Lance already forgotten?
Following today's grand unveiling of the 2006 Tour de France route in Paris, the Discovery Channel team's sports manager left the Palais de Congres still smarting from what was widely perceived as a slap to Armstrong's legacy by Tour organizers during its route presentation. The day's activities began with a video recap of the '05 Tour and Bruyneel, along with many of his peers, was surprised to see Armstrong largely ignored in the 10 minute video.
However, Bruyneel quickly decided to focus his energy the only way he knows how.
"I walked away a bit angry but at the same time, and I have to thank the Tour for this, more driven than ever before," Bruyneel said. "One of the things Lance passed on to me was to find motivation out of unpleasant things. I walked away thinking about how we are going to try to win the Tour de France next year."
So while Lance Armstrong may be retired from professional cycling and focusing on his future away from the sport, his apparent influence on Johan Bruyneel remains as relevant now as it did when he was winning seven Tours de France.
The 2006 Tour begins July 1 in Strasbourg with a seven kilometre prologue and will cover some 3,600 kilometres before its traditional finish on the Champs Elysees in Paris on July 23. In between, the '06 Tour will feature five mountain stages (with three mountain top finishes), 116 total kilometres of time trials in two ITTs and the prologue and, for the first time since 2000, excludes the team time trial stage. Yet, Bruyneel was having difficulty focusing on the route;
"it looks to be very, very difficult," he said, following the presentation.
"What I can say is that it seems some have quickly forgotten what Lance and our team have done for the Tour over the past seven years," he said. "I left the presentation today more motivated than ever for the new challenge ahead for me. We've lived for the Tour 365 days a year and I plan to keep doing that."
"My general feeling was disappointment," Bruyneel said. "It almost felt like it was raining in the room. But it wasn't a big surprise to me. The organization was quoted as saying they would have preferred Lance not come back to try and win a seventh Tour. And looking back, I remember when we went to them first, before we made it public, that Lance would indeed race the Tour this year. I can tell you, ASO wasn't jumping up and down when they got the news."
Bruyneel said the video's "main protagonists" were Francaise des Jeux team sports manager Marc Madiot yelling into his race radio, the Cofidis' team's sports manager's voice yelling into his race radio and a "two or three year old boy wearing a Cofidis cap." Bruyneel said they did show some winning images but that was not the main takeaway at all.
"I could tell certain people in the crowd, other directors, almost got up and left," he said.
"When I think back on all that, it's been the same scenario for them for years. A French rider hasn't won the Tour in 20 years. Why? Simple, they haven't been good enough. And then you see the final ProTour standings and notice there were four Americans in the top 10 (Armstrong, 5th; Levi Leipheimer, 7th; Bobby Julich, 9th; George Hincapie, 10th) and for the French, they had four riders in the top 100 (David Moncoutie, 30th; Anthony Geslin, 62nd; Christophe Moreau, 79th; Laurent Brochard, 84th). That's the facts. It's nothing more than that. I realize it's frustrating for them." [he's got a point there - ed]
On the '06 route itself, Bruyneel said the biggest change was the exclusion of the team time trial event, won the last three years by an Armstrong led team.
"We will probably be the most affected by it since we've won it the last three years," Bruyneel said
"But I've always said that since they applied the new rule to the stage, which I never approved of, it made the stage less interesting when the time losses were capped. It was a very stressful day and almost had no major change to the race. Plus, we've heard that most of the spectators didn't really understand what was going on as well. You either need to have it full on, or not."
Bruyneel added that while the 100+ kilometres of time trials favored a rider like Jan Ullrich, his favorite is still Ivan Basso. Pinpointing the route's most difficult stretch, Bruyneel said the stages in the Alps, stage 15, 16 and 17, will be extremely hard, especially coming after two plus weeks of racing.
"No other team has sacrificed more for the Tour than us over the last seven years" Bruyneel said. "We have always put it ahead every other race and have planned our entire season around it. Even without Lance, that won't change."