Garmin-Transitions Comes of Age

When Jonathan Vaughters’ fledgling PRO team first went to Europe, all who watched closely enough to care asked a single question: Will they win? It’s an unsurprising question. Any time a team ventures from any Anglophone country to Europe to race, fans wonder what races they might win.

However, in the case of what was then Slipstream Sports, the question had a subtext. What people wondered wasn’t so much whether a predominantly American team run by the single most dapper director in the sport could beat the Euros at their own game. No, the question was whether a team that was so conspicuously, laboriously clean could win a bike race.

Slipstream, in other words, was a crucible. As the most believably clean program in the sport, if they won, it would be proof that it was possible to race at the ProTour level and win clean. If they failed, then winning clean was doomed as an ideal. Kill that hope, and you might well be killing the sport for many.

Of all the criticisms I’ve heard of the Garmin-Transitions team—and I’ve heard many—the one I’ve heard most often was that they don’t win. They don’t win big stuff; they don’t win decisively. Sure, there are criticisms that Millar has never returned to his form of old, that Danielson will never fulfill the promise of his gifts, but they have just been scapegoats for the program’s larger lack of high-profile wins to shut the doubters up.

I think, maybe, the time has come to give Vaughters his due.

In a single day, Garmin-Transitions swept the stages of the two biggest bike races going on in the world.

In stage 10 of the Giro d’Italia, Tyler Farrar won the stage following a burned-rubber lead out from teammate Julian Dean. He out-sprinted Robbie McEwen, a notoriously proficient freelancer who can pirate anyone else’s lead out train to his benefit. He also bested Andre Greipel, Robert Forster and Danilo Hondo. At this point, just about the only guy Farrar hasn’t beaten in a head-to-head sprint is Mark Cavendish. He also leads the points competition. In short, anyone with any remaining doubts about Farrar’s real talent can sit down.

Less than nine hours later the unthinkable happened. David Zabriskie, one of the most talented time trialists to ever wear the stars and bars, a guy so known for his prowess on a second-by-second basis that he has been almost completely written off as a road racer, surprised everyone by jumping hard—not to mention insanely early—and held off Levi Leipheimer and Michael Rogers for the stage win in Santa Cruz. Zabriskie donned the leader’s jersey, climbing to the top of the general classification for the first time ever in the Tour of California. Though he twice finished the race in second place overall (2006 and 2009), it didn’t seem that too many media outlets (or fans) took him seriously as a real contender for the win.

His win in stage three seems to have made people re-think his potential.

One day, two wins, two jerseys. ProTour teams are supposed to have depth enough to be competitive at two races at once, but to sweep the day’s racing isn’t just good, we usually call it dominant.

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  2. Jonathan

    Well deserved comments for a hard-working team. I’d love to ask Vaughters..”How much harder do your guys need to train in order to compete? How big of a difference is it really?” I take my hat off to them.

  3. Henry

    It’s great news because doping is all about risk reward and the sponsors factor that into that equation as well as the athletes and DS’s. If Garmin-Transitions can deliver the goods given time and support without running the risk of dragging a sponsors name into a drug scandal maybe sponsors will insist on that model as a condition for support.

    You won’t get superman domination all season every season but you will get great racing and a team that is a positive credit to its sponsors brands over the long run not just until they get busted.

  4. Lachlan

    Love them. Garmin have always had a level of class and professionalism that is the hallmark of any great team. That’s what stands out more than where a team comes from. Same goes for individual riders.

    They also manage to be ‘interesting’ in some novel ways with out being a freakshow or just being about PR bull… like some more domestic US teams (here / departed) that one might think of!

  5. Souleur

    JV exudes panache and style like no other. Being a former racer himself, his team respects him. His mind, is a sharp as any tactician, perhaps second to Bruyneel and the antithesis in the same.

    I think alot of JV, his novel approach to a dope-free team led many to consider the biologic passport. I would expect also JV has alot more to give to cycling in the future.

    As Farrar goes, it was great to see him come to form, and I hope that translates into a serious challenge to Cav come july.

    As far as Zabriskie goes I remember his prologue win in 2005 and I realized what a talent he is. I watched him take the ITT in the Tour of Missouri and he was impressive then as he rode an overall win. He rode smart then, and I hope he will the next few days also. Levi has his hands full on the ITT coming up.

