He is the man behind Lance Armstrong. The director behind the seven Tour de France victories, but also the man of the deception behind those successes. Since the Usada report at the end of 2012 exposed great champion Armstrong as a notorious cheater, his team leader Johan Bruyneel remained silent about the entire affair. Almost seven years later, he thinks it’s time to explain and to put the events in the right context.
In the bustle of London and Madrid, Johan Bruyneel has been able to lead an anonymous life in recent years. Caught in two legal investigations, he was unable to say anything for years. Until last year he was suspended for life by the sports tribunal CAS on 24 October. Now he wants to provide openness, as later on his book that he is currently writing about the affair should provide more insight into the doping issue of the epo generation. Immediately after the shocking Usada report became public and after Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey, Bruyneel didn’t think the time was right to talk. Armstrong confessed to the world that he had used epo, blood doping, blood transfusions and testosterone during his seven Tour victories.
“It was a bomb,” Bruyneel looks back. “Armstrong, Bruyneel and US Postal, we were the only evil that cycling had ever known. Later there were numerous confessions from people like Michael Boogerd and Michael Rasmussen and there was a report from the Sorgdrager committee in the Netherlands that stated that up to 95 percent of the platoon used blood doping. A Danish doping test and the CIRC report from the UCI later confirmed the extent of the epo problem in cycling. These issues provide insight into the problems that we had to deal with in those years. “
“We have not invented a system, we have rolled into a system. All the evil of an entire generation fell on our shoulders. But we are not the inventors of doping. When I look back on it now, the public has not condemned us so much for using prohibited substances, but especially for our behavior. Yes, I now realize how arrogant we have been. Our behavior, our attitude was not correct. I want to sincerely apologize for that many years later. I really regret that. I often wonder how that could have happened. Little by little we have been dragged into the rush of success. And at a certain moment you feel unapproachable and unbeatable. “
“In 1999 we still surprised ourselves with the first Tour victory, then we got into a mindset in which we were only concerned with winning. Our team turned into a corridor, a gang. There was a feeling that we were superior to everyone. We are the men here. We’re going to win that Tour here. The Armstrong phenomenon was much more than just cycling. Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc once told me that Lance was even bigger than the Tour. I think that was true. “
“In our relationships with authorities, organizers and certainly with certain journalists, we have acted like bastards. Yes, we were selective towards the media. We picked journalists from the bus that we would have preferred no one to talk to. We attacked journalists who were critical in public. We have treated many people wrong with our lies. ”
“It’s an evolution. You will defend yourself against all attacks and accusations. Admitting that we used epo was not an option. And so you are increasingly going to oppose the people who attack you with limited evidence. What else did Lance have to do at the press conferences? Did he have to say yes, it is true? That was not possible. There was no way back. “
“So you live in hostility. We and the angry outside world, that becomes your new way of thinking that you will soon find very normal. It was part of our daily routine. Because we saw everything and everyone who bothered us to disturb our focus on winning the Tour as the enemy. ”
” That would have been terrible, then our world would have collapsed “”
“Of course we realized that we were getting more and more opponents. New accusations came. It became increasingly their story against our story. In the meantime, the successes continued to accumulate. Someone who is unbeatable is not loved by his opponents and by the general public. Our success was too great. In retrospect it would have been smarter to stop perhaps after the fifth Tour victory or would it have been a different story if Lance were to be defeated once or twice. But losing did not occur in our mind. That would have been terrible, then our world would have collapsed. “
The arrogant behavior, however, is no reason to properly discuss the use of doping afterwards. The Usada report even mentions ‘the most advanced doping program the sport has ever seen ‘ .
“Saint Travis Tygart (director of the American anti-doping agency Usada, ed.) Indeed talks about the most advanced doping program. Come on, that’s a big lie. That was a title to make the report sensational. If you look at how Operacion Puerto was run. Many of our competitors were customers there. Ullrich, Basso, Botero, Valverde, Hamilton, you name it. When the information from Operacion Puertocame out in 2006 , I was really amazed at what happened in the blood laboratory of Eufemiano Fuentes in Madrid. I was even shocked. Freezing blood, the growth hormone IGF, insulin, synthetic hemaglobin, products to mask controls, those were all things we didn’t do. ”
“This was one of many proofs that we had a very limited doping program compared to our competitors. Fuentes ran a factory and did not know what he was doing at the end. There cyclists, soccer players and athletes met in the waiting room. It was such a mess in the end that many mistakes were made. For example, it has happened that an athlete received another person’s blood bag. It is known that Jesus Manzano even died in life after a blood transfusion by Fuentes. Also think of the stories I have read about, for example, the doping network around the Spanish doctor Jesus Losa and the Viennese blood bank of Stefan Matschiner. That went much further than the administration of a few products, which we did in a very controlled manner. “
You worked with the controversial Italian doping doctor Michele Ferrari.
“I know a lot of people want to hear it differently, but I’m not going to say a bad word about Michele Ferrari. His statement that epo is no more dangerous than ten liters of orange juice has made him unpopular. My experience is that Ferrari was very conservative. He never took a risk, did no crazy experiments, was very careful and the health of the rider was always paramount. I have often heard riders point to other products, he immediately rejected everything he found too dangerous and without discussion. ”
“With us, no one ever tested positive in those years. Only Benoit Joachim was discredited for the use of nandrolone, but was released by his federation. In the years that there were health checks (the hematocrit limit was set at 50, ed.), No rider of ours was ever discarded by the UCI. I would like to have a list of all the teams that riders had to keep out of competition for two weeks because of this hematocrit test. “”We knew what he had done behind our back and immediately took him off course”
“Yes, I dare to say that we have always been very careful and reserved within our team. We have experienced it often enough that young riders who have just joined our team were already doing epo on their own. In Spain, Germany and Switzerland this product was freely available in every pharmacy. For example, for the 2007 Tour of Catalonia, Tom Danielson suddenly had a hematocrit of 49. We knew what he had done behind our back and immediately took him off course. We set an upper limit of 48 and were therefore stricter than the UCI that held 50. Not all teams checked their riders in those years and so proceeded preventively. “
“That is why I find it technically difficult that we are portrayed as the devils of cycling. Based on the prohibited products that we used, that is not possible. I understand that this is because of bad and arrogant behavior. The Danish doping report confirms that the same thing happened within the Bjarne Riis team, but those people were not penalized. Is it then justified that you get a lifelong suspension based on behavior? ”