Johan Bruyneel has revealed how close Lance Armstrong’s comeback this year came to being curtailed after the Texan broke his collarbone in the Vuelta a Castilla y León.
Few know Armstrong better than Bruyneel, who is very much part of the cancer survivor’s inner circle having guided him to seven Tour de France wins between 1999 and 2005 as directeur sportif of the US Postal Service team. The pair hooked up again at Astana this season, and in 2010 Bruyneel will undertake a similar role at Armstrong’s new outfit, Team RadioShack.
In a remarkably candid interview with the Belgian magazine Humo, Bruyneel said that Armstrong came very close to throwing in the towel on his comeback after his accident, and it was only after the Belgian texted the cyclist with one of the Texan’s favourite aphorisms that Armstrong reconsidered, Bruyneel telling him “pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever.”
Armstrong had apparently been on the verge of abandoning his comeback, with his hunger to compete having vanished, according to Bruyneel, and no-one in the US managing to convince him otherwise. The Texan went on to finish 12th in the Giro d’Italia and stood third on the Tour de France podium in Paris, won by team-mate Alberto Contador after a fraught three weeks in which the fractures in the Astana team were all too visible.
Bruyneel took the opportunity of the Humo interview to launch a broadside at the Spaniard, saying that Contador was misguided in thinking that his victory in the Tour de France was down to his efforts alone, with little contribution from the Astana team.
He attributed Contador’s view that he effectively won the race with only the support of his mechanic and his brother Fran to the Spaniard getting a bit carried away with his sense of self-importance after his rapid rise through the professional ranks after his Tour de France win in 2007 and victories in the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España the following year.
Bruyneel also suggested that the endorsements and money that flowed in afterwards, and his elavation to stardom among the Spanish public, might have gone to his head and coloured his judgment.
The interview also touched upon Bruyneel’s relationship with Frank Vandenbroucke, the troubled Belgian cyclist who died earlier this month at the age of 34. The pair first met in 1989, when the prodigious Vandenbroucke was only 13 years old and already training with the Belgian national team ahead of the World Championships in Chambéry, France.
Bruyneel fondly remembered some of the Belgian team’s riders struggling as they undertook a recce of the main climb of the road race course, with the barely teenaged Vandenbroucke comfortably keeping up at the back of the group.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.