TENERIFE, Spain (Reuters) - Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel, the man behind Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories, said he is excited about the challenge of guiding an impressive squad to another Tour victory next year.
The Belgian also guided Spaniard Alberto Contador to his first triumph on the French roads in 2007 and said he could have quit the sport after that until Astana offered him another challenge.
“I was looking for different challenges so at the end of 2007 I decided it was over for me had to do what I had to do. I had won seven Tours with Lance and one with another rider,” Bruyneel told Reuters.
“I needed another excitement and then came the people from Astana. For me it was not about winning races, it was about turning a team around and I did that in one year.”
Astana reshuffled their lineup at the end of 2007 after Kazakhs Alexander Vinokourov and Andrej Kashechkin, Italian Eddy Mazzoleni and German Mathias Kessler were involved in a doping scandal, with the team being asked to leave the Tour de France following Vinokourov’s positive test for blood doping.
The Kazakh-funded outfit brought Bruyneel in as replacement for Marc Biver and the team, although not invited to participate in this year’s Tour de France because of the 2007 scandals, won the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta through Contador.
The arrival of American Levi Leipheimer also gave the team a strong flavour of the former Discovery Channel squad.
“I’m proud that I am privileged to work with people like that and I also think that it’s not for no reason they are on this team,” said Bruyneel, who won a Tour de France stage in 1993 as a rider.
“I have some critics saying, easy you just write a check and you get the best riders but I can tell you it’s not the way it happens, the people inside the business know I’m not the best payer.
“It’s for some reason that some want to absolutely be in this team.
“Lance rides for free, I did not write a check at all for him.”
Bruyneel also welcomed back former Discovery Channel rider Yaroslav Popovych of Ukraine from the Silence Lotto team.
“Even with riders like Levi or Popovych, there was basically no negotiation because they know the team is the best environment for them,” the 44-year-old said.
Armstrong and Contador will ride the Tour together next year after Armstrong, back in action after a three-year retirement, confirmed this week he would again take part in the famous race.
Bruyneel also believes that the addition of riders with strong egos to the squad can only be positive.
“You need to have strong egos, it lifts the level of competition within the team, it is contagious and if it is too easy, you end up with people without ambition,” he said.
“You could be in the same team or in another squad, you know that if there are two or three guys better than you, they will beat you anyway.”
Editing by Justin Palmer