We left off the intriguing interview with Johan Bruyneel on Monday with the Schlecks and the possibility of Tour de France glory in 2012. Today, we return to Bruyneel and close out the interview in style with his thoughts on last year’s Tour, his motivation, and those firework topics: the UCI and the World Tour. Read on!
PEZ: Was the last Tour de France the biggest frustration of your career?
Johan: Yea, probably, it was just terrible. At the start we were realistic, we knew winning was going to be difficult, but we had a strong team and we had some guys who were motivated and had been on the podium already. And then just all of a sudden in three or four day everything has gone, we had everyone on the floor. It was just frustrating. But that’s just part of the sport also. I’ve seen other teams having bad luck at the Tour de France. A lot of bad luck and you feel sorry for them, but you go on. Now I felt sorry, but I had to deal with it all the time. It was also learning from experience.
PEZ: If Andrea Klцden hadn’t crashed he would have been on the podium?
PEZ: You say it was a learning experience, so what did you learn?
Johan: What you learn from it is: when you are at the Tour de France, you are competing and are focused on winning the race and controlling the race or dominating the race. You are in a bubble. Now I was looking at it from another angle, and you learn how to deal with disappointment and learn how to put it into perspective. The way I dealt with it was at the end of the day: “it’s only a bike race!” Let’s move onto the next one. It’s definitely not something I want to repeat, but I learnt something from it.
PEZ: Was it new for you not to be able to control things?
Johan: Yes. I didn’t know it was possible to have so much bad luck. It was like one thing after another. Every single piece fell down at one point, it became a habit. After we lost Andreas Kloden, I remember that every time they said on radio tour “crash” I didn’t even wait till they said RadioShack, I would just drive to the front because I knew there would be someone there from us. And there always was someone there from us. So many guys from the same team and all the leaders, five guys would crash and it would be the four leaders.
PEZ: You have been a very successful team manager and you have achieved a lot, so why keep doing it?
Johan: I don’t think I have anything to lose, what attracts me is challenges, putting this team together. Pulling two teams together is a challenge. We are at the start of the season, we’ve still our first races, and it’s been a big challenge. I like big challenges. I don’t have the feeling I have to prove anything. I know also the mission is very difficult, but I like difficult challenges, so I’m really excited about this.
PEZ: You said you had to make space for some riders, how did you make those decisions, on your own or with the other sports directors?
Johan: It was not only the riders on Leopard-Trek, but also the riders of RadioShack who, in normal circumstances, would have been part of the Team RadioShack. It was maybe a little easier from our side because we didn’t have all those contractual obligations, but there were certain people on the team who had been on the team for a long time who are not here today. It was a discussion we had with all the directors and also with some of the riders, with Andy and Frank and with Fabian. But at one point you have to put sentiment aside and say “what’s the intention here?” and the intention is to make a strongest possible team, so we want the strongest riders.
PEZ: Is the loss of Levi Leipheimer going to be a problem?
Johan: At one point you have to ask is there going to be too many leaders and that is definitely a problem. In Levi’s case there was a different scenario, first of all because from the RadioShack part there were no contractual obligations in place. This is a project around the Schleck brothers for the Tour and around Cancellara for the Classics. There were people on the team who were not the youngest. It was a discussion we had which made sense for everybody and also for Levi.
He still has very strong ambitions and he has found an ideal team for those ambitions which he would not have had on this team. He’s a strong guy and he would have had his chances and opportunities, but at some point you have to make choices. There wouldn’t have been a clash. Levi is not that sort of personality to provoke a clash, but I also understand that these guys are champions and are ambitious and for him. I think the choice he made by going to Omega Pharma – Quick-Step was probably the best choice for him because he has experience and can still perform at a very high level. There is a guy behind who is pushing like Tony Martin, it’s a combination that’s possible, but in this big team certain combinations could be a problem.
PEZ: Was it the same for Jani Brajkovic?
Johan: That was a personal decision from him. We had an agreement, and at some point he came to me during the Tour of Spain and said he had certain personal ambitions that he thought would be limited on the team. I understood his reasons and we decided he was going to look for another place. I think he made a good decision.
