Garmin Goes Good

Tour of Missouri Stg 7 Kansas City 13-09-09Among American cycling fans Jonathan Vaughters’ Garmin-Slipstream formation has enjoyed the loyal love afforded a hometown team. That love has been based more on the team being “American” than on having actually kicked a lot of ass.

Of course, it isn’t the only ProTour team registered in the U.S., as Bob Stapleton’s Columbia-HTC team is based in San Luis Obispo, California. However, despite an American owner and one of two title sponsors being American, most cycling fans still perceive the team as European for two simple reasons: Most of its sport directors came from the former T-Mobile team and it has almost no American riders.

Critics of the team have noted a dissonance between the amount of media attention Garmin garners wherever it goes, and its results. The undercurrent being—the team really hasn’t earned its status.

Many of the headlines the team has generated have come as a result of its outspoken anti-doping stance. On paper there are several teams with anti-doping programs as stringent as Garmin’s, but Jonathan Vaughters is the media’s go-to guy for quotes on how to run a clean cycling team. To be fair, no one else is as articulate on the challenges a pro cyclist faces or the mixed signals a rider might receive when trying to balance the need to produce results with the need to recover.

Until recently, most of the team’s wins have come in stages of smaller stage races and four national championships. A stage win and the leader’s pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia were all it claim for Grand Tour performances beyond a host of top-five finishes in stages and general classification.

But in less than a week two different riders, Tyler Farrar and Ryder Hesjedal, won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana, giving the team its first Grand Tour stage wins. Back home, the team defended its title at the Tour of Missouri with David Zabriskie’s time trial win that culminated in overall victory. It was the first stage race victory for the talented time trialist.

Unless you’ve been sleeping through September, you know all that. Why bother to note this? There are a great many teams with little ability to win outside of their star rider. Garmin-Slipstream won stages in two different stage races—meaning two different squads—despite the fact that Christian Vande Velde had to withdraw from the Tour of Missouri.

It’s been easy to slag on Tom Danielson for his failed promise. A probably top-10 at the Vuelta doesn’t measure up to the promises that he would be America’s next Tour de France winner, after Lance Armstrong, of course. That said, until he was struck with a virus, he was lying fourth on the general classification. Even so, he stands to give his team its second top-10 finish in a Grand Tour this year. That may seem an achievement of dubious value but consider that Cofidis, AG2R La Mondiale, Euskaltel-Euskadi and Columbia-HTC won’t post two Grand Tour top-tens and Quick Step won’t even post one.

Tyler Farrar’s three stage wins at the Eneco Tour of Benelux are significant more for what they taught Farrar and his teammates and as a confidence-building exercise than for the wins themselves. Those wins were an imperative step toward winning his first Grand Tour stage.

For a team in only its first year of the ProTour, Garmin-Slipstream deserves recognition for the team’s rise to earned prominence. Still a darling of the media, the team has results to justify the interviews and TV time.

Photo: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Reg

    Isn’t Vaughters the go-to guy because his team was the first to go with an open, external dope testing programme, not the internal, maybe-open, maybe-closed testing, or maybe monitoring, systems used by many others.

    1. Author

      Reg: Good point. In theory, Saxo Bank should be just as interesting a subject, though. Based on my experience, Vaughters is much more accessible (though still difficult) than Bjarne Riis.

  2. Yoni

    I feel like JV is the go to guy because his team was created because of his strong anti-doping stance and retirement under the same circumstances. Riis has had a similar policy at Saxo, but his team wasn’t created because he was fed up with the doping in pro tour cycling.

    Riis also came out and said he doped in the ’96 tour and even though JV has never confirmed nor denied his doping while in the pro peloton, Riis’s image is definitely tarnished. Unfortunately, I think this affects who is interviewed. And as a final note, Garmin hasn’t had their Basso or Hamilton (even tough he was caught on Phonak), which isn’t helping Riis’s cause. (Millar is an ex-doper but now is so anti-doping it almost boggles one’s mind why he did it in the first place).

    This post was all over the place, but think my point got across. Love the articles

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your perspective Yoni. I do agree with you about why Vaughters is so popular. That said, Vaughters has alluded to things that Riis has actually admitted. I think Riis deserves more credit than he gets. That he admitted EPO use during his win of the ’96 Tour without being prodded by a prosecutor is the act of a real man. We should celebrate his courage.

      And yes, Millar is now so anti-doping that he ever did it is truly surprising. You’re so right. Thansk for the kind words.

  3. Lachlan

    As with any sponsorship, its not just buying it that counts, but what you do with it… many teams, directors and riders over the years have shown that when it come to media coverage its not just about the results, but how interesting you are. That can be in riding style (attacking like a crazy man all the time / losing with panache!) and how you act off the bike (your character, stances on equipment, training, doping, etc).

    All fair game I guess. Helps make the sport even more interesting.

  4. bikesgonewild

    jonathon vaugthers had the balls to stand up several years ago & basically say “i’m going to put together a transparent team & not only will we race in europe but i expect us to be “showing” in the tour de france sooner rather than later”

    …i remember applauding his efforts but thinking “jonny boy, you’ve got a serious row to hoe…good luck, dude & i believe in ya”

    …well, that row did get hoed & the garden is flourishing but any new garden needs the time to get really productive…i hope the funds continue & that garmin – slipstream gets the opportunity to grow stronger…

    …i see colunbia – htc & the new radio shack as america’s “big money” teams & garmin as the local homegrown start-up team making it big…& while it must be a satisfying project for mr vaughters, i’m sure it he won’t be comfortable until he attains “top euro” status…

    …anyway, i only hope stapleton & vaugthers don’t get into another pissing contest in the coming season about who’s achieving more…that just detracts from the serious racing both teams are doing…

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