The Shack men
The Shack men at the Tour of California. Bruyneel is second from the right.

For RadioShack team director Johan Bruyneel, “We Might As Well Win” — the title of his 2008 book — has given way to a more relaxed attitude.

Shortly before last month’s Amgen Tour of California, and the Floyd Landis doping allegations that altered the mood of the race and put Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong on the defensive, the Belgian team manager uttered a string of words which would have seemed wholly out of character just a few years ago: “We don’t have to win (the Tour).”

It was a stark departure from the Bruyneel of years past — a change in approach that reflects both the realities of today’s peloton as well as Bruyneel’s evolving motivations.

Bruyneel still has utmost faith in Armstrong, and believes he can win this year’s Tour. But winning, he says, will not be as easy as it once was. “The chance of winning the Tour is a lot smaller than that of losing the Tour,” he said recently. “If you look at Andy Schleck and (Alberto) Contador, first and second last year, they are probably the two best bike riders in the world right now.”

“If everything goes the normal way, you have to say that it’s very difficult for Contador to lose,” he said later. “That’s not only against Andy, that’s against everybody.”

And that fact doesn’t bother Bruyneel too much. After all, heading into the 2010 season he had another year on his contract with Astana and could have chosen to stay with the team, and Contador, for another year. His opting out, and stepping away from his best chance to win another Tour, points to the real inspiration for his move to RadioShack

“The fact that I moved from Astana to Radioshack has to do with my motivation and my passion … I was with probably the best rider in the world with Alberto, but my passion and motivation to be back with Lance was a lot bigger,” Bruyneel said. “We don’t have to win. Out of 10 times participating in the Tour de France, in 11 years, we won nine times. Honestly, there is nothing else I can do to do better. If I win it 10 times or 11 times, that’s not going to change a lot. “

Bruyneel does not pretend that his desire to stay with Armstrong was the only motivation for cutting short his contract with Astana. Power struggles within the team itself manifested early, and often, in 2009. Combined with Astana’s financial issues, it is unsurprising that Bruyneel wanted to jump ship.

“Astana never felt like it was my team,” he said. “I was running the team, but it was never my team … to me, from day one, it has always felt like the team of Vinokourov.”

And this was during Vino’s suspension; the fireworks upon his return may have been spectacular.

On Contador — and Vinokourov

Despite the well-documented feud between Contador and Armstrong last summer, Bruyneel and Contador remain on relatively good terms. On a flight from this year’s Critérium International, Contador took an open seat next to Bruyneel.

“The seat next to me was free, and he came to sit next to me. He came over. I guess he wanted to talk about something.”

The two chatted throughout the trip. “It was nice. He said he was really happy with the team, and the way things went (at Critérium International), and the teammates … He talked about his allergies.”

Questioned about the conversation, Bruyneel insisted that the relationship between himself and Contador “is fine.”

With their relationship apparently intact, and the likely re-retirement of Armstrong in the next few years, whether or not Contador could ever ride for Bruyneel again is up for debate. Bruyneel did not provide any solid answers, and in fact seemed more hesitant to predict his own future than that of Contador.

“I don’t know. Who knows what happens in the future. We’re not on fighting terms or anything like that, we’re just rivals. First I would have to decide for myself how long I’m still going to do this, and I have not answered that question yet.”

Bruyneel does not believe that Contador will have any problems at Astana, even with Vinokourov back on the team and racing well. “It’s not (Contador’s) team. It’s Vinokourov’s team,” Bruyneel said. “Still, I think there’s a big possibility that (Contador) stays at Astana in the future.”

When asked about possible problems of dual-leadership between Contador and Vinokourov, he downplayed them as well. “I think (Vinokourov) is realistic enough… at the Tour de France, he’s going to be full at the service of Contador … For him, it feels so much like his team, that if they can win the Tour, it’s his team that wins the Tour. That will be a lot better than him being fifth or sixth.”