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Discovery Channel press conference, July 11, 2005
On the first rest day in Grenoble, just hours away before the first real mountain stage of the 2005 Tour de France, Discovery's master tactician Johan Bruyneel sat down to a press meeting that was understandably packed to the rafters. The man behind the wheel of six successful Tours de France talked about the week so far, what's driving Lance, the maillot jaune, Lance's legacy and the rest of the contenders. Anthony Tan was there for Cyclingnews.
Q: Johan, it seems like Lance has a different mindset in this year's Tour. He seems a little more relaxed - has his mindset changed in this year's Tour after making a record sixth win, and is it affecting his racing at all?
Johan Bruyneel: He's definitely relaxed, but that doesn't mean he's less focused or less motivated. I think the only pressure he has in this year's Tour is the pressure is puts on himself. Last year, nobody had been able to win six and all the big ones had failed, so there was a lot of pressure; this year, it was himself who wanted to be here and when he decided to be here, he didn't come to be second. But I can feel he's more relaxed.
Q: What are the things that motivated him this year that he didn't have in the past?
JB: Well, I think the biggest motivation is that he wants to win and that he's a champion and doesn't want to lose. I think all the champions are like that, and it's certainly the case this year. I repeat that the fact that he decided to do another Tour is his biggest motivation; once he took that decision, he completely changed his mind and his focus and really started training very seriously.
What else motivates him? He always finds motivation in little things, like the things you guys say sometimes...
Q: Such as?
JB: Such as he won't win this year. And one of the big motivations is the fact that his three children will come to the final three or four days of the Tour, and I know that he wouldn't like for his kids not to see him in the yellow jersey.
Q: Does it mean that there's no other race in the world that motivates him?
JB: That's what I've always said. When there were questions as to whether he would do the Tour or wouldn't and whether he would do a season without it and do other races, I couldn't see a season for him without the Tour de France. The last six years have been exclusively around the Tour de France, and he's a completely different rider in the Tour than other races - and it all has to do with motivation and focus. For me, when he finally made a decision to come to the Tour, that was the best.
Q: Have you noticed any difference in the other teams' approach towards Lance and towards the other teams?
JB: Maybe... there's a lot of teams who are ready, but what we've seen until now is one part of the Tour and the difficult stages start tomorrow, so we will know more tomorrow. I don't know; I see T-Mobile, CSC, Liberty - they're all up there - and tomorrow is the first stage when we will see exactly how everybody is.
Q: How has the reduction in the number of mountain-top finishes affected your strategy for the mountains?
JB: Mmm... I don't really think about that. The Tour is always hard, regardless of the number of mountain-top finishes. The mountain-top finishes are hard, but there are other stages that aren't mountain-top finishes that can have a big difference, so the tactics don't really change.
Q: The last week is very tough, so how do you keep everybody fresh?
JB: Well, we're going to know more after Pla A'det. Pla A'det is the last mountain-top finish and it's a very hard stage, so I think we will know there who's going to win the Tour; or if it's close, I don't know - maybe it's going to come down to the last time trial... Who knows, but the last week is very hard, and also the concentration of the mountain stages is very difficult - there's six mountain stages in seven days, so I think that's unique.
Q: If you could have given the jersey up before yesterday, would that have suited you more?
JB: Yes. But it didn't happen. We tried to let a break go, but the other teams decided they didn't want to; if you have the jersey and whether you want to or not, you always have to work a little bit more than you would like to. That proves you cannot decide on the tactics of the race or change the race, because it depends on the behaviour of the other riders.
Q: If you get the jersey again, could you see a scenario where you would give it up again?
JB: Once you get into the real mountains, there's not so many riders that can take the jersey after that and if you gave it away, it would be to somebody dangerous. So if some team has the jersey after one or two mountains, they want to defend it, and we are no exception.
Q: It was said before the race that Lance wanted to wear the jersey from Noirmoutier to Paris...
JB: That information didn't come from us. Maybe it was a comment from somebody else, but I think that's almost impossible. You cannot control a race for three weeks without having to pay for it.
Q: Lance said he came to the Tour with a list of maybe 10 riders that he wanted to watch, and that list would change every day. Can you tell us some of the riders who would be on the top of that list?
JB: It's difficult... some guys have been strong until now, but we all know who the real climbers are, and in the big mountains it's other guys - so I think the list is limited. I don't see any surprises; we have Ullrich, Vinokourov and Klöden; we have Basso and then one or two Spanish guys maybe... Landis, Leipheimer - but I don't see any surprises - the mountains puts everybody back in place.
Q: Does Ullrich's crash yesterday change the way you look at T-Mobile?
JB: Well, you know crashes are always bad and I'm convinced that Ullrich's crash the day before the race started definitely had an affect on his performance the day after in the time trial. You can be who you want, but two big crashes in the space of a week affects somebody.
But Vinokourov is dangerous also and Klöden maybe has a bit more freedom than those two guys, but the three of them we have to watch - we cannot give them any freedom anymore.
