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Mt Hood Classic
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An interview with Johan Bruyneel, December 20, 2004

Part I: Brick by brick

Bruyneel talks about how to build a ProTour team

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Master and tactician: Johan Bruyneel
Photo ©: Jonathan Devich
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With the presentation for the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team coming up in three weeks in Silver Spring, Maryland, team manager Johan Bruyneel can almost relax over the upcoming holiday season, secure in the knowledge that all his hard work over the past year to build prepare the group sportif for entry into the inaugural edition of the UCI ProTour is about to pay off.

Cyclingnews spent some time with Bruyneel to discuss his perception of the final training camp of the now legendary USPS "Blue Train" in Austin, Texas, earlier this month, some of the new faces and new races we'll see from the team, and Bruyneel's take on the current ProTour situation. Here's part one of our interview with the six-time Tour de France-winning sports manager.

Cyclingnews: Johan, we've heard that the recent final team training camp of USPS in Austin, Texas went pretty well. Can you share your perceptions with us?

Johan Bruyneel: I have to say I'm very positive about how things went... usually we only have four or five new riders at camp, but this time there were a lot of new guys; we had nine new riders at camp and perhaps will have another rider coming to round out the roster at 28 riders. So considering all the new people, it went extremely well. It's always unknown how people will fit in to our house style, but the new guys did very well. I heard that some of the newcomers had a very different image of how the team is from the outside.

Some thought it was very strict and cold and only professional... and that is our image in the races; we are professionals and have strict discipline. But some of the new people were surprised by the relaxed atmosphere... a lot of the riders only knew Lance from the Tour, where he is so focused. So it was important that the new riders learn we have our own way to do things. It's good for them to make a smaller step first, in Austin, so that when they get to training camp, they feel at home. After all, the team is about the human relations we have... so besides the riding, it was a good opportunity for me to get to know the new riders better, and vice versa. Plus we all had fun together, we went over the new riders' programs for the 2005 season and so I have a very good feeling about how things went in Austin.

"I don't agree at all with their position... I don't find it very ethical these race organizers have acted this way."

- Bruyneel on the bottleneck the UCI ProTour is facing with the three Grand Tour organizers

CN: Can you tell us about the team's 2005 program yet?

JB: We will start in Qatar in the end of January and also do the Tour of Malaysia [Langkawi]... these are new races for us on the program. Usually we started with Ruta del Sol in Spain or Algarve in Portugal. But with a bigger team this year, we've added new races and more staff. Sometimes in the past, when we've had just two groups, one for the classics and one for the stage races, some riders got left out; they didn't have enough races. But in 2005, we'll have a full program for all the riders.

CN: From the 2004 season and the riders' fitness at the training camp, can you predict which rider will draw first blood and get the first win for the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team?

Max van Heeswijk
Photo ©: Mani Wollner
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JB: (laughs) That's hard... but the first name that comes to me is Max [Van Heeswijk]... he won 13 races this season and was strong last season at the beginning of the year, but it's probably too soon to say anything yet.

CN: Looks like among the new additions that will make up the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team next year, you have some interesting young talent. Can you share your perception of some of these riders with us?

JB: Sure...

CN: What about Leif Hoste? He exploded in the 2004 Spring Classics with great rides in Flanders (2nd) and Paris-Roubaix [12th].

JB: People have seen his talent for a long time; when he was junior, he won the GP Eddy Merckx TT and rode faster than the amateur winner. Then he was pro with Mapei's U23 team and had a difficult start in the pro's. But he showed his talent this season and we jumped at the opportunity to bring him on the team for the classics. Leif will be focusing on classics like Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and Roubaix. He'll be part of the core with George [Hincapie], Max [Van Heeswijk], Eki and Roger Hammond. For the Ardennes classsics, that's where Lance will focus.

CN: So it looks like Lance won't ride the Tour Of Georgia [April 19-24], which conflicts with the Amstel Gold race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège?

JB: No, but the [Discovery Channel Pro Cycling] team is scheduled to participate.

CN: What about your two young Belgian talents, Stijn Devolder and Jurgen van den Broeck?

Jurgen Van Den Broeck
Photo ©: Rob Karman

JB: Devolder will focus on the Classics; we expect him to make a step forward in 2005. Plus he'll ride one major Tour; either the Giro or Vuelta. Van den Broeck is still very young (22 in February), but he did some things in certain races this year that showed his talent. He'll ride some stage races like Tour of the Basque Country to get ready for classics like Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

CN: When we talked in October at the Tour de France presentation, you told me that Ryder Hesjedal was uncertain if he wanted to commit to road riding full time, but now I see he's on your roster.

JB: Ryder decided that he wants to try and ride on the road full-time after focusing on mountain biking. Ryder has the qualities to succeed; he rode on USPS this year and his spring was pretty good, even if he started the year sick. Once he started to mix MTB and road racing, it went a little wrong for him, but that is a difficult combination. But Ryder is very determined and has a strong mind and and physical qualities to succeed.

CN: Johan, can you talk to us about the recent developments in the UCI ProTour?

JB: First of all, I want to say I think the ProTour is a good idea; it is totally in the interest of progress of the sport and deserves to have more support. I think it's very sad that some race organizers like ASO [Tour de France], RCS [Giro d'Italia] and Unipublic [Vuelta a España] have made an issue of this. I don't agree at all with their position. Certainly, I don't mean any offence to these races, but I must say that we are working to implement an ethical code, but I don't find it very ethical these race organizers have acted this way.

I mean, all the teams in the ProTour have been working all year to implement the new requirements to join the ProTour. We've hired more staff, invested in more infrastructure and spent more money to organize our teams. Then we just get the sudden news that these three races don't want to be in the ProTour. Currently we have a new agreement, but it's not ideal. We need to have equal standards and equal treatment for everyone concerned; I know other organizers, like the Tour of Switzerland and Dauphiné Libéré had to do a lot of work to prepare their events for entry into the ProTour.

So I believe that we need an ethical code where all the teams and organizers are held to the same standards. It's good to have a uniform situation; ethics are not just about doping rules, but they apply to business as well. So again, there is no offence meant, but it just has to be said. I'm sure we can all come to an agreement and find a solution that's in the interest of cycling. The teams have all been in favor of the ProTour since the beginning. I'd say that we have to be open to changes... in any case, building a ProTour team has been a very different experience from just creating a Division One pro team. It's much more complicated and expensive...but in the end, the ProTour will put the best riders and best teams into the best races.

Editor's note: Part II will follow shortly after Christmas

See also: November 2004 interview with Johan Bruyneel - Keeping the spirit alive: Confident about Discovery & 2005
Other Talking Cycling Interviews