Team RadioShack general manager Johan Bruyneel has reflected on a manic season at Astana, the experiened Belgian not mincing his words on a number of topics, including the Kazakh squad and his former star rider, Alberto Contador
The man who guided Lance Armstrong, and more recently, Contador, to their Tour de France wins, opened up to Belgian lifestyle magazine Humo at home in Spain, talking about a season that included Armstrong's comeback, the death of Frank Vandenbroucke and strained relations with Contador, Alexandre Vinokourov and the man behind the Astana team.
An obvious highlight of Bruyneel's season was Armstrong's comeback, and the Belgian spoke glowingly of the experience. "There were two components to the comeback of Lance. First: the globalisation of Livestrong, his cancer foundation. This went fantastically well everywhere. Second: racing at the top level," said Bruyneel.
"And top level for Armstrong means winning the Tour de France. That didn't succeed: Contador was way stronger, without discussion. But as a veteran, to finish third behind two young men, after three years without competition... try to copy that. During the last week I've seen a few glimpses of the young Lance: when he returned to the leader's group on the Petit Saint-Bernard, when he attacked Bradley Wiggins on the Col de la Colombière and how he controlled Fränk Schleck on the Mont Ventoux."
Bruyneel admitted that Armstrong's crash during the Castilla y Léon almost ended the comeback, however. "At that moment his comeback was on the verge of collapsing. Nobody knew that, except for some insiders. After the operation he was no longer motivated. He didn't want to race anymore.
"I had to force him: 'Lance, you have to. You can't go back now.' I had to send him one of his famous sayings: 'Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever.' I didn't get a response, but he gave it a good think and pulled through. During the Giro it all came back together: during the last week he was riding at a decent level," said Bruyneel.
And while Bruyneel evidently enjoyed working with Armstrong again, he wasn't so positive about his relationship with Contador, the Belgian scathing about his young charge's attitude to fame and riding within a team.
"He [Contador] continues to say that he won the Tour on his own. That is completly untrue: without the team he wouldn't have won the Tour that comfortably - maybe he would've won it, but still..." said Bruyneel.
"He started to act solo, together with his brother, who's his personal mechanic and press agent; I think that was sad. As it is now he remains with Astana, if they can get their paperwork done, and I'm doubting that. We talked about the team for 2010 and he knew we would start with a new team. But none of us thought about extending the co-operation," Bruyneel admitted.
"I had a professional relationship with Contador. The click to turn it into a partnership, like with Lance, never came. It had nothing to do with the comeback from Lance, it existed before. Between us there was always tension. I don't know why. For both of us it's better to split paths. Maybe later we can get back together when he's become older and wiser.
"The problem was that whatever I decided - the race plan, the team tactics, the riders selection - he always expressed his doubts. We all have the experience: we don't make mistakes anymore; while Alberto still has much to learn."
Bruyneel's view on the origins of the rift emerges, however. "He's a hero in Spain, a god! Suddenly he spots all those zeros after the number and that's the main problem.... Contador suddenly changed from the smallest contract to the best paid rider of the world in one season; then it's hard to stay with your feet on the ground," said Bruyneel.
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