    Garmin has a good squad, and it goes to show it takes time to rise to the upper echelon of cycling.

  6. Robot

    What I appreciate most about Garmin Transitions is their sense of humor. Yes, they race well. Yes, they conduct themselves well. But, JV and Zabriskie also appear to be having fun. This is a stark contrast with some other big names in the sport: Bruyneel, Tchmil, Brailsford, Riis, who act like corporate execs or worse, unhappy in their overwhelming success.

  7. todd k

    I particularly liked how Vaughters handled the Wiggins situation. He showed a lot of class as well as good business sense.

  8. jza

    XAVI TONDO WILL WIN THE GIRO!!!! I said it first.

    Farrar’s St. 10 win was great. That was an amazing leadout. Dean was flying.

  9. jonathan

    Garmin is first class, agreed. Vaughters confirmed it today by standing behind DZ after Landis’ weird and strangely timed accusations.

    and btw – Porte for the win. Kid’s going to surprise everyone.

  10. SinglespeedJarv

    Talk about coming of age, very prescient timing Padraig. I think they are a brilliant team who have had some bad luck this year, not least because they lost Wiggins and I don’t think they were able to fill the role they’d anticipated he’d be in this year. Still Millar is looking stronger and stronger, really getting into his stride and given VDV’s flaky collarbone, Millar might be needed to step-up in France in the summer.

    The big test now, is how they handle Landisgrace. It’s not just DZ who is under the microscope, but Matt White and re-visiting the role Allen Lim played in the team. The fear was a blanket denial from Garmin, but I didn’t think that would happen, I think Vaughters is bigger than that and given the statement today I think that he will the barometer of truth in this latest mess.

  11. MattyVT

    After last year’s TdF Stage 14 I was pretty sour on Garmin with their smug insinuations and petty rivalry with Columbia. While I’m not ready to say I’m a fan, I do think JV’s support of Zabriskie is very admirable.

    To their credit I think they have done a lot to legitimize and re-energize the American fan base. In the wake of Floyd and Tyler we need them.

  12. randomactsofcycling

    No doubt Garmin has a DS that is trying to do things the right way, not just the way that gets him the most wins. If everyone cared as much about the sport as JV, we wouldn’t be having the problems we have.
    However, to say that they have lacked a list of high profile wins and insinuate this may be because they are clean…… does it mean that all the French teams are clean?(!)

  13. James

    I have always liked the way that Garmin got excited by little things. You would have sworn that Garmin had won Paris-Roubaix when Martin Maskant (no sure of the spelling) took 4th a few years ago. The same with CVV in the Tour a couple of years ago. I like, also, that they have a lot of Americans on the team not just one or two. I wish them nothing but continued success!

  14. Champs

    Now if Vaughters could find more sponsors that aren’t offshore shell companies, he’d really have something. I liked where they were going with Chipotle Mexican Grill…

  15. mark

    “At this point, just about the only guy Farrar hasn’t beaten in a head-to-head sprint is Mark Cavendish.”

    You forget about Stage 3 of 2009 Tirreno-Adriatico then. Farrar held off Cavendish as well as Boonen, McEwen, and Hushovd that day.

    1. Author

      Mark: Yeah, I’m aware of that, but while that was a great ride, to me it wasn’t … how to put it … main event enough. Early season form isn’t July form. Know what I mean?

  16. wvcycling

    Garmin to me, appears to be more human than the standard team. Even with LA’s thousand tweets per week, or other teams putting out PR speaches every week; the little things that make the team, and it’s members more familiar = win. They are also very very good at repping their sponsors.

    DZ’s little video/audio clips where he was making songs

    Ex-Member Lim’s recipe clips.

    Vaughters being everywhere, and knowing that he is going to be UCI material in the future, but still wanting to be a DS.

    I think they have done more for Camelbak than any other group/team in a long time. Same thing can be said about Garmin and possibly Clif/POM.

  17. bwebel

    When did cyclists take to calling the US national champions jersey the “stars and bars?” You aren’t the first I’ve seen do so. Plug “stars and bars” into google…anybody else see a little irony here?

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