Lance Armstrong would have been the strongest rider of his generation even without doping, Johan Brunyeel has claimed.
Armstrong and his former manager Brunyeel are both banned from cycling for life for their involvement in systematic doping, while Armstrong was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France victories.
In an interview with Eurosport in France, Bruyneel said he has accepted responsibility for his role in the Armstrong doping scandal, but says he takes issue with the severity of the punishment.
Brunyeel, a Belgian former pro and team manager who worked with Armstrong from 1999 until 2011, said: “Lance’s character has been murdered. This collective demonisation is easy to do, but impossible to undo. It’s hard to take, especially since there has been a lot of hypocrisy.
“Doping or not, throughout the history of cycling, every great champion has always been the best of his generation. And Lance is no exception to this rule. Tell me what changed in cycling after Lance? Nothing.”
In 2012 Bruyneel was initially banned from cycling for 10 years by the American Arbitration Association, but his attempt to appeal the ban resulted in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) banning him for life in October 2018.
The CAS ruling said that between 1997 and 2007 the Belgian former pro had been “at the apex of a multitude of doping violations” and had helped and encouraged riders to dope as part of a “widespread and systematic doping program.”
During his career as a sports director and team manager, Bruyneel was involved in all seven of Armstrong’s Tour victories.
When asked whether he or Armstrong would want to return to cycling, Brunyeel said: “I am suspended for life and I do not see who could reverse this decision.
“It’s not so much a comeback that we would be interested in – it’s simply to be accepted.”