Jonathan Vaughters Interview: New backer, July targets and chasing Giro-Tour double
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Monday, June 25, 2012

Jonathan Vaughters Interview: New backer, July targets and chasing Giro-Tour double

by Shane Stokes at 3:06 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
Garmin-Sharp team manager speaks in final countdown to Tour de France

Jonathan VaughtersWhile at least one other team has had a month to forget, the past few weeks have been good ones for the Garmin-Barracuda team. The American squad took the Maglia Rosa in the Giro d’Italia, lost it, regained it and held it until the end with Ryder Hesjedal, picking up its first Grand Tour victory in the process.

Then, after last week naming a strong Tour de France selection headed by Hesjedal, the team today announced that it had agreed a contract with a new co-sponsor. Electronics firm Sharp has come on board effective immediately, giving the team a financial boost and making the future more secure.

Under the UCI’s regulation which allows a maximum of two title sponsors, the team will be referred to as Garmin-Sharp. It will use the title Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda on its own website and in team communications, as do other teams in that position. As Vaughters explains in the interview below, carried out in two conversations in recent days, the new deal gives the team welcome financial stability after a previous sponsor agreement unravelled prior to its commencement.

In 2011 the riders picked up four stages in the Tour de France; the team time trial and three individual stage wins via Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar, who took two and one respectively. It was also the winner of the team classification, and Tom Danielson was the Tour’s best American rider in ninth.

Danielson returns this year as one of three riders who will be protected for the overall. Hesjedal is the absolute leader, despite his exertions in the Giro. While others such as Alberto Contador have wilted in the Tour after winning the Italian race, Vaughters explains to VeloNation why he thinks things could be different for Hesjedal.

If it does prove too much, either Danielson or Christian Vande Velde could step forward to push for a high placing. If it turns out that one or other are in the form of their lives, they too could get a chance.

Looking at the others, Tyler Farrar and Dan Martin have very different characteristics but will have similar goals. Taking a stage somewhere between Liège and Paris will be the priority for each, and Vaughters explains how he sees their Tours unfolding.

As for the remaining riders, David Millar, Dave Zabriskie, Robbie Hunter and Johan Vansummeren will provide very strong support. They could well have their own opportunities, not least the three time trials where the first two of that quartet could shine.

VeloNation: First off, Jonathan, congratulations on the news that Sharp has come on board. What does that mean for the team?

Jonathan Vaughters: Well, BigMat put us in a bit of lurch last year, and we are thankful that Sharp has decided to step up and fill that spot for us. Obviously it is a company that is really congruent with everything we do in cycling.

It is a technology based sponsor…it has a lot of neat stuff that we are going to use, and that we feel can be pretty performance-enhancing for the riders. For example, they have a really advanced portable air filter system that we are going to put in the bus and in the riders’ rooms. You hear a lot about allergies now; that system is a super high-technology air filter that pretty much pulls all the pollen out of the air.

So, it’s little advantages like that that were are always looking for. They are right in line with that. They have already given us some access to their technology development lab for some new stuff. So we are excited about working with them, and they are also a sponsor that fits in with the image of the team. We are looking to do a good job for them.

VN: Presumably the deal is good for budget too, making things a little easier going forward?

JV: Well, it doesn’t change our budget because when BigMat defaulted on that commitment, we were stuck in a situation where basically team owner Doug Ellis had to recapitalize. Over the next few years it will hopefully gets us into the position where we don’t have to go into debt to run the team any more. It doesn’t really change our overall budget, but it just puts us in a better position financially.

VN: How long is this deal for, and also what’s the situation with Garmin?

JV: Sharp is for the rest of this year and for 2013 and 2014. As for Garmin, they are in the game long-term.

Tour targets:

VN: Let’s look at the Tour itself, and the team you have announced. What are you trying to achieve there?

JV: As in past tours, we have a pretty diverse set of goals. I think we have a couple of riders that can definitely contend for the general classification. Tyler is I think in a role where he can be the joker in the field sprints. I don't foresee us riding like in past years, where we are pulling the field along for 120 kilometres. We are going to focus a little bit more on the GC race this year, so we probably won’t be doing that.

Then with Dan Martin, he is an interesting wild card for mountain stages. I don’t know that he is quite ready to ride for the overall just yet, but if he loses some time in the time trials and flat stages, it puts him into a good position to get into some breakaways and ride aggressively in the mountains. Certainly my hope would be that he can sneak in a stage win in one of the mountain stages.

VN: Who do you see as leader of the team for GC?

