In Part II of our interview with Jonathan Vaughters we discuss the team’s objectives for 2009, leadership at the Grand Tours and the enigma known as Tom Danielson.
BKW: What are the team’s biggest objectives for 2009?
JV: It sounds overly optimistic, but our effort with the riders and staff is to win the Tour de France. We realize that is a dark horse scenario. The point is we see it’s a possibility. Contador is the best stage racer in the world right now. For us to go head-to-head with him, we have to create enough of an advantage in the two time trials where Christian has a large advantage and then limit losses, limit losses. Contador is hard. Schleck is hard. We have a great TTT squad.
If Christian were to win the Tour de France, it wouldn’t be a specatuclar win, lots of steady Eddie, lots of 4ths and 5ths on mountain stages. Contador can make extremely violent accelerations on climbs. Christian can’t match those, but he can maintain a very high, very steady pace. He just has to ride his own pace.
BKW: Team Garmin/Slipstream is going to face increased competition at the ’09 Tour de France with the presence of both Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, not to mention Levi Leipheimer. What will you do differently from ’08 in your quest to put Christian Vande Velde in the yellow jersey?
JV: It seems like everyone is changing to our program. They are all shifting to doing the Giro before the Tour. I don’t think with Christian we’re going to change a whole lot. He’s going to the Giro but more importantly, he has a greater sense of confidence about his ability and he’s at a higher level of fitness.
We can do the Dauphine and Tour de Suisse with other riders. Dan Martin and David Millar can do a more traditional run-up to the Tour. We’d really like to win the team time trial. We’d also like to have a climber up there with Christian in the mountains. And we might take some guys that people might not expect. Svein Tuft, because of his time trialing ability, could end up at the Tour.
BKW: Now that the team is in the ProTour, you’re going to field teams at each of the three Grand Tours. If Vande Velde will be the team’s leader at the Tour, who are your likely leaders for the Giro and the Vuelta?
JV: It goes back to our base of where we can win. The Giro starts with a TTT and we want to get the pink jersey and defend it a little longer. Christian could lead at the Giro.
The Vuelta: David Millar really wants to go there. He wants a chance to repeat some of the stage wins he’s had at the Vuelta in the past. He’s doing the Tour/Vuelta double and skipping the Giro. We’ll be trying out some of our new climbers—stars of the future—at the Vuelta.
BKW: Let’s talk about Tom Danielson. He’s a rider who has possessed immense potential, and while he was able to win nearly anything here in America, he hasn’t enjoyed any significant success in Europe. Factoring out injuries and illness, it seems he should have been able to achieve more than his resume shows. Why is that?
JV: I think Tom is a little bit of a victim of his own expectations and the expectations of his fans and the press. He immediately started winning shorter stage races in the US. In bigger, faster-moving pelotons he’s had a lot of trouble.
Tom’s a pretty high-strung person. He wants to win for himself but he also wants to win to meet the expectations of others. He is a people pleaser, and it quickly spirals down when he doesn’t feel like he’s pleasing others. He began wondering why he was racing a bike. I had to wait until he hit bottom before we could rebuild him as a bike racer.
He has a very unique physiology. He says he’s 15% Eskimo. We’ve done tests and he does not utilize fat very well. He was burning sugar almost exclusively. When you burn sugar you become more acidic and after three and a half, four hours, he really couldn’t perform at the same level as he did one hour in. He couldn’t do anything at the end of a six hour race.
So I said, ‘We gotta teach you to burn fat as fuel. How well do you produce power after six hours and three or four 20-30 minute efforts?’
Tom had to work on his ability to burn fat. We completely changed his diet. We moved him away from the standard carbohydrates. He was eating a lot of nuts, a lot of protein and guacamole. For the first two months he was bonking on every ride. He was cursing me on every ride. Now he’s up to six hour rides not finishing all the Clif bars in his pockets.
He’s really professional, and he has really put his heart in it. He can be a really good, solid, quality bike rider and have success on this team. I think it really showed at the Tour of Missouri. There was a stage in which he was the last guy with Christian and was really able to keep it together for him. He’s turned his attitude around.
End Part II
Images courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International
Most teams have managers, leaders, directors but almost never is the driving force behind a racing program called the mastermind. Jonathan Vaughters is that rare guy to whom that moniker is frequently attached. It denotes a deliberate nature and a degree of planning that seemingly leaves nothing to chance. His big picture view of cycling, the doping problem, how the elements of a team come together to cultivate success or destroy morale is on its way to becoming legendary.
