Rihs: 'I considered quitting'

Phonak boss Andy Rihs says he was close to pulling his company out of cycling last year, but now bel

PICTURE BY TDWSPORT.COM Speaking to Marca during his team's pre-season training camp in Majorca, Phonak company boss Andy Rihs has admitted that he considered pulling out the sport completely after the International Cycling Union turned down the team's ProTour application. "This was a team conceived for the ProTour and for the great races - the Tour, Giro and Vuelta," said Rihs. "Now it is like putting Real Madrid in the second division." Rihs continued: "I thought about quitting completely, but I thought about things a bit more and realised that this was a well-conceived team, well structured and organised, containing a great deal of quality, and for that reason I decided to continue." Speaking of the decision to release the team's former management chiefs Urs Freuler and Alvaro Pino in the wake of three positive dope tests by key Phonak riders and the subsequent loss of a ProTour place, Rihs commented: "The major tours let it be known that we had to make changes to our image and present ourselves almost as a new team. "I've got nothing against Pino, whose work I'm grateful for, but I couldn't allow this job to finish in this way after all these years. I don't make the rules of the game and we had to change our image. It hasn't been agreeable but it was necessary." Rihs acknowledged that Phonka have not been guaranteed places in the major tours, but he had been assured by Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc that nothing now stands in the way of the Swiss team getting a Tour wild card place. That decision is set to be taken by the end of the month. Rihs said it was crucial for his team to gain selection for the Tour because it gets 60% of its cycling profile from that one event. And despite recent setbacks, Rihs still sees his company's involvement with cycling as being of very positive value. Explaining that the main reason he is in cycling is because of the high publicity yield his company gains from the exposure, Rihs explained just how valuable this has been. "When we began in cycling only 3% of the Swiss population were aware of us, now 45% are. In France and Germany, for example, we were completely unknown and now 16% of people know us." Not all bad news then. But then again. In an interview with Galician newspaper El Faro de Vigo, Oscar Pereiro, 10th at last year's Tour, said he is very unhappy with Phonak's recent changes. "When everything seemed to have been resolved, then Pino resigned. I felt very let down by that and lost the desire to train that I've had in previous years." Pereiro and his Spanish team-mates, plus Frenchman Nicolas Jalabert, felt that the original press release announcing Pino's departure cast unfair doubts on the moral conduct of the Spanish team manager. They met with Phonak's management to discuss these issues and to ask for the chance to send out a release of their own that backed Pino. This request seems to have been turned down. Pereiro also said that he felt personally let down because Pino would have let him take it steadily through the early part of the season and focus on the Tour. Now he is unsure what his programme might be, and has considered moving on. In fact, said Pereiro, if Pino's departure had been announced during the team's December training camp, several of the team's riders would have left the team.

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