By Andrew Hood
Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel celebrated his 11th grand tour victory from behind the steering wheel of a team car with Alberto Contador’s unlikely Giro d’Italia win Sunday.
Bruyneel answered questions about the team’s anti-doping program and Contador’s unexpected rise; here are excerpts from the press conference:
Question: Can you talk about the team’s work with Damsgaard?
Johan Bruyneel: From the beginning, we decided we would work with (Dr. Rasmus) Damsgaard for the internal anti-doping tests. I looked at all the different programs and that was the best one. I’m even more impressed now that we’ve used it. There are a lot of tests. It’s a lot more extended than the biological passport. I think with what we have, with the anti-doping program and with the performances we’re having at the same time, it says a lot about this team.
We are proving that we are one of the best teams in the world, with great riders and great performances. We brought the knowledge and training systems from Postal Service and Discovery to Astana. The fact that we can be successful with other riders, young riders, that’s one of the biggest satisfactions. Even with one of the strictest internal anti-doping programs says even more. When we were at Postal Service, Discovery, there were a lot of rumors and stories, but there are no secrets. It takes hard work, planning, being serious and working with professionals.
Q: Is cycling cleaning up its act?
JB: I think a lot of things have changed in cycling. The biological passport is in place for all the ProTour teams and the continental teams with wild-card status, which is already a big step forward. It’s a long process. The effect of the biological passport cannot happen from today to tomorrow. We have to have a period to evaluate it. At the end of the day, these measures are good for the champions. The champions who won before are still winning.
That’s proof that there’s no magic potion that can make you go faster. A champion is a champion. The guy who works the hardest, who has the best team, who’s smart and professional will win. I think cycling is one of the cleanest high-endurance sports right now. Before at Postal Service, we were very successful, but there were a lot of suspicions around us.
Now this season, what we are doing today with completely different structure, different riders, we’re still the dominant team right now. If we were in the Tour, we’d have the strongest team. I really don’t see any stricter anti-doping program than ours right now. That’s an answer toward all the critics that we’ve had.
Q: How would you rank Contador’s victory?
JB: It’s very unexpected. As everyone knows, we were informed very late about our participation. I received a phone call from Mr. Zomegnan eight days before the Giro. We were totally unprepared. We didn’t expect it. We had to put our best team together. We did everything in 10 hours. We selected the team, the staff, arranged the travel and tried to get to Sicily as soon as possible. From there, we took it day by day. We didn’t expect anything special.
To win this race is a huge accomplishment, in what’s been a very difficult year for this team, when we’ve had some problems with some organizers. I would rank this victory very, very high, probably No. 3.
Q: How far has Contador come in his progression as a rider?
JB: For me, starting last year when Alberto was at the point of winning the Tour, I said were witnessing the birth of a great rider. We were just beginning to work together. Now you can say we’re in front a new phenomenon like Lance Armstrong. I don’t like to compare riders, but I’ve seen in him things I’ve only seen in Lance, especially what he can do in the mountains.
Alberto has improved a lot in the time trial, too. He’s the best climber in the world and he’s the best time trial trialists among the climbers. That’s an ideal formula to win big tours. If luck stays with him, he can go very far. If he won the Giro at 80 percent, I don’t want to think what he can do at 100 percent. I see a big future, especially when you consider he’s only 25 and Lance won his first Tour at 27.
Q: Contador likes to attack, but he was unable to in the Giro, what does that say about his character?
JB: Alberto definitely is very strong in his head, he’s proved that already. He was not able to attack because he was not in top shape. We raced in a different manner. Once he had the maglia rosa, especially after the Plan de Corones time trial, I was pretty confident that he was going to be able to win the Giro. Normally he would attack in the mountains.
Now he was able to take advantage of the gaps from the time trials and all he had to do was follow the attacks. It was a different style of racing. It was good for his evolution as a rider. Cycling is very unpredictable and you have to be able to react to a lot of different scenarios. That’s part of a way a champion is built. You really have to get familiar with different strategies. I think that Alberto has proven that he’s a very mature rider for his age. He’s able to make decisions without much steering from the car.
In a team statement, Bruyneel also had a few choice words for Tour organizers: “It is often said that actions speak louder than words. Today I hope that the ASO takes firm notice of the actions of the Astana professional cycling team, not just in our victory at the 2008 Giro d’Italia, but also how professionally we have conducted ourselves throughout the entire season.
“This is the proof. We have taken a team of riders and staff and, under the most arduous of situation, won one of the most important bike races in the world. I cannot be prouder of any of them, nor can I understand why we cannot be allowed to defend our title in the Tour de France. Alberto Contador is our champion, and he is supported by an amazing group of people. This is a victory for the ages, and we will continue to build upon it – that you can be sure of.”