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The turmoil that has affected the Liberty Seguros team this season has increased with the announcement on Tuesday evening by Manuel Pi¤era that he is quitting management company that owns the team. Pi¤era, president of the Active Bay that owns the team and one of the most widely respected businessmen within cycling, made the decision "without there being the least possibility of going back on it".
Although Pi¤era refused to explain the reasons behind his decision, the Spanish press has reported in recent days that he had wanted Liberty Seguros directeur sportif Manolo Saiz to move into a more managerial role within the team, a move which it seems Saiz has refused to accept.
"I am going because there are things happening that I'm not in agreement with and that I can't change, even as president of the team and the majority share holder in the [Active Bay] company. There are clauses in the contract that prevent me from taking action," said Pi¤era, who is one of Spain's wealthiest people and has a long-time interest in cycling through his previous ownership of the DYC distillery in Madrid.
Pi¤era has made made clear, most notably following the positive test for Roberto Heras at this year's Vuelta, that he does not believe that responsibility for positive tests rests solely with the rider. On previous occasions he has said that other team members such as the director, the doctor and even the president should resign in such cases. Asked if his resignation was related to this philosophy, he responded: "Of course."
Active Bay have yet to take any action against any other member of the Liberty Seguros team following the Heras furore. Pi¤era was believed to have been pushing for Saiz to be moved upstairs into a more hands-off role, with a new director being brought in to direct the team on the road. It now seems this won't happen, although former ONCE pro Neil Stephens is being linked with a possible move into a director's role at Liberty.
Pi¤era owns 56% of the shares in Active Bay, while Saiz and team manager Pablo Anton share the other 44%. Pi¤era said he would sell the shares, with Saiz and Anton the most likely purchasers.
Pi¤era played a crucial part in persuading Liberty Seguros into taking ONCE's place as the main sponsor of Saiz's highly successful team three years ago. There was some good news for the team, though, as Pi¤era stated "the sponsorship will continue. I am convinced that we have the best roster of riders in the world."
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