Johan Bruyneel Talks About 2012
Used With Permission
It seems like every time you are on the lounge chair in Mallorca something big happens. One year, it's a call from the Kazakhs to manage Astana. Next year it's Lance's comeback and now another big opportunity.
JB: Yes, that's true! There's something about that lounge chair that brings new excitement to my life. Actually I was approached with this opportunity before Mallorca, but it fully came together when I was there. If I go there again next year, I can't imagine what's going to happen!
Was it a difficult decision for you to make?
JB: No, not really. On the personal side, it presents a new challenge and that's something I'm always looking for. Every person, no matter what they do in life, needs to find challenges. With Andy Schleck, you have one of the most talented riders in professional cycling. He's been 2nd in the Tour three consecutive years. There's only one step left to climb on the podium. That's what really excites and challenges me. And on the business side, I spoke with Capital Sports & Entertainment, RadioShack and Nissan. It was something that they all wanted to see happen. So in the end, it was a win-win for all parties.
There's been some rumors that before this opportunity came up, RadioShack and Nissan weren't planning on renewing.
JB: That's absolutely not true. They both recommitted after the California win and before the Tour. There was no stress about sponsorship during the Tour.
When the announcement was made, Bjarne Riis of Saxo Bank said that he's not worried since he has the best rider in the world. Should he be worried with the team you have in 2012?
JB: I'm not one to tell a person what he should or shouldn't worry about. If he doesn't want to worry, then that's totally fine with me.
But do you agree with his statement that Alberto is the best rider in the world?
JB: Yes, I agree. It's hard to state otherwise. Look at what Alberto's done. 3 Tours, 2 Giros, 1 Vuelta. Plus in all other races, he always races to win and most of the time does. No one currently racing has come even close to his accomplishments. So in my mind, Alberto's the best in the world. But that doesn't mean the best can't be beaten. We saw it this year. Right now I'm focused on the team I'm putting together and I'm confident that with Andy and Frank being supported by a strong core squad, they'll have their best chance yet to wear Yellow in Paris.
Everyone says that Andy needs to improve time-trialing. But what other things will you work with him on?
JB: Yes, certainly we will try to make Andy a better time-trialist. But let's be honest, we can make improvements, but my expectations are not for him to be a champion in this discipline. I think it will be most important for us to have a solid strategic and tactical plan. How we will approach going into the Tour, but also the strategies we will use in the race. If his weak spot is time-trialing then we must have him go into that stage with the best position possible and the biggest gap between him and the other contenders. A lot of that comes down to strategy. It's a three week long race, so you need to have a strategy each day that also fits into the overall three week goal.
Throughout the years, your team has been known as one that is heavily built around riders’ strengths in the stage races. How will this change next year?
JB: Well when you have a rider named Fabian Cancellara on the team, your team automatically becomes competitive in the one day races! We’ve had some good Spring Classic riders in the past, but no one with Fabian’s pedigree. So it’s going to be a new experience for me to go to Flanders and Roubaix this year with one of the top favorites. It’s an experience Dirk Demol (former Paris-Roubaix winner) and I are very much looking forward to. And we shouldn’t forget what Fabian can do in time trials. He’s won stages in the Tour, worn the Yellow Jersey, been a four-time World Champion. It’s an impressive palmares and I’m hopeful that we can add some more highlights to it in 2012.
A lot of riders from the current Leopard-Trek squad seem to be a bit uneasy with the 2012 team. Why?
JB: Well I understand how they could feel this way. You sign a contract and then one year later management changes. Whenever there are changes, whether it be in a cycling team or business, there's always some nervousness and wondering how things are going to be. Most people like knowing what they already know. So reactions like this are normal and to be expected. The media does a good job about making this into something bigger than it really is. After we have our first training camp, riders and staff will feel more at ease and comfortable.
And you’ve been in a somewhat similar situation when you went to Astana.
JB: Yes, we had some Discovery Channel riders coming to Astana in 2008. And if you remember there was a lot of talk about how Andreas Kloden would fit with the incoming management. He was a rival of ours for so many years and the media was speculating that it wasn’t going to work very well ... And next year, it’ll be 5 years that we’ll be together! Klodi’s a great rider. He’s finished 2nd two times in the Tour and I believe he would have had a high result in this past year’s Tour if it weren’t for the crashes and hurting his back. His form was really good. Overall, he’s had a strong season – stage wins in Paris-Nice, Giro del Trentino, Criterium International and the overall in a very difficult Tour of the Basque Country – so he’s a very important rider for next year’s team.
