"He will stay. He was pretty sure about that. He had offers from many teams throughout the Giro, but he said: 'You always treated me good. I had my chances, even when Cadel left the team. You gave me the program which I wanted, so you're in pole position.' So we signed him."
- Omega Pharma Lotto team principal Marc Sergeant,
talking to me about Matthew Lloyd prior to the start of the fifth stage
of the 2010 Tour de France (Lloyd had recently signed
a two-year contract extension)
The irony isn't lost on me: a Matthew helping another Matthew, and that White, a former sports director of Garmin-CervÃ©lo who only three months prior lost his own job in unusual circumstances, is offering to help Lloyd, who was fired last Friday by Omega Pharma-Lotto for reasons yet to be known.
In some four months, we've now had three Australians who have experienced early termination of their contracts in Trent Lowe, Matthew White and now Matthew Lloyd.
Strange times, indeed. In the time I've worked in the sport as a journalist, now more than a decade-long, I can't recall another period when a spate of dismissals for reasons not entirely clear to me has occurred, even though in the case of White and Lowe, we have heard both sides of the coin.
After more than a month of investigation but no clear resolution, you can read my story of Lowe, White and their former employer Slipstream Sports this week on Cycling Central. Since the case has not been heard in court Ã¢â¬â though in the case of Lowe v Slipstream Sports has been threatened, but as far as I'm aware no writ has been issued Ã¢â¬â or via arbitration by any tribunal Ã¢â¬â again, as far as I'm aware Ã¢â¬â I present the facts as I see them, then let you decide.
Now to the curious case of Matthew Lloyd.
Since Lloyd is not talking publicly about the circumstances surrounding his dismissal, other than to tell AAP's Roger Vaughan that, "I've obviously gone through a stage in January and February that was difficult", I can only work off what I know and what's been communicated so far by his former team, which, for me, left more questions than answers.
Concerning Omega Pharma-Lotto's press release, I already noted an error in the second paragraph which said: "Recent incidents during the first races disputed in 2011 by Matthew for our team made this collaboration impossible."
Lloyd, as far I can tell, only rode one race Ã¢â¬â the Tour of the Basque Country (Vuelta al PaÃs Vasco) Ã¢â¬â from 4-9 April this month, although he did not start the final stage time trial. Prior to that he was 70th overall among 134 riders; unsurprising given that it was his first race since the Tour of Lombardy last year, held on October 16, which he did not finish but his then Belgian team-mate Philippe Gilbert won for a second time.
Semantic it may be but if an "incident" did occur during a race, then by the unflinching power of logic, it could only have happened at the Tour of Basque Country.
The press release also said the incident was connected to Lloyd's behaviour and the team "follow a policy of zero tolerance of which we cannot divert". So again by the power of reasoning, whatever took place was justifiably serious to warrant swift expulsion from Omega Pharma-Lotto, without any recourse for compromise.
A certain picture...
While I don't confess to knowing Lloyd particularly well, I have a certain picture in my mind established: a guy who enjoys his own company; like many highly successful athletes singularly focused and as a result finds it difficult when things don't go his way, such as incurring injury; someone quite nervous around people he doesn't know well, such as the majority of the media; and refreshingly honest Ã¢â¬â he calls a spade a spade, which, in the over-scrutinised world he lives in, can sometimes work against him.
And if you have read any of his diary entries on his Web site, Matthew Lloyd is someone prone to talk in riddles.
Take his last entry , dated 30 March, to which he titled 'Open the Gate!':
"Of late, subconscious elements have crept in slowly and steadily leading to a bogus phase of being so eager to be involved mixed with the slow process of recovery we cannot be 100% sure the first race will be of the highest quality, but thankfully the people surrounding me have blessed me with the confidence to once again feel the heat around the corner. Not to mention a brilliant team who've given me the opportunity to once again step it up a notch in order to remain directly driven towards the event I anticipate the most: the Giro d'Italia. If I've been bleeding in places you can't see, and feeling the effects of doors being locked, I've called the people who change the locks, and the gate is openÃ¢â¬¦ All I have to do is 'open the gate'.
Many people say 'don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to feel the ramifications around the corner'. But this corner (as twisted as it may have been) is behind me, and I refuse to look behind as my character fails to let me do so, particularly disliking the place I was sitting in. So I'll face the consequences I've attached myself with through the assistance of particular and fattest crew of understanding people of these lifestyle changes. As we amble out of the neutral zone in the race to come, these elements will unquestionably bring about an inner centre-punch I have never felt beforeÃ¢â¬¦ And before long, I'll be in the module that has brought me so much love and enjoyment!"
I'm no psychologist, but Lloyd's mind clearly had demons swirling from the period 21 December last year (in a crash in his home city of Melbourne, he fractured his humerus in his shoulder and compressed several vertebrae, requiring a three-hour operation and over two months' rehab) till the time he pinned on a number at the Tour of Basque Country, little more than a week ago.
It is also obvious he respects (or perhaps given recent events, respected) his team enormously Ã¢â¬â calling them "brilliant" and praising team management for having the foresight and courage to accept what was still his major season objective, which of course was the Giro. And from what Marc Sergeant told me at the Tour de France last year, the feeling was very much mutual.
A tale of two races?
For relations to have broken down so rapidly in the past fortnight or so between Lloyd and Omega Pharma-Lotto, something very grave must've happened.
As the team noted, "this has nothing to do with the use of forbidden products". But it must have been a close second.
Let me refer you to Article 8 of a standard rider's contract, as per UCI regulations, Section 2:
ARTICLE 8 - Termination of the contract
Without prejudice to the legislation governing the present contract, it may be terminated before expiry, in the following cases and on the following conditions:
2. The Team may terminate the present contract, without notice or liability for compensation, in the event of serious misconduct on the part of the Rider or of the suspension of the Rider under the terms of the UCI regulations for the remaining duration of the present contract. Serious misconduct is considered to include refusal to ride cycle races, despite being repeatedly called on to do so by the Team. If need be, the Rider shall be required to prove that he was in no state to compete in a race.
For me, the key points here are "serious misconduct on the part of the rider" and that, "Serious misconduct is considered to include refusal to ride cycle races, despite being repeatedly called on to do so by the team."
I'll now go back to part of Lloyd's 30 March diary entry I didn't include, which reads: "As some people have come to notice (including myself), the Tour of Catalunya in Spain was in a word: participation-less. I'm not going to try and smash everyone's eyeballs in with different physical and mental reasons trying to justify why I didn't race, but it wasn't happening."
It could be the plural form of 'race' that the team used in its 14 April statement was correct, after all.
Did Omega Pharma-Lotto begin to lose patience with Lloyd's recovery, repeatedly asking that he participate in the Tour of Catalonia, held from March 22-28, and he refused?
If that was indeed the case (which it may not), why did the team not dismiss him straightaway, instead of put him in the Basque Country tour and then sack him? And why did they wait six days after that race finished to do so?
As I've said there are still more questions than answers. And for Omega Pharma-Lotto to say "we also want to respect Matthew's privacy" is a more a hospital pass than gesture of goodwill.
Any prospective employer on Lloyd's radar will want to know the exact circumstances that precipitated his untimely dismissal before even considering hiring him Ã¢â¬â and to ensure they are viewed in the correct light, they will need to communicate as much to the public.