Lance Armstrong's former team manager, Johan Bruyneel, has told the Belgian media that Armstrong deserves his place among cycling's biggest names, and spoke out about what he believes is the hypocrisy that exists in cycling.
Speaking to Belgian magazine Humo at the weekend, the 55-year-old Belgian also cast aspersions on former pro Greg LeMond, now the only American Tour de France winner in history, having won the race in 1986, 1989 and 1990, after Armstrong's seven titles were taken away as a result of his doping.
Bruyneel headed up Armstrong's former teams US Postal, Discovery Channel, Astana and RadioShack, and was handed a lifetime ban from the sport for the part he played in Armstrong and his colleagues' doping at the US Postal and Discovery outfits.
"It's very simple: all the champions in cycling history were the best of their generation," Bruyneel told Humo, according to newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, which is part of the same Belgian DPG Media group.
"In the 1990s, everyone had access to the same drugs: blood doping and EPO. Greg LeMond always says, 'I'm the only clean winner.' Bullshit!" continued Bruyneel. "He always rode for French teams, and they were les rois de la cortisone [the kings of cortisone].
"Can you really imagine he never took anything? He's beaten [Bernard] Hinault and [Laurent] Fignon, who admitted to doping," he said, with only Fignon having admitted to doping.
"You can't beat the best in the world who have doped without taking something yourself," added Bruyneel. "But LeMond was the best of his generation, just like Hinault, [Jacques] Anquetil, [Eddy] Merckx and [Miguel] Indurain. And so also Lance."
LeMond has always denied doping during his career. In 2007 he made it clear that he didn't take performance-enhancing drugs in an interview with the Sunday Times.
"I know there was doping in the 80s and I'm certain a lot of riders were doing stuff and that cortisone was a drug of choice, but I was always able to perform and win races against those guys. At 19 years-old I finished third in the Dauphine; at 20, I won the Tour de L'Avenir by 10 minutes and finished second in the worlds. I was fortunate I was successful right away and didn't get drawn into that. By 1993 I was just so fatigued and I don't know if it was because everybody was on EPO, I really don't, but I was checked out for every possible problem there could be health-wise."
Armstrong had his seven Tour de France titles from 1999-2005 stripped from him by the UCI in October 2012 after the governing body accepted the US Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) 'reasoned decision' that the American had doped during his career. Armstrong then admitted to having doped to Oprah Winfrey in a TV interview aired in January 2013.
"It's the hypocrisy that has hurt the most," said Bruyneel. "When I hear some ex-colleagues busy on television, I think: 'Do what you want, but don't talk about doping.'
"Take team managers Marc Madiot [Groupama-FDJ], Vincent Lavenu [AG2R La Mondiale] and Jean-René Bernaudeau [Total Direct Energie] – the big cheeses of French cycling. They continue to judge me on my past, but what they have been up to is forgiven, so to speak."
No doping charges have been brought against Madiot, Lavenu, or Bernaudeau.
To illustrate his point, Bruyneel – who also featured in the recently released ESPN Armstrong documentary, LANCE – told a story from his early days as a pro that involved Madiot.
"I did my first foreign stage race as a second-year pro. I was completely 'wrung out' between the support cars, but did everything to finish that race. The doping control was done by drawing lots, which they announced half-way through on race radio," he said.
"Madiot dropped back to the team car, heard that he wasn't named [for the doping control], rolled up his sleeve and sat une flechette [syringe], as they said so beautifully, in his upper arm. He then accelerated again and didn't leave the front after that. That image has stayed with me all my life. And so those are the men who keep condemning me and Lance," Bruyneel said.
Madiot and his Groupama-FDJ team declined to comment when contacted by Cyclingnews.
Bruyneel has now started his own sports management business, but suggested – perhaps only half-jokingly – that he could perhaps one day become UCI president.
"I'd certainly do better than [current president] David Lappartient, who hasn't yet done anything for cycling," he said.
"In the past, I've volunteered to participate in UCI doping dossiers, and have told them everything I knew, but they've disregarded my advice," said Bruyneel.
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