What happened with Jani Brajkovic? He's been with you since early on in his professional career and next year he'll be racing against you.
JB: Jani was originally with the 2012 team, but I think as things became more clear, he saw that it would be pretty tough for him to have his own ambitions in the Tour. He's an extremely motivated and determined rider with goals to win the Tour. I've always believed that the goals of the team and the goals of the riders must match. When they don't then it's sometimes best for each to go their own way. I appreciate everything Jani has done for the team. He's been great to have, fun to be part of his growth and success, and I wish him all the best.
We've done a lot at looking ahead to 2012. How would you rate the 2011 season? For the first time in your directing career, you didn't win anything at the Grand Tours. Some would say that the year has been a failure.
JB: Well it certainly was strange not to have success at the Grand Tours. But I don't think that defines our season. As of today, we've won 34 races, that's 18 more than last year. Outside of the Grand Tours, we've been very competitive in almost every stage race and have won quite a number. In the US, a country important to our sponsors, we won the American Grand Slam - California, Utah, Colorado and the National Championships. So I'm happy and don't have any regrets.
Will the American races still be important next year under the new structure?
JB: Yes, they are still very important objectives for us. Our core sponsor group - RadioShack, Nissan and Trek - are heavily focused and involved in the USA. American cycling fans are very important to them and to be honest, very important to me as well. Going back to the days of Postal, I've always appreciated the enthusiasm and passion from the American fans. So yes, these are races we will target to win.
Race radios have been a hot topic for you. The UCI now says that there will be an independent study commissioned. How do you feel about this?
JB: Yes, for reasons previously stated, I believe that the race radios are a crucial part of the race. At the very least, for the safety of riders. It's good and necessary to see an independent study commissioned on this, but it really needs to be independent, meaning that both parties (UCI and teams) need to agree on how the members of this commission are chosen and what their terms of reference should be. I'm not sure why this wasn't the first course of action undertaken before the UCI made any decisions. I think this just shows that the UCI made a decision based on the opinions of a few people. Hopefully, the UCI and teams can agree together on a strategy regarding this matter going forward.
When will we know more about the complete make-up of the team?
JB: Soon. It's still a work in process and a very complex project to take on, while at the same time I'm continuing to manage the 2011 team. I'm juggling a lot of balls right now, but it's coming together nicely. I know our sponsors are very excited, and I hope that the fans will be too.
Without knowing the full roster, the names that have been mentioned in the press make your team a manager’s dream. How does it compare to other Bruyneel teams?
JB: Certainly I’m very excited with the talent on this team. You have guys like Horner, Klodi, Machado and Zubelida, who I’ve worked with before, and then you add riders like Fabian, the Schleck brothers, Jakob Fuglsang, Maxime Montfort and Voigt – it’s easy to see why I’m excited. But I’m not going to get ahead of myself, nor am I concerned with comparing teams. We haven’t raced or won anything yet, so there’s nothing to compare. My main focus right now is completing the roster and bringing everyone together for the first training camp - Creating a great atmosphere that allows each rider to perform to his full potential.
I should also add that while I am very happy with the group of riders, we need to recognize that a lot of teams have made strong additions to their rosters. There’s been a lot of big transfers this year plus top riders from HTC will be spread throughout the peloton. So 2012 is going to be an extremely competitive year. It’s not wise for any team to count wins before they happen.
With a lot of cycling fans reading this, what is one thing you'd like to communicate directly to them?
JB: Thanks for all the support. There's been a group of fans who have supported me and the team since 1999. Whether it be Postal, Discovery, Astana, RadioShack and now next year's RadioShack – Nissan - Trek, the support has always been there and seems to grow in numbers and strength each year. I hope this will continue next year. I'm grateful for the compassion they've shown, not only for the team, but also for my family and special causes like World Bicycle Relief. This summer, the fans raised over $150,000 for WBR, providing 1,125 bikes to Zambian children so they can travel to school. I was just amazed and it's very nice to see that their support goes beyond cycling races. So thank you very very much.