PEZ: What about the name of the team, you have three named sponsors, what is the name of the team?
Johan: You want to know officially? Our team is RadioShack-Nissan-Trek. Do you get the press releases? Well that’s what’s on there.
PEZ: And the UCI?
Johan: That’s a question you have to ask them!
PEZ: Is this the strongest team you have ever managed?
Johan: Difficult to say, quality wise it’s the strongest team. I have had teams that are very, very strong in the big stage races and at the Tour, the Giro and the Vuelta, but in the terms of quality of riders and the potential presence throughout the year; yes I think so.
Bruyneel fields questions from journalists.
PEZ: Having so many riders in the team who could possibly ride the Tour, is that a luxury or a headache?
Johan: Both, it’s a luxury and a headache. I don’t want to think yet about the decisions we will have to make in the month of June to select the team for the Tour. That’s why I think it’s important to think it’s not only about the Tour. We have to perform in a lot of races, stage race and one day races. That’s ultimately what our goal is: to be the strongest team throughout the year. I would love to see our team to finish No.1 at the end of the year. That would be a very big satisfaction.
We see someone has stolen the colours of Leopard, is that a problem?
Johan: The colours of Leopard 2011, colours are open for everybody, like the streets, they are open for everybody. Choosing a colour is the same as long as it’s not the name!
PEZ: You’ve moved to London, is it better than Madrid?
Johan: It’s nice. It’s good for the family. The kids are happy, my wife is happy, the weather is not so nice. It’s OK.
PEZ: What were you working on with Fabian Cancellara in London?
Johan: Basically what the intention was to see the time trial course, first of all, and then circuit on Box Hill — the one they will do nine times. He will defiantly have to go back because it was a busy day, and it’s impossible to see the course without traffic. There is only going to be one moment to see the time trial without traffic: that’s going to be the day before the Olympic time trial for one and a half hours only. So I think it’s important to go there to get familiar with the circuit so you can have it in your mind and you can plan mentally for something. You have to get the information.
Fabian Cancellara will be looking for gold in London.
It has to be a combination of going there, looking at the map, looking at profiles, looking at videos, and probably going back sometime. That would be in May I would say, when he feels on a higher level physically and also things look different then. Things look different in the winter, he will have to see it at a different time. It’s good to go early so you can get it in your mind and start to plan for what you are going to face in the month of August. It’s a very good sign that he is motivated for next year. He rode the course on the bike in the traffic, not the time trial bike, a normal bike. I think it’s a process that will be better. We have done it now. If he goes back in May, he will probably have to do it at seven on a Sunday morning and the next time will be the day before the time trial without traffic at all. I think it’s enough.
PEZ: How angry were you with the UCI over the license and all the paperwork stuff?
Johan: How much time do we have? I could go for a long time over this. Not angry, just frustrated. Without going into too many details, I really don’t understand why certain things have been imposed on us, which have not been imposed on other teams. One thing is the whole process and following the regulations. It’s another thing to demand things that are not in the regulations. Ultimately we have no other choice but to fulfil all the requirements that are demanded, because you need that WorldTour license. Well, you don’t really need it, but it’s better to have it. Yea, frustrated and not happy. Definitely not happy with the way we’ve been treated. I had no doubts about getting it.
PEZ: What changes would you like to see made with the WorldTour etc?
Johan: This could go far! My opinion is very clear on this: I think professional sports have reached a level that has come to the point of sporting events being a business. And I see that cycling is quite a bit behind, compared to other successful sports, and that’s probably due to the nature of our sport. We have certain limitations: we don’t own stadiums, we run cycling on the road, cycling is for free, which is also the beauty of the sport. But if I look at the evolution of other sports, and how popular they are, and I look at cycling and see how we are struggling, that we are advancing by baby steps and struggling, I think there are other ways professional cycling can be organised.
