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There is no doubting Johan Bruyneel's status as the outstanding directeur sportif of his generation as far as major tours are concerned. After overseeing seven Tour de France victories with Lance Armstrong, a Vuelta a Espa¤a win with Roberto Heras and this year's Giro d'Italia success with Paolo Savoldelli, the Discovery Channel team manager clearly knows a thing or two about what it takes to win a three-week race.
This makes it all the more interesting when the Belgian claims in today's edition of Marca that he thinks Armstrong could have won the Tour again in 2006 if he hadn't decided to retire. Having watched Armstrong training with his former team-mates at Discovery's recent camp in Austin, Bruyneel said that "physically he is good enough for another Tour, and perhaps even two", adding: "I am convinced that he had another Tour in his legs."
However, Bruyneel quickly pointed out that he didn't think there was any chance of Armstrong going back on his decision to retire following this year's Tour. "I am sure that he won't return, although he could. After the Tour this year I spent time analysing the videos and realised the difference between him and the rest. It was bigger than even I thought," Bruyneel stated.
The Belgian declared himself very proud to have shared Armstrong's experiences at the Tour, confessing that he did not feel sad when the Texan announced his retirement, "but happy and grateful from having experienced his victories at close hand and having contributed minimally to his success. I would be lying if I didn't say I am proud of what we have done."
The Discovery DS said he knew that once this year's Tour started the only thing that would prevent Armstrong winning would be an accident or illness. "After the Dauphin, just before the Tour, his tests were very good. They were the best they'd ever been," Bruyneel admitted, adding that Armstrong's legacy to the Tour was his methodical way of preparation for races.
"It was almost mathematical: if you do this and this, the result will be that. Armstrong broke with all the traditional methods, took cycling out of that era, by going into the wind tunnel, testing with new materials. and this upset people who didn't want cycling to leave that world behind. Ultimately, as a result of his domination, they thought that the Tour was no longer their race but his, because he did what he wanted. And, on top of that, he was an American."
Bruyneel confirmed that Armstrong would continue to work with the team based both on his stakeholding in the squad and the two-year contract he signed with Discovery Channel. He expects Armstrong to be at next year's Tour but only to work with the team's main sponsors, and also to help bring on the team's younger riders. "His greatest desire is to see another of the team's riders win the Tour, not next year, but in the future," Bruyneel revealed.
Of the recent allegations printed in L'Equipe about what are claimed to be Armstrong's EPO-tainted dope tests from the 1999 Tour, Bruyneel said it had been the paper's intention simply to damage the seven-time Tour winner's reputation. "I can't reveal all that I know, but it is clear that the objective was to damage his reputation in any way," Bruyneel declared.
He continued: "We don't know if it was his urine [from the 1999 Tour], but it is clear that if something had been found in his urine it should not have come out in the press, but via an official organisation. And in that case they would have stripped him of the 1999 victory, wouldn't they? This story was not a surprise for us, it was simply one more in a long list of insinuations, criticisms and accusations that had been previously made."
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