Book Review -Johan Bruyneel, "We Might as Well Win"

Any cycling fan, knows who Johan Bruyneel is. He is the most successful Director Sportif of our time and maybe of all time with his 9 tour victories, and seven of those being consecutively.. A brilliant mind in the sport of cycling and he has written this book. I must admit, I haven't enjoyed such a book in a very long time. Actually, I’ll go on the record to say this is my favourite book to date !

We the reader , are privy to his philosophy of which will open your eyes to one of the great “cycling thinkers” of our time. For those looking for answers to controversy, or ammunition to continue criticizing Bruyneel (or Armstrong,) you will not find it here. There is NO other coach, manager, director or even player that comes to mind that has the winning track record owned by Johan Bruyneel,. Seven consecutive Tour de France wins , and then returning and winning again in the 9th year borders on the supernatural. If you want to learn how to win, or become a winner at something, this is the book for you. His relationship with Lance is heart warming to read. The perfect example of “two people clicking” or “hitting it off” right from the get go, is magical. If you re-watch the Tour footage as you read this book, you will see a completely different picture from what Liggett and Sherwen are mentioning.

Johan's writing takes you behind the wheel of a director sportif and into his mind during his race preparations, and race decisions. Its nothing short of brilliance. I don't care what people think or say of him, his record speaks by itself. Its very insightful in how he manages, directs and motivates his team. We all can learn by his methods. I know I certainly am. At times, I felt as I was in the front row seat in the team car during races.

Johan has a fantastic talent in the way he could analyze riders and situations in a race. His talent is held by a few and the only other I can think of. before his time would be Cyril Guimard. Cyril had that same keen eye to spot talent and bring the best out of cyclists. This could not be more evident in his poaching of a young American Greg LeMond , and we all know how that story went. Johan has a passion for winning at everything he does in life. Its not a competition, but more rather along the lines of never settling and becoming complacent. Striving to be better at everything you do is his motto. This could not be more prevalent in project F1. Johan and his relentless pursuit of perfection , had every single piece of Lance’s gear analyzed and re-analyzed. Everything right down to the helmet straps. Then he took it a step further in wind tunnel testing. He found and brought in a body double to simulate Lance on the test bike to test all the bike equipment in the wind tunnel, so Lance’s training would not be disrupted. Who goes to that length ? Talk about thorough ? When I read this, I really thought this guy’s methods are simply revolutionizing the sport. An athlete John Litherland turned out to be the exact body dimension of Lance. So he was perfect in the wind tunnel testing. Again, only brilliant minds go to these extremes ? No other team even thinks of these kinds of methods. Well I’m sure they do now after Johan’s methods were made public.

Johan introduced another huge shift in training methodology and that was reconnaissance riding. He had Lance doing reconnaissance rides of the Tour de france route from January. So when they rode the same route in July, Lance would know ever corner, every road surface and gradient beforehand. Now almost all teams have adopted this early / off season regiment.

Another story that stood out for me in the book, was regarding the Tour in 2001, after an Individual TT. Lance unfortunately did not hydrate enough, and bonked to the point of losing 15lbs of body weight after the 29mile test. Fifteen pounds after only 29 miles ???? Wow ? Talk about “Depletion” I thought that was a misprint but Lance dehydrated himself to the point of almost losing the tour. It was a one of Lance’s dark days during the tour. But Johan being the Director extradordinaire, vowed he needed a way to find some positive out of it and he did and it allowed his No. 1 charge to resurface and eventually go on to win the tour.

We the reader are also privy to Johan’s deep generosity , when he sites the example of trying sign a rider (Max Van Heeswijk) on the team. There was no room in the budget and Johan was denied signing Max. But he felt so passionate about this particular rider, that he paid the rider out of his own pocket !! Actions like this speak volumes about his character. I don't know of any DS who would ever take a pay cut to accommodate a rider ? Its something Bjarne Riis should learn if he wants Contador to have any chance in 2012.

There are quite a few similar stories as this, showing Johan’s brilliance. This one in particular stands out for me. Any professional cycling team is made up of 1 to 3 team directors (coaches as we call them in North America). Teams are racing and training in different parts of the world and have allocated staff to go with them. One story leapt out at me as Johan had to “coach a coach.” When he had to motivate his other team director (Dirk de Mol) to keep the team Dirk was managing focused on the job. Its one thing to have to worry about one team, but having to worry and motivate another director is phenomenal. Talk about spreading yourself thin. In North American translation, iIt would be similar to a coach in the NHL , NBA or NFL being responsible and coaching not one, but two teams simultaneously. That’s simply unheard of in today’s professional sports. But its Johan’s reality.

The only item I had wished he addressed in more detail, was the departure of Floyd Landis and the doping allegations by Frankie Andreu. But I guess he has his reasons.

I love this quote by legendary cycling commentator Phil Liggett:

Johan Bruyneel could inspire a tortoise to sprint! His tactical reflexes and sharp coaching eyes have honed his athletes into the most calculating winning machines of all time.
-Phil Liggett

This book is inspirational to say the least. Its not only about cycling, its full of real world advice taken from Johan’s own personal high and low points. Indirectly, he teaches us how we can go from 'good' to becoming "Great" at all aspects of our life. I know I sound like an Oprah episode, but I'm not joking.I believe, this book can relate to every person in some factor or another. Whether it be a competition, a relationship, or just striving to better oneself. I anxiously await to see Johan under his new team RadioShack –Nissan transform Andy Schleck in 2012. Go Johan !

A great quote about Johan’s philosophy:
You never know which moment of success will be the one that ends up changing your life, so they’re all worth fighting for.

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