He is a man with a finely honed sensibility about all he comes in contact with. Rather than relying on rules and regulations to inform his actions his ethical standards which are guided by his own internal moral compass have helped breathe new life into the pro peloton and riders—both neo and veterans—are turning to him in the hopes that his management might give the sport a new lease.
The fast-talking Denver native took some time to talk with BKW prior to a team training camp. This is the first of a three-part interview.
BKW: You’ve been quoted saying that your team should have tried to win more last year. How did the team perform relative to your expectations?
JV: Well that wasn’t quite what I said. My meaning was that there were a lot of races where the only thing that stopped us from winning the race was we were so happy being there that we didn’t really take the initiative to try to win. Take Roubaix, Martijn was at the back of the group of seven when Boonen, Cancellara and Ballan broke away. When I asked him about why he didn’t go with them—not that he did anything wrong per se—he said, ‘I thought I was tired and didn’t think I could.’ But 10k later he was strong enough to drop his group. Who knows what would have happened if he’d had a little more confidence.
The bigger example is the second rest day of the Tour de France, I recommended a four hour training ride. Christian said, ‘I don’t want to ride that much. Tomorrow’s a big mountain stage.’ He wasn’t confident to do a four hour training ride and be fresh for the next day. But that little bit, that extra sharpness in the legs is that last 3% that makes the difference in being with the leaders on the stage. The next day was the stage over the Bonette, when he got dropped. If you subtract that stage out of the Tour de France … run the math backward and he could very well have won the Tour de France. As a team leader that last 3% makes all the difference.
So in the final analysis, we lacked a little bit of confidence. We overlooked the opportunity to win. We went into the season with expectations of a fair-to-middlin’ team and didn’t think we’d be one of the better teams. I think now, if you look at the last half of the year the team was one that could go and take charge of a race and get the win. Before, there were a lot of opportunities where we just didn’t know how to win.
BKW: Obviously Saxo Bank, Astana and Columbia have undertaken anti-doping efforts similar to Team Garmin/Slipstream, but there are many teams that haven’t undertaken the same degree of effort to ensure their riders are clean. Did the positives of Kohl and Schumacher at Gerolsteiner surprise you?
JV: Surprised of course, shocked no. When you institute new tests you are going to snag guys in that snare. I know Hans Michael Holczer and think he has a strong anti-doping ethos, but I was surprised when he criticized our and other teams’ internal screening efforts. All of these screening programs are instituted because we have the financial ability to do something a sanctioning body can’t do. There is no choice here; this has to be done now or the sport will die.
We, as teams, can move much faster than a governing body to implement new solutions to try and ensure clean racing. At the end of the day the success of our team and Columbia shows this sport, as a whole, is much cleaner. It’s a slow shift in the mentality of the riders and managers, but I think that shift has been made. The old mentality of, ‘You can’t succeed without doping’—that environment has passed. Columbia certainly made their mark all year.
Compared to how much the public and press knew about doping in the ’90s, the situation is quite different now. Back then much less was publicly known. Now the public and the press overestimate how much doping is going on, so I think the situation has reversed itself to a great degree. Maybe in a year or two the perception on the part of the public and press will be more in line with how much doping there actually is in the sport.
BKW: Do you think other teams will take up your approach this year?
JV: Cofidis has some sort of program in place and Fuji Servetto wants to have some sort of system in place and Liquigas is doing something and Basso has some individual program of his own.
It doesn’t matter why a team is doing it. End of the day if they’re screening, it’s a good faith effort. The motivation ‘why’ isn’t important. If they’re doing it and it’s working and it’s making the sport cleaner, then it’s good.
BKW: Do you think it will be enough for teams to rely on the biological passport system?
JV: Yeah, I think it will be. What people don’t understand is the biological passport system has come under criticism prematurely. It takes time to generate all the data necessary for a full blood profile. We’re still in the relatively early stages of gathering that data on many riders. Internal independent systems are meant as a way to bridge the gap to the day when the passport will be all we need.
But we definitely need the UCI and WADA and USADA. I can’t, as an employer, suspend my rider for two years. As far as my rights go is to bench a rider temporarily if I think something is off. For this to work, the UCI needs more information and tighter margins of error. At that point, they’ll be able to focus on the athletes delivering abnormal results. By 2010 the internal systems may be obsolete. Do I worry about other teams that aren’t doing the testing we are? No. I can see these other systems like Catlin’s and Damsgaard’s folding into the passport system and them and their services becoming contractors to it. The passport system needed a little more time to operate before criticism began. I’m confident it will work.
BKW: During your career your great successes came as a climber and time trialist. Team Garmin/Slipstream is composed primarily of climbers and time trialists. Is it fair to say that the team is made in your own image?