Cyclingnews: Johan, speaking about Vinokourov, he said in today's L'Equipe that the only other team he'd been interested in riding for would be Discovery Channel, so can you tell us whether you've entered into talks with him, and whether you'd be interested in him as a rider?
JB: Well, Vinokourov is a good rider... he's one of the best riders in the peloton and he's able to win from February to October, one-day races, big stage races. He's at the end of his contract, and all good riders at the end of their contracts are interesting, but I have to leave my comments to that (smiles).
Q: How is Savoldelli's condition? Is he able to maintain, or is he falling back?
JB: Well, he's definitely not in the same condition he was in the Giro, that's for sure. We all expected that and we all knew that. Savoldelli is here to support Lance and the team and he's in good enough shape to be with him a long time in the mountains, but I don't expect him to become one of the favourites of the race.
Q: Only the next two weeks will tell whether Lance will win a seventh Tour, but what legacy will Lance leave behind. Has he changed cycling, or has he changed sport? What has been the big contribution?
JB: First of all, he has won six Tours and six Tours after each other which nobody has done before, so I think that's already a good contribution to sport and to cycling.
But I think he has changed some things with cycling... There's a lot of people who, over the last six years, were part of our team and went on to other teams and brought this knowledge with them - I can see that the other teams are preparing in the same way and they're focusing on the biggest race.
Q: So a new level of attention to detail?
JB: I think so, I think so... I think cycling was quite behind other high-level sports, but I think things are changing. It was a sport of tradition and habits just because somebody said it, but I things have changed a lot over the last couple of years and Lance is one of the best examples of it.
Q: But some people say the sport has now become too specialised and boring...
JB: Before, the Tour de France was ridden with 12 teams of 10 riders and almost all the races were like that. Now, cycling has become a world sport and I think the more global the sport gets, the more focused you have to be on certain disciplines in certain races.
Q: Are you aware of that kind of attitude, 'Armstrong's great, but he doesn't race the other races'?
JB: Yes, yes - and it's often because former champions talk the same way. But I think you cannot compare the times of Anquetil, the times of Eddy Merckx, the times of Hinault; everything has changed and become more specialised, and in my opinion, there is just no way a champion can win in February, win a Classsic and win the Giro and win the Tour - and maybe become world champion.
There's too many different athletes, good athletes, different interests and sponsors, and they will always push their top riders to work for a certain objective, and you just have to do the same.
Q: How much do you think cycling will miss Armstrong, on a larger level as well as obviously within your team?
JB: Well, I think Lance has surpassed the status of being a bike champion - he became a star on other levels, and I don't think there's anybody else right now who's ready to move to that same status. But there's a time for everybody to retire and the next guys and ready for that and waiting for that, so things move on. I'm fully aware that we cannot desperately look for a new Lance, because I think right now, there isn't a candidate - but I hope we can get the number two or number three.
Q: Has there also been things you've learned from Lance to become the directeur sportif you wanted to be?
JB: I've learned a lot from him - we've learned a lot from each other. But I'm very thankful to have been able to work from him for the last seven years now, and I definitely saw things in a different way to how I saw them at the end of '98.
Q: What kind of things?
JB: Well, we were both inexperienced, and I think we grew together and had a very, very tight relationship and learned a lot from each other. I think we are two persons constantly paying attention to a lot of detail, and from the start I think we were on the same wave. I've learned a lot from him.
Q: What drew you to Lance?
JB: We talked about it a lot, and neither he or I have a real explanation. I retired at the end of '98 or the middle of '98 and at the time, he was making his comeback with the Postal team; it was not a really a great team at that moment and Lance was suggesting some changes. I guess the fact that I retired and it came to his attention, it was just something that happened at the right moment. Lance is a guy who often acts by instinct, and that was just something that made him feel good.
Q: How would you evaluate the Tour of Popovych, and is he a future winner of the Tour de France?
JB: I repeat: we will see tomorrow or in the next years. Popovych is definitely not here to be on the podium or to be in the front; he is here to learn and to see what the Tour de France is. What I have seen from him now is very satisfying - but what he immediately learned what that this is not the Giro; that's why he's here and didn't do the Giro, because I wanted him to be here in full condition.
But he has great potential - he still has to learn a lot - but I see similarities in the way he is riding and the way Lance is doing; I don't know if he's a future Tour de France winner, but he's definitely a very good bike rider, he's smart and he's a hard worker, so we're going to be and have him up there in the future.
Q: You have to keep emotion out of it, but even after all this time, are you still excited about what's going to happen tomorrow?
JB: Yeah, I'm excited and I'm nervous and I can't wait to see what's going to happen; if I knew what's going to happen, it wouldn't be fun (smiles). But I know we've done everything we can to be ready, and all the work that we've done and all the stages we've previewed with Lance and the other guys, we've done what we've had to do, and I'm confident that we can be up there.