SCHOTEN, Belgium (VN) — Johan Bruyneel, speaking in his first major interview in years, admitted that he and Lance Armstrong were “too arrogant” during their heyday but were no worse than others in the EPO-era peloton.
The 53-year-old Belgian manager, now serving a 10-year racing ban that he is still contesting, told Belgian daily Het Nieuwsblad that Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service team didn’t invent doping and that it didn’t end with them, either.
“I do know that Lance and our team did not invent the system,” Bruyneel said. “It did not start with us, and it did not end with us.”
“It’s easy to blame Lance and the team for everything that is wrong in cycling,” Bruyneel continued. “I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it.”
Bruyneel sat down with the Belgian daily after being a guest of the Ronde van Vlaanderen last weekend. Armstrong pulled out of a planned Ronde visit, but Bruyneel showed up to ride part of the Flanders course Saturday and then followed the men’s race Sunday.
Now living in London, Bruyneel has largely steered clear of cycling events since the devastating USADA Reasoned Decision blew the lid open on doping within the ranks of the Bruyneel camp. Armstrong eventually was banned for life and stripped of his seven Tour de France crowns.
“We were far too arrogant,” Bruyneel admitted. “It wasn’t intimidation, but arrogance. I took part in that, and that was completely wrong. We made a lot of enemies. But when you in the middle of it, the only thing that counts is the result. I am ashamed now how I behaved in some situations.”
Bruyneel and Armstrong continue to be polarizing figures within cycling six years after the release of the USADA report. Some say the pair abused their power and caused permanent harm to cycling via an elaborate and sophisticated doping program that led to a scandal-tainted seven yellow jerseys. Others say they were no worse than others in what was a very dirty sport, and have been singled out unfairly as scapegoats.
Bruyneel spoke of a wide range of issues in the interview but said he could not speak on certain topics pertaining to his own challenge to his 10-year ban or to an ongoing whistle-blower case involving Armstrong.
“My marriage broke down and I lost a lot of money,” Bruyneel said. “Since the USADA report, I haven’t had any income. I learned who my true friends were, and very few of them are from cycling.
“From the outside, it’s very easy: You get what you deserved,” Bruyneel went on. “The answer is more complex. Lance got his seven Tours taken away, but no one behind him claims the victory. How come? Oscar Pereiro has built a whole business around the fact that he won the 2006 Tour. If you can claim that you are the Tour winner, even if you never stood on the podium, your whole life can change. But nobody does that to [claim] Armstrong’s Tours.”
When asked if U.S. Postal Service was doing anything different than the other teams, Bruyneel countered, “Look at the USADA report. That ‘special’ stuff was not there. There was nothing different [than other teams]. What came out in the Fuentes case [Operation Puerto] was much more astonishing.
“The media shapes the perception, but anyone inside the environment knows how it works. I’m not going to talk about all the details of what happened, but insiders know the real context. And it was not black and white.”
Bruyneel said he apologized to former U.S. Postal Service soigneur Emma O’Reilly, whom was let go from the team, but not to former pro Dave Zabriskie, who claimed Bruyneel pushed him into doping: “That story is complete bullshit. When it comes to Zabriskie and Floyd Landis, my blood boils. I cannot talk about all that. Now they’re both involved with marijuana [Floyd’s of Leadville]. That says it all.”
Bruyneel also revealed that he spoke for two days to officials preparing the UCI-sponsored CIRC report in 2015.
Bruyneel also denied reports that Armstrong used motors, saying, “I knew everything that was going on then. I called all the mechanics. Was there something I didn’t know? Back then, it wouldn’t have been feasible anyway, not with the battery sizes at the time. And there was always someone from the bike company on hand.”
The final question referred to Bruyneel’s Twitter account, which reads, “Proud ex-manager of my dear friend Lance Armstrong, winner of seven Tours de France. No hypocrite.”
“Well, who else won?,” he said. “There is so much hypocrisy. [Bjarne] Riis wins the 1996 Tour, admits he doped, but he can still keep his title. It’s ASO who determines who can keep their wins, and who cannot.”