JV: Honestly, climbing as a little bit of our weakness. With sprinting I see Cavendish and Benatti as such dominant sprinters and so dominant that spending the money on a sprinter might not be worth it. Now we do have guys like Julian, who can get over some of the climbs that other sprinters can’t handle with the lead group, but he’s a strong all-around rider. Our sprinters like Julian, Sutton and Farrar are multitalented riders. I think in the next year Tyler Farrar could become one of the best prologue riders in the world.
I saw time trialing as an area where we could win. We’re more creative and more driven to eke out the last few seconds’ advantage. We can push the wind tunnel testing, our equipment sponsors, our training thanks to Allen Lim to get the most out of that kind of racing. Where we’re suited best and the strengths of our sponsors, is in time trialing.
With climbing, Contador and Sastre are extremely expensive; we couldn’t afford them, so I went to young unproven guys like Dan Martin to develop them and hopefully keep them as they develop, when I have the money in the bank account. Climbing is our long-term game.
End Part I
Images courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International
Bike Snob NYC is one of those rare blogs that combines wit with an acidic sense of propriety masquerading as humor. You can search the blogs on music, politics, cars or World of Warcraft and you aren’t likely to find a greater moral outrage over more minor infractions than on BSNYC. Not since The Washingtonienne has a blog utilized more pixels in its quest to skewer targets.
For every person I meet who likes BSNYC, I meet another who finds the blog harsh, mean-spirited and not reflective of the average cyclist’s views.
When I was in second grade I read a short story about a monk who was given a vision of heaven. Angels gave him this glimpse of the afterlife as a reward for his piety, but his return to daily life was hell itself. In his glimpse of life behind the pearly gates, he heard music. Music the angels make to serenade God himself. The sound was pure, without dissonance and a beauty so haunting that it lasted in the listener’s mind the way a taste of fine wine lingers on the tongue.
On the monk’s return to our waking life, music was ruined for him. Even the greatest symphonies were cruel taunts barely hinting at what beauty was truly possible. He hated music.
I think the same thing happened to BSNYC. I think he got a vision of cycling in heaven. How else can you explain such a finely honed sense of style.
Even the gentlest, most forgiving roadie knows there is a PRO way to do things and a NOT way to do things. You take your turn at the front. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t show up with tube socks. You don’t turn your bike into a piece of art. You show respect for the riders around you. And sometimes you chuckle at the clueless.
One can be forgiven for imagining BSNYC hasn’t shared the road with a knowledgeable rider since the advent of indexed shifting. He suffers hell here on earth. We decided to interview him to find out why.
BKW: You have a finely honed sense of roadie style. What riders exemplify your sense of proper style?
BSNYC: Hard to say. Proper style varies from race to race and from decade to decade. You know–Grand Tour style vs. classics style vs. crit style. It even varies from body type to body type. You just know it when you see it.
Helmets have pretty much killed style in road cycling anyway. Not that I have anything against helmets, mind you, but let’s be honest. Cycling looked better before helmets.
BKW: A lot of being a good rider is basic consideration: not being a squirrel in the pack, blowing your nose down and not out, pointing out road debris. As crimes against cycling go, is there anything that offends you more than lack of consideration?
BSNYC: I think one of the biggest crimes in cycling is whining. I see this in people who yell “Close that gap!” or “Pull through!” all race long, or who get angry at others, or who make excuses and look for someone else to blame when they don’t get a result. If you want a gap closed, close it yourself or keep quiet. Bragging is another unforgivable crime. Strong cyclists never need to brag. You brag with your legs. Road riding is about class, and class is the absence of whining and bragging.
BKW: Is there anything about your own riding or personal sense of style about which you are sensitive?
BSNYC: I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin. I have no illusions about my abilities, I love to ride and race, and I’m happy being pack-fill.
BKW: It seems one of your pet peeves is practicality, that is, anything a cyclist uses ought to make sense. How do you define practical?
BSNYC: What’s practical obviously varies from discipline to discipline, but what drives me crazy in all cases is when vanity trumps common sense. On the road, a good example is the person doing a Sunday group ride on a $2,000 tubular wheelset. If you’ve got the cash you can afford training wheels. Practicality is using the right tool for the right job. Save the jewels for the ball–don’t wear them to the bar.
BKW: The subtext of your posts, the way I read them, is that those cyclists you write about are missing an opportunity to enjoy all the sport has to offer. Do you despair that those cyclists will learn how it’s done?
