 percent stake in the Vuelta a España, Spain’s biggest bike race.
ASO is a unit of Editions Philippe Amaury, whose chairman, a 71-year-old widow named Marie-Odile Amaury, is the little-known grande dame of the most prestigious cycling event in the world. Amaury, who has run Editions since her husband, Philippe, died of cancer at age 66 in 2006, faces assaults on her family’s dominance of the Tour from two fronts.
Managers of some race teams — including those sponsored by RadioShack and Garmin — have become increasingly outspoken in their pursuit of ASO’s money.
The teams want a share of the TV rights, as well as more of a say in the management of the sport, says Jonathan Vaughters, president of the teams association, known by its French acronym, AIGCP.
Vaughters says cycling’s competition model should be brought in line with team sports that spread the winnings around, such as the NFL and English soccer’s Premier League.
Under the current system, ASO hands 450,000 euros to the winning Tour rider, who traditionally shares it equally among his eight teammates. Riders get an additional 3 million euros or so in prize money spread out over the Tour.
A second challenge to ASO comes from an upstart championship format called World Series Cycling.