Rotten riders, acrimonious teams, one-hit wonders: as the transfer window opens, we look at professional cycling's nightmare team moves.
Luc Leblanc and Le Groupement, 1995
A pyramid-selling company sponsoring a cycling team - what could possibly go wrong? That’s probably what world champion Luc Leblanc (above, with Felice Gimondi) thought when he signed a three-year deal. When Le Groupement caved in weeks before the’95 Tour, it compounded an annus horribilis of nerves, team uncertainty and DNFs for the Frenchman. Robert Millar, Ronan Pensec and Jean-Paul Van Poppel were also left high and dry.
Joseba Beloki and Brioches la Boulangère, 2004
Looking for a new home after returning from a broken femur, Beloki’s pick of this parochial, average French team was akin to leaving Manchester United for Wigan Athletic. “I’m sure a lot of people thought [us signing him] was a joke,” team boss Jean-Rene Bernaudeau said at the time. Soon, neither party was laughing: three-time Tour podium finisher Beloki barely got round a race and struggled with the French team culture, departing in June in discord over cortico-steroid use for his asthma.
José Antonio Pecharromán and Quick Step, 2004
Patrick Lefevere probably still wakes up in cold sweats over this expensive dud. This unknown’s golden month, smashing all and sundry at the Euskal Bizikleta and Volta a Catalunya in 2003, convinced the Quick Step head honcho that he’d found a future stage-racing star. He allegedly paid Pecharromán €600,000 for two years (about thirty times his previous salary), fending off US Postal and Rabobank. Pecharromán didn’t trouble the top ten again and was banned for doping in 2007.
Stephen Roche and Fagor, 1988-89
After a year where he equalled Merckx’s Giro-Tour-Worlds triple crown, Roche’s recurring knee problem scuppered a repeat in 1988. A subsequent snafu was that all the riders the Irishman had personally recruited to Fagor to assist his efforts were also left rudderless. Off the bike, the relationship between riders and Fagor team management was toxic, with riders striking.
Mark Cavendish and Team Sky, 2012
Take the world champion and fastest sprinter in cycling, give him a malfunctioning lead-out train and a derisory lone domestique at the Tour de France. Cavendish won three stages in that year's race, virtually in spite of his team, and was soon gratefully bought out of his contract by Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
Paolo Savoldelli and Telekom, 2003-04
Supposedly the replacement for Jan Ullrich, a crash with a motorbike in 2003 was just the first incident in a period where “Il Falco” spent more time in hospital than he did wearing the magenta kit. Fittingly, Savoldelli refound himself with Discovery Channel, winning the 2005 Giro
Dietrich Thurau and Puch-Sem, 1980
Only 25, Thurau was on the cusp of greatness when he joined Puch-Sem: he had already won Liège-Bastogne-Liège and wowed at the Tour. But this move signalled the beginning of his rapid downturn, as he quit the Giro and Tour and argued with authoritarian team director Jean de Gribaldy.
Igor Astarloa and Cofidis, 2004
Cofidis probably couldn’t believe their luck when Astarloa won the world championship road race in Hamilton, weeks after agreeing a deal with them. It didn't hold: the team suspended themselves due to a wave of doping investigations, weeks before his favoured Ardennes Classics. Astarloa upped and left to Lampre but barely won another race again.
José Rujano and Quick Step, 2006
Patrick Lefevere’s abortive relationship with impetuous, flash-in-the-pan Spanish-speaking climbers continued. Rujano joined in a drawn-out move a year after being the Giro’s sensation. A year past his expiry date, as it turned out: he was tawdry at the Tour and made a winter exit.
Ben Swift and Team Sky, 2010
You’d expect two super-teams to get all loud and litigious over an established champion, not a man whose only professional win had come in downtown Yeovil. The saga between Katusha, who wanted him to stick to his two-year contract, and his British suitors, was eventually resolved, and the Yorkshireman narrowly avoided a year in the Siberian gulag (or, even worse, being picked for crummy races like the Tour of Poland).