Ryder HesjedalJV: Well, Ryder is going to be the leader of the team. We haven’t had someone who has won the Giro and then been able to be on the podium in the Tour de France; Contador was fourth or fifth last year, although, I guess he was disqualified. Then the year before that Basso was seventh, I think, if I am not mistaken. So while in recent times there hasn’t been a rider who has been able to recover from winning the Giro to come and get the podium in the Tour de France, I think Ryder is unique in that he is very robust, physically.

He also hasn’t taken a lot of the promotional opportunities, dinner with the prime minister of Canada and so on and so forth. He has actually just gone back and trained very hard for the month of June and recovered. From that respect, he has kept a very low profile and he has focussed on the Tour de France. And at the very end of the Giro, he was riding better than at the beginning.

So, I have no reason to believe that he can’t be a contender at the Tour de France.

VN: Given their backgrounds, Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson could also go for GC. So will they set off equal to Ryder, in terms of their position on the team, or will they dedicate themselves to him from the off?

JV: Well, since we are playing a bit more of a joker role in the sprint game and we aren’t going to be the team that takes control of the race, that means we can dedicate a lot more of our riders to shepherding the GC guys around the peloton on the flat stages. Because we have got that ability, I think we are going to be able to watch out for all three of them.

Then, at the end of the day, the time trial and the mountain stages mean that strength will determine who is going to be the best.

VN: In addition to going for stages, there has also been some talk that Dan Martin could go for the montains jersey. What are your feelings on that?

JV: Well, the mountains competition is always kind of crazy in terms of how it works out; you have to be in the right breakaway on the right day. Without doubt, I could certainly see Dan winning the mountains jersey, but it is a little hard to plan for that because it always seems to come down to that one lucky breakaway which gets out there on a mountain stage, gets a bunch of time and has one guy roll over all the mountains that day, building points.

It would be great if he could win the mountain jersey, of course. But if he wins a stage instead, I will be equally happy. It is Dan’s first Tour de France and I just want him to focus on learning about the race and racing aggressively on the terrain that is good for him.

VN: He fell heavily in the Critérium du Dauphiné. Were you worried about that crash?

JV: There was certainly concern, yes. The only concern now is that we don’t have a good thermometer to where his form is right now as he wasn’t able to ride to his full ability in the Dauphiné. But last year I didn’t think Dan was ready for the Tour and he was a little bit upset by that.

Dan MartinSo I said to him, ‘Dan, if you go to the Vuelta and you can show me you can be stable and consistent for three weeks, then I will take you to the Tour de France next year. So he did that. He lost out in the time trials in the Vuelta, but he was right there in every single mountain stage of the Vuelta. So I need to make good on my promise to him, giving him the opportunity regardless of how the Dauphine went.

I am excited and nervous for him. He is such a talented rider when he is riding well, but when he loses a bit of morale it’s different. If Dan is firing at his full potential, I think he is very exciting…he would be a very exciting rider in the Tour.

Wage increases and neo-pro revisions:

VN: Away from the team and on a completely different note, you recently were part of a new agreement between team’s association AIGCP, which you are president of, and the rider’s association CPA. What are the details of what was worked out?

JV: Well, what was agreed was that there will be a ten percent minimum wage increase for employed riders, and a 24 percent increase in the minimum for independent contract riders. First off, to explain the difference: on our team a lot of the foreign riders will choose to be an independent contractor as opposed to an employee.

If you are an employee, there is a whole host of other requirements that go along with that. Sometimes if guys are a French rider living in Monaco or whatever, it makes sense for them to be an independent contractor as opposed to an employee.

Anyway, we have worked out increases for the minimum wages for both. The reason why the independent contractor went up by 24 percent is that those riders are going to have figure out a lot of their own insurances. Because of that, we felt it would only be fair that category would get a higher wage increase so they could afford those insurances.

The other major difference in what was agreed is that neo pros are no longer defined as an under 23 rider. Before the definition was you had to be an under 23 rider to be considered a neo pro. Now the definition is any rider under the age of 26 for whom it is their first and second year on a Pro Continental or WorldTour team. It means that it isn’t just strictly an age requirement.

Previously it was a bit unfair for guys who weren’t able to get contracts as they couldn’t meet the neo-pro status. Teams couldn’t go up to 30 unless you had three guys of neo-pro status. So it was a bit unfair if guys couldn’t turn pro at 22, but could do it at 23 or 24 only for this not to be considered neo-pro. The system should be fairer this way.


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