Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: We Might As Well Win

Johan Bruyneel, if you don't already know, was Lance Armstrong's Director Sportif during his winning years, as well as during Alberto Contrador's first tour victory. We Might As Well Win, ghost-written by VeloNews's Bill Strickland, is his memoir of his winning years.

There's something about sport coaches: they always seem to have a post-retirement career lecturing business people on how to run their businesses, and their memoirs always seem to be written with this final goal in mind. Bruyneel's book has a theme, which is that if you want to win, you've got to sacrifice almost everything else to it. Whether it be denting other directors' cars while driving support during the Tour De France, planning the stage win so that it's within your abilities, or sacrificing all other races in the season in order to focus on the Tour, Bruyneel definitely did that and did that well. What he neglected to mention was that he wasn't the first to do so. Greg Lemond did so as well, and was frequently accused of being only focused on the Tour because that's what mattered to his American sponsors. This is not surprising and there's no need to apologize for it, but I felt that Bruyneel could have spelled it out.

There's quite a bit of life history in this book, from his early days of racing to his father's tragic death. One interesting thought that came through in this book is that the best coaches/director sportifs (including Chris Carmichael) aren't the top athletes. They're the middling athletes who were only able to win by being craftier, more focused, and smarter than the really strong guys who can just crank it up and power over any problems. Obviously, when you combine the smarts of someone like Bruyneel with the power of someone like Lance Armstrong, you get a track record that's unbeatable. (Note that this sort of thing could only happen with the advent of race radios!) I wonder whether or not the same applies to engineers. Maybe the best mentor you can have isn't the smartest guy in the room, but the guy who's not so smart but was only able to get where he got by applying his savviness in other areas. Or maybe in high intellect-demand professions like computer science all that matters is being smart.

In any case, the book is very well written, and the stories in it exciting and fun. It was so much fun that when I finished with it and told Cynthia about it, during the day when we had to do the car transfer she grabbed my Kindle and read it all in one go. There's no way this book would get anything less than a highly recommended rating, especially if you're a cyclist.

One final note: one of the sacrifices Bruyneel claims he made was that he never saw his kids very much while he was being a successful director sportif. Near the end of the book he talked a bit about backing off his work so he could spend more time with them. Judging from the fact that he seems to be all over the place even now, I would be very surprised if he did succeed in gaining more time to spend with his family. One problem with success is that it's very addictive.
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