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Post Tour de France Interview - 8/8/2007

With victory # 8 at the Tour de France now behind the team we thought it a perfect time to check in with the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team Sports Manager Johan Bruyneel. In this exclusive interview we talk about the Tour that was and the road ahead as the team looks to keep increasing on what has been without question the winningest season in team history!

So let's start with how you're feeling these days post Tour de France - happy, relieved?

- I'm very happy! We have exceeded all of our best scenario results. Before we went into the Tour we had some realistic goals: Levi on the final podium, a stage win, and the white jersey. And we did a lot more than that. Of course some things happened to our advantage, but at the end of the day we had our best Tour de France ever - and we did it as a team. And for me personally, to win a Tour without Lance, that was definitely a big accomplishment, too.

Talk a little bit about the turmoil that went through the Tour this tear - Vinokourov, Sinkewitz, Rasmussen. How did that affect the Discovery Channel team?

- It was very difficult, I think the event was very tense and there was a lot of bad news. It really made it difficult at times to stay focused.

What do you think about the health of the sport right now? Some people say it's pretty bad, while others say that it's getting better because we're catching more cheaters now.

- I think it's getting better, although I think the image that we see is not viewed in the reality of what it is at this high a level of sport. It's pretty simple: if you do twenty times more testing in terms of quality and quantity than any other sport, there are going to be positive results found. But I think it's getting better and we've definitely shown that we take this seriously.

Do you see the Discovery Channel role team becoming the boss, the patron, of the peloton once again?

- If you don't consider our results at the Giro d'Italia, our team has had great results at a very high level throughout the season. The results are there and speak for themselves, and we have many victories (30 so far) which is really impressive as that kind of total usually is reserved for a team that has two or three big sprinters on it. I think yes, we are back to being #1.

Let's talk a little about Alberto Contador. Were you even surprised by his performance at the Tour?

- Yes, I was. I think we all knew that he is one of the best climbers in the world, and I had no doubt that he could win the white jersey because he was the best young rider. But did I think he could win the Tour de France? I expected him to be with the best for the first 10 days. And then I expected him to fade a bit as things progressed, but that didn't happen.

What about Levi? He really struck me as a classy rider in the Tour. He came into the event as the designated team leader, but then when he saw Alberto was the stronger rider, he took on a "super domestique" role, didn't he?

- Yeah, but our plan with Levi was very different than that of Alberto. With Alberto it was to go hard early and see what we get. But with Levi we knew he was not the race favorite so we had to play it conservatively. Get through the Alps without losing too much time - and he did that perfectly - and then in the last part of the race we have to see him improve and be at the front of the race when critical things happen. Alberto had shown he was the strongest man at the Tour and so we had plans to attack Rasmussen at the Col de Aubisque and Levi was the start of that attack for the team. He simply didn't think about himself anymore.

Who were some of the Discovery Channel riders who had a really good Tour but didn't get very much publicity?

- Popovych was amazing. he was the best teammate and usually the first guy at the bottom of every critical climb, and yet he still managed to finish 8th overall. But every single guy on the team came together. Gusev rode very well, but you know, Benjamin Noval was probably the unknown hero of the Tour de France. He had a big crash at the beginning and was almost knocked out of the race, he had a big wound on his arm and stitches in his chin, but then he fought through that and became the guardian angel of Contador. He was always with him, on and off the bike, always protecting him. For me he's the Tour de France hero.

The guys all rode the new Trek Madone. I got the chance to ride one recently and it was the stiffest, most comfortable bike I've been on. What did the team think of them?

- We are very, very happy with these bikes. The way we were able to switch from one bike to the other in the month of May was perfect, no issues at all. And then at the Tour de France everyone was very happy with their bikes. I agree - it's stiff, light, very comfortable - and very good looking! No issues at all, a very good bike.

Can you describe what it was like for Lance Armstrong to come over to the race and see his team win the Tour de France without him?

- He was very excited; it was amazingly nervous, especially in the last Time Trial. It was tight - we'd told Contador before the stage that we thought he might lose a little more than a minute but we felt confident he could make it, but the rider still has to ride and until you cross the finish line you just don't know. But it was a great experience to see a guy like Lance that excited about this race who has won it seven times himself. He was very proud - proud of Contador, proud of the team - a very good experience.

So any truth to the rumor you're going to take over Team Rabobank?

- (laughs) No, no way. The Dutch journalist who wrote that knew that in 2003 they had contacted me for that position. So I guess they just assumed that since they asked in 2003, I would be the first candidate now.

With all these great results so far, what's left for Discovery Channel to focus on for the rest of the season?

- Well, of course we want to finish the season as strong as possible. We still have the Tour of Spain and we have some very motivated riders there. Now I am not expecting to win this race, but I definitely expect to see a good performing team there. But you know this will be kind of difficult. when you win the Tour de France it's tough to stay focused, it's not easy.

Who will be the protected riders for the team at the Tour of Spain?

- We have three riders that want to go for a good placing in the General Classification. Jani Brajkovic, Stijn Devolder, and Tom Danielson.

Speaking of Tom, do you think he has finally gotten his health problems behind him?

- That's what I hear, but the reality is that after June and through the Tour I have not had that much contact with him. But it was good to hear that when he got back to the US they found out what was wrong with him. So I think that for the Vuelta he should be at a good level, at least as good a level as last year.

Does the team go in as more of a stage hunting squad, or to compete for the overall?

- As I said, we don't have anyone going that is trying to go for the win. My rivals will say that I am bullshitting because I said that at the Tour de France, too! But I think a Top 10 or Top 5 placing should be something worth fighting for.

10/12/2007 Bruyneel to Manage Team Astana
8/8/2007 Post TdF Inteview
3/8/2007 Paris-Nice Preview
1/5/2007 January thoughts: a time of hope
12/27/2006 Ask Johan column
12/20/2006 Welcome to my Web Site!
10/13/2006 Johan previews Lombardy