Johan Bruyneel says Lance Armstrong was the "perfect target" to be sacrificed as cycling looked to clean up its act, saying at the time doping was simply "one of the rules of the game".
In an extensive interview with Eddy Magazine (opens in new tab), Bruyneel speaks about his time in the peloton as a rider and then becoming team manager at US Postal Service, throughout which doping was widespread in the peloton.
"Already, when you arrive at the professionals, you integrate into a world which very quickly puts you in front of a dilemma: either you adapt and you dope yourself, or you disappear," Bruyneel argues.
"The first year is difficult, but you do hang on, then you realize during your second year that those who were with you at the amateurs, now they drop off. All of a sudden, you see guys around you who become machines at the Tour de France.
"Well, what are you doing? You could say no [to doping], but then you know that you are failing, you give up on your job, your vocation, you throw away those long years of suffering and deprivation to reach the professional peloton."
Bruyneel goes on to say doping was one of the unspoken "rules of the game" and also that everyone was aware that at any time someone could break the Omertà and come clean about the peloton's activities.
"Doping, at the time, was one of the rules of the game, except that it was not written down. We all ran the risk that one day someone would break the law of silence. I never thought it was going to lead to such relentlessness against Lance and me," Bruyneel admits.
"At one point it took someone of some celebrity to set an example, to be sacrificed, and Armstrong was the perfect target.
"All the journalists knew. A few let go. But all the others were silent. They didn't want to dirty the sport they were covering, they were too afraid of losing their audience."
Bruyneel, who is currently serving a lifetime ban from cycling for his role in doping at US Postal, believes times are different now, saying it's something "foreign" to their cycling culture.
"I am observing a change in mentality," Bruyneel says. "Young people, today, you should not even talk to them about doping. It does not enter into their reasoning, it is completely foreign to their culture. Even vitamins, that is. is already limited."
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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