BSNYC: Well, of course I understand that some people enjoy different aspects of cycling than I do, so it would be wrong of me to say somebody else is missing the point. At the same time, though, I do think people who become hyper-focussed on certain elements of the sport do sometimes miss out. This goes for me too, by the way. As cyclists, we’re a very anal species, and we need to be careful not to get too obsessive. We need to look out for each-other! That’s part of the reason I often make jokes about getting hung up on your equipment, or on training, and why I try to make light of our tendency to take this whole thing too seriously. Because getting too obsessed with training or upgrading or being overly fastidious about your bike is a great way to waste time, energy, and money that could be better put towards enjoying yourself on your bike. We need to let go sometimes and remember to have fun.
BKW: Shouldn’t it be enough that if a cyclist is having fun, then they must be doing it right?
Interbike is great way to see the latest and greatest, and any films from the gang at World Cycling Productions provides insight into the PRO peloton and the art of racing in the big leagues. Both, however, lack the depth and insight into what it means to be deep in the PRO world. Deep in the sense that you are living and breathing PRO cycling.
BKW recently caught up with veteran of the PRO ranks: journeyman, mechanic, and Belgian resident George Noyes, to discuss the subtleties that make the PRO circuit so enthralling.
About Mr. Noyes George began his career in the mid-eighties as a team mechanic for the Schwinn PRO team, graduating to the International stage, and making his Tour/Classics debut with the 7-11 team. From there, George built on his experience and knowledge as head mechanic for the Motorola squad in the early 90s, a short stint at Cofidis, and then the mother of all Classics squads, Mapei. George’s professional experience included Andy Hampsten’s Giro win, Armstrong’s World’s victory, and complete and utter Mapei domination at the “Queen of the Classics,” Paris-Roubaix.
George has prepared machines for some of the 20th century’s greatest riders and lived the “behind the scenes” experience by which BKW is so captivated. Over a few espressos, George opened up about his experiences and, naturally, I probed him for information and a sense of what his life was like while working for these teams. Honestly, there was so much incredible information that came from our discussion that it would be impossible to compile it into a readable form in a single post. Therefore, based on the size of George’s experience, I’ll provide small vignettes that comprise George’s experiences. Some parts of our discussion dealt with the classics, others with the Grand Tours. A few times, we merely spoke in generalities, other times, in full swing with detailed accounts of the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the moments in PRO cycling that are burned into all of our memories. The title for these posts will be “Bring the Noyes” and, it’s only fitting that I commence this series with a tale of LA’s World’s victory in a rain-soaked Oslo in 1993.
Oslo, Norway – August 29, 1993 Lance has always been a leader. Early in his career, LA’s tough exterior and strategic mind were beginning to take shape, a glimpse of the road ahead perhaps. In the days leading up to the road race, Motorola’s team management had exhaustively discussed race day tactics and without question, LA felt he had the legs to capture the rainbow jersey.
Motorola’s staff and riders awoke to a steady rain the morning of August 29th. LA was to ride a Tennessee-built titanium bike for the day’s event. George had prepared Lance’s wheels and glued a fresh set of tubulars. The pressure for the day’s rain: 7.5 bars (r) and 6.5 bars (f). As the mechanics feverishly prepared the team’s machines, LA and Motorola DS Jim Ochowicz had come out to the service course to check on the bikes and the weather. Ochowicz was especially concerned about the weather, the rain, and the team’s chances. The big issue for the mechanics focused on LA’s bottle cages. Apparently, the threaded inserts that held the bottle cage into the frame would not tighten properly and both cages were rattling. There was risk they would fire off mortar-style, mid-race. With the start approaching rapidly, one of the mechanics disappeared into the hotel to seek out a solution. He returned a bit later with four, self-tapping screws; the kind an old ski binding would use to mount to a ski. (In fact, they were the very hardware that held the hotel owner’s bindings to his skis!) The four simple screws were forced into the frame, securing the bottle cages to the frame. (Rumor has it the hotel owner had no idea that the screws from his skis had been carried to a World’s victory. That is, until his ski holiday was brought to an abrupt close mid-run. Apparently the screws never made it back to his skis.)
As George applied the finishing touches to LA’s machine, Ochowicz and LA continued to discuss the weather and the team’s chances and George was treated to a front row seat, which made him privy to a defining moment in LA’s career. In fact, in hindsight the comment seems so telling: As Ochowicz expressed his concerns for the weather, LA with an air of coolness and simplicity, reassured Ochowicz by saying, “Let me handle it.” In 1993, LA knew he had the mind to be a legend, it was only a matter of time before he began to lay the groundwork. Hours to be exact.