The complete title of this book is: “We Might As Well Win”. It was published in 2009. It was written by Johan Bruyneel (with Bill Strickland), and includes a foreword by Lance Armstrong.
I say “it was written by Johan Bruyneel with Bill Strickland” because that’s what the cover says. But Bill Strickland says he wrote it, “with Johan Bruyneel”. In any event, it’s a very good book and I’m glad I read it.
Here is an excerpt from Johan’s bio on the back cover of the book:
- “Johan Bruyneel is a former professional cyclist and was the team director, from 1999 to 2007, of the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, which later became the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team. He has guided his teams to a record twelve Grand Tour victories, making him the winningest team director in the history of the sport.”
Bill Strickland’s complete bio (also from the back cover of the book) reads as follows:
- “Bill Strickland is the executive editor of “Bicycling”, and the author of several books.”
What the title refers to, and what the book is about, is quoted on the back cover of the book: “In 1998, (Johan Bruyneel) looked Lance Armstrong in the eye and said, ‘Look, if we’re going to ride the Tour, we might as well win’.”
Lance Armstrong describes his relationship with Johan in the following quote, also from the back cover: “The first thing he did for me, the one thing that made everything else possible, was the simplest and at the same time probably the most difficult: he believed in me.”
The author sets the tone in the first chapter of the book (ie., the “Prologue”), with the observation that in the USA: “the general public considers the bicycle more of a child’s toy than a high-tech marvel of sport gear.”
Johan describes briefly his career as a bicycle racer, and segues into how he came to be the Director Sportiff of the teams on which Lance Armstrong would ride into the record books.
In the chapter about recruiting talent, Johan gives his three reasons to sign “this guy” vs. “that guy”:
1. “…signing the best riders made us strong on the road….”
2. “…signing top riders to our team meant that they would be racing for us rather than against us….”, and
3. “…I knew someday the team would have to find a way to win without Lance. Though no one could ever fill those legendary shoes, I was committed to auditioning people for the role.”
In the chapter titled “Trust People – Not Products” Johan describes the development of a million dollar bike which Lance, ultimately, didn’t ride.
One big aspect of this book is Johan’s philosophy of tempering both victory and defeat.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- “The Tour de France is like life. It’s not a game, or a series of games. It’s a two-thousand-mile, month long odyssey that creates and breaks heroes, elevates some while diminishing others.
- “The Tour de France is the only sporting event, someone once said, so long that you have to get your hair cut in the middle of it.”
- “I’ve always had this idea that if you’re going to try something, if you’re going to expend that first big block of effort and energy to participate – whether it’s riding the Tour de France or applying for a new job or coaching your daughter’s soccer team – you might as well go ahead and give whatever else it takes to win, I mean, I’m going to be there no matter what, right? Why not go ahead and get the victory?”
- “For my part, I’d always found his brash, aggressive style entertaining rather than off-putting.”
- “The point of a bike race isn’t to get to the finish and have all the other team directors gather around and tell you how polite and considerate you are as a driver. The point isn’t to make sure my passenger- whether it’s a team mechanic, or the visiting CEO of our current sponsor, or even Lance – feels safe.”
- “From its beginning, the Tour has been a showcase for dishonesty, chaos, and cheating right alongside virtues such as nobility, bravery, sacrifice, and triumph.”
- “My heart was willing. But my legs told me no.”
- “The difference with Lance was that I always knew that something would have to go horribly wrong for him not to stand atop the podium in July; in contrast, for us to get up there now, everything would have to go right.”
- “I understood that not only is it not the victor’s duty to apologize for a win, it is not even his right. A win is a win and you cannot excuse yourself from it because of circumstance. Your opponent’s condition is not your fault, nor are their strategies. Rain, heat, the good luck to not get a flat tire, a dog running across the road – none of the infinite and unpredictable conditions of competition are yours to feel bad about. To do so dishonors those you defeated.”
- “…winning – true victory – is about how you go about winning more so than the win itself.”
- “You can achieve a victory in a race, in a game, at work, at home, and still be a loser in life.”
- “No one wins alone, at least not in cycling, or life.”
I truly enjoyed reading “We Might As Well Win”, and I recommend it highly to anyone at all, but particularly to those with an interest in athletic competition.