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The man behind the wheel: A VeloNews Q&A with Johan Bruyneel

Lance Armstrong has been quick to point out that while he holds the record for the greatest number of overall victories by any rider at the Tour de France, Johan Bruyneel has the best winning average of any directeur sportif in the history of the race, having started his career as a director in 1999, when Armstrong earned the first of his six consecutive Tour wins. He’s been the man behind the wheel of the team car ever since. Six-for-six. Indeed, the 41-year-old Belgian was the first to believe Armstrong could win the Tour and the pair has been inseparable in their passion, focus and, some

By Andrew Hood

Bruyneel and Armstrong at the Dauphiné

Photo: AFP

Lance Armstrong has been quick to point out that while he holds the record for the greatest number of overall victories by any rider at the Tour de France, Johan Bruyneel has the best winning average of any directeur sportif in the history of the race, having started his career as a director in 1999, when Armstrong earned the first of his six consecutive Tour wins. He’s been the man behind the wheel of the team car ever since. Six-for-six.

Indeed, the 41-year-old Belgian was the first to believe Armstrong could win the Tour and the pair has been inseparable in their passion, focus and, some say, obsession with the Tour.

VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood caught up with Bruyneel at the Dauphiné Libéré as he contemplates life beyond Armstrong. Here are excerpts from the interview:

VeloNews: So far, so good for Lance at the Dauphiné?Johan Bruyneel: We wanted to do two big tests and both of them went pretty well, the time trial and Ventoux. The Ventoux was the ideal climb because you knew that everyone would come together at the bottom of the climb. It’s been a difficult climb for him in his career, he’s had some trouble with the climb. It was good, but it had never been great. It was one of the best climbs he did in the Dauphiné on the Ventoux.

VN: There’s been a lot speculation on Armstrong’s condition, his performance must be encouraging?JB: It was important. He really didn’t know he was going to be. You can say you feel good in the training, but if you don’t get into the race and see how you are against the competition, you really don’t know. It’s been good for him also that he was able to ride well for those two days. It’s been a long time for him without a long time trial.

VN: There was talk that he was a little behind in his form, was that true?JB: It has taken longer to decide the plan. Normally we were in the first of December, we knew already what the calendar would be. This year we waited until the end of January. At the beginning he was definitely behind. He was not good at Paris-Nice, but when he got to the month of May and June, that doesn’t count anymore. The training that he was doing; now it seems like it’s like all the other years now.

VN: Would you prefer that Lance race another year or was it a good decision to retire this year?JB: I’m happy with the decision. I think it’s good that he can make a decision to go for the Tour, because he wouldn’t have made a decision if he couldn’t get ready, it’s a wise decision. We’ll see the result, but no matter what, if he wins or loses, it’s been good. We cannot ask anything else.

VN: Have you been nostalgic at all, realizing that Armstrong’s racing days are almost finished?JB: It’s special, but even before the announcement, you know it’s going to happen and you start to prepare for that. Things don’t last forever. For me, it’s an important period coming now. We went through a lot of things together and Lance got became over the past seven years one of the greatest champions in cycling and I was able to be with him, work with him and be close to him and contribute to his evolution.”

VN: What about signing some new riders? Is the team shopping for a big name to replace Armstrong?JB: Every year you take some new guys, now it’s very quiet for us at the moment. I think we have a great team, even without Lance we’ve been doing great. I won’t go desperately after another guy. It’s something that just has to happen. There has to be a big interest from another guy who wants to come to the team.

VN: The team has won the Giro this year, Armstrong will be the favorite for the Tour, what about the Vuelta?JB: I don’t worry the Vuelta, that’s too far away. We’ll have a strong team. Not a real leader, but the plan right now is to go with Azevedo, Beltran, Rubiera, Noval and Danielson. That’s our five guys and we see how we fill up the team.