Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Johan Bruyneel, the Belgian team manager who was lockstep with Lance Armstrong during the Texan’s now-disqualified Tour de France victories, is revealing new details of his long legal fight against anti-doping authorities.
Speaking to veteran journalist Raymond Kerchoffs, Bruyneel cites several new details in an interview about his long-running battle with anti-doping agencies. He revealed that in 2013 he received a plea-bargain offer to reduce a possible ban to one year by an unnamed national anti-doping agency in exchange for information against an unnamed rider.
Bruyneel stopped short of naming names, citing legal reasons, but said he was offered the deal despite admitting he did not have any compromising information to share. The former manager said he worked with the unnamed anti-doping agency only to cut things off, and criticized the legal ambiguity of the rules that anti-doping agencies operate.
“It’s proof that there is no justice with anti-doping agencies,” Bruyneel told Cycling Opinions. “You have rights in all the civil courts, but in sporting law, they can break all the rules, and you have no way to defend yourself.”
Bruyneel, 55, fought in vain against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as part of the larger investigation into doping practices at U.S. Postal Service that also resulted in Armstrong’s lifetime ban. Bruyneel appealed his case, but lost in 2018, and saw an original 10-year ban expanded to a lifetime ban by the Court for Arbitration for Sport on the urging from WADA.
USADA presented its findings as part of its Reasoned Decision, and alleged Armstrong and Bruyneel were key players in what it described as the “most sophisticated, professional and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”
“There’s no question that I should have been banned. I crossed the line as a rider and as a manager,” Bruyneel said. “You get no chance to defend yourself. First, [USADA] did not have jurisdiction. If anyone should have punished me, it should have been the Belgian anti-doping agency, or the UCI. It was obvious that USADA, by any means possible, legal or not, wanted to hang me and Armstrong from the tallest tree.”
Bruyneel also lamented inconsistencies in how some riders and managers end up expelled from cycling, but others are allowed to continue to race or work with teams after admission and bans.
“What is the difference between me and Bjarne Riis?” he said. “He told the Danish anti-doping agency what he did as a rider and as a manager, just as I did. He was banned as the rules determined, but not me. We were both born in the same year, we raced and managed during the same time. Riis can come back to work with his new NTT team this year. He’s been personally welcomed by Tour director Christian Prudhomme and UCI president David Lappartient. I have nothing against that. I think Bjarne is an excellent team manager. And I am also convinced that with his past he can now be more vigilant that any doping culture does not take root in his team. But why is he allowed to continue, and I cannot? Is that justice?”
Bruyneel’s comments come as a new ESPN documentary has put Armstrong and the EPO era back in the spotlight. Like Bruyneel, Armstrong has also questioned the severity of his ban, and challenged the legal tactics of anti-agencies. Many critics believe that Bruyneel and Armstrong deserve their severe penalties, but others, including former nemesis Filippo Simeoni, said it’s “time to turn the page.”
For his part, Bruyneel has largely remained quiet in the past several years as he appealed his ban. Since his sentencing in 2018, he is starting to speak more openly about his view of events. Bruyneel also spoke about his case via an open letter and podcast with Danish academics.
“That [appeal] not only cost me a lot of money, but it completely sucked me empty,” Bruyneel said. “I needed mental and psychological help to recover. The feeling that you are not treated fairly and that the existing rules do not apply to you is very frustrating. Sports justice has nothing to do with a fair trial, be it USADA, WADA, another anti-doping agency, or even the sports tribunal CAS.”
Bruyneel also recounted how he volunteered to help the UCI in 2014 to investigate the EPO era via the cycling federation’s CIRC report, which cost the UCI $3 million to produce. Bruyneel said he offered testimony and details for two days, but pointed out that none of his observations were included in the final report offered by now-former UCI president Brian Cookson.
“I spent hours, hours and hours telling everything,” he said. “All of my experiences as a cyclist for 1987 to 1998, and then my doping practices as a team manager. When the report came out, I did not read a single word of any of my statements. Apparently my story wasn’t interesting. Cookson spent $3 million of the UCI’s money, paid for by all the stakeholders, just as a PR exercise for him. By using this report, he had supposedly investigated the past, so that he could not be judged by it. It had nothing to do with anti-doping or how cycling should continue after this black period.”
Bruyneel said he tried to do his part to help the peloton turn the page on its doping past. He cited 2008 as a pivotal season. Not only was the sport reeling from a series of high-profile doping cases, but the introduction of the biological passport created what he described as a point of inflection for cycling. He said in 2008, when he joined as a manager of the scandal-ridden Astana team, he spent $350,000 on an anti-doping expert to create a series of testing and protocols to prevent the team riders from cheating.
“For me, 2008 is a turning point in anti-doping in cycling,” he said. “The biological passport was introduced in January that year. I joined the team from Discovery Channel with eight riders. The team was coming off the Vinokourov Affaire, so everything had to change. Our policy was much stricter than the UCI’s anti-doping policy. There were many things that the cycling world had learned from.”
As Armstrong and Bruyneel sit on the sidelines with lifetime bans, the seven Tours that Armstrong won remain empty on the official Tour de France winner’s list.