I’m not talking about breaking away; a breakaway league is something that was named by the UCI itself. But I think there should definitely be talks about new initiatives and implicating all the main parties. Just now it’s basically one organisation dictating everything, and everybody has to follow everything they say. So, if it was up to me, I’d like to see these things change, but I’m just me so it will probably never happen. It’s very simple, I’m talking from my perspective and about “professional” cycling. Let’s specify that because cycling as a whole is very complex and there are a lot of different categories and other disciplines. There is BMX, woman’s cycling, there’s all kinds of cycling. But professional road cycling is something that should be seen as a separate entity within the UCI. I think the UCI is definitely an organisation that has shown that they are the organising body that can rule the sport, so they should rule professional cycling.
Bruyneel chats with a UCI official.
The business aspect of the sport should be done differently. There are a lot of different ideas about that, but it’s very simple. If you see how we are struggling to find sponsorship year after year and how we are being challenged about renewing sponsors, it’s because at the end what do we have to offer? We don’t have a lot more to offer than what’s on the calendar, races like the Tour de France is all very good, but it could be a lot better. I think we should start to see professional teams as franchises that can survive for a lot of year like you have in football. You have (I know more about Spanish football) Madrid, Barcelona and all those strong clubs around Europe.
I don’t want to compare cycling with football, because it’s different. You have entrance fees and it’s organised completely differently, but there are things we can learn. We just have to get away from the model that professional cycling is dependent on sponsorship exclusively and we can get the business of our sport bigger. We need to share, not keep it limited. I think professional cycling can be a lot bigger than it is right now, even the Tour de France, but for this we will need the cooperation of all the different parties.
If it’s always being hit with a hammer when you don’t agree with what they say and what they want and then we cannot advance, we cannot move forward. So just to give an example: the actual system in our sport there are two big revenues, sponsors and TV rights. TV rights are where everyone knows they are. So it’s logical that we as teams and riders as champions being the top actors in the movie, we would like to have a share of the TV rights. So that would be a good start.
PEZ: The teams have to have money?
Johan: Its not necessarily earning money, its being safe, its feeling safe that you can survive. For example, in this economy sponsorship is difficult and there are budget cuts everywhere. If you know you have another source of surviving, you can plan, now we cannot plan. We know that every year, or two years, or three years we have to find other sponsors, so you can never plan long term, which is affecting everything. It is affecting the recruitment of young guys. Now we have this development team of young guys, and I don’t know if in two years it’s going to exist because I don’t know if the sponsor is going to be around. So if we can create another business model, and it doesn’t have to be the main part of the revenue, but a little help to be safe, to feel safe, would definitely be a good thing.
PEZ: Was Jan Bakelants important for you?
Johan: Bakelants is a rider that I personally like a lot. He’s a guy you can put in different races and he will perform in a lot of different terrain and he’s an aggressive rider. He’s a guy who attacks. We need guys like this. It’s nice to have one or two leaders who follow the same strategies and to build the whole team around, but the season is very long. We need people for a lot of different races. I think he has a lot of talent and he still has a big margin of improvement; I’m very happy to have him on the team.
PEZ: Maxime Monfort?
Johan: He’s obviously a key rider for the big stage races, but he’s a guy who can perform for himself, if needed. A guy with his quality and experience is definitely a very good add to the team. He was the leader on the Vuelta this year and I think he did a very good Vuelta without it being an objective from the start. I think he just went there to try to be good at the Vuelta and it wasn’t like a big goal for him. The fact that he finished 6th is definitely a promise for next year also.
PEZ: what about Ben Hermans?
Johan: Ben is a guy who I think is very talented. He’s a rider that some days he can be with the very best and he’s shown this is on several occasions. For example, in the Tour Down Under last year he was by far the best rider in the peloton. The course was just not hard enough, but he has big qualities. In the finale of the Amstel Gold Race he was riding with all the big riders.
For such a young guy it shows he has a big potential. He’s also still quite young so what we will try to achieve with Ben is to try to find some stability in his performance and have regular results, which I think is logical for young guys. He has shown some nice flashes of his qualities, but now he is a year older and has more experience. He has come from a smaller team, and I hope that next year he can be more regular. Finally he can get a big Tour in his legs, which would be good. He can do great things in cycling, he has the potential.
So there you have it: The World according to Johan Bruyneel. I’m now going to crawl into a cave before writing up the Schleck Brothers interview; it’s only half the length of Johan’s!