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Lim on Garmin-to-Shack switch: ‘It’s about new opportunities and challenges’

  • By Neal Rogers
  • Published Dec. 7, 2009
  • Updated Sep. 19, 2010 at 2:46 PM EDT

Lim at the Tour de France in 2009

Sports physiologist Allen Lim says his move from Garmin-Transitions to Team RadioShack for the 2010 season was based on new opportunities and challenges.

Lim, speaking with VeloNews Monday, added that his role with Lance Armstrong’s team was attractive both because it will be more focused on sports science and involve less travel.

Speaking by phone from RadioShack’s first team camp, which began Monday in Tucson, Arizona, Lim said his role with the ProTour team will continue the work he’s done at Garmin, “being innovative, using technology and thinking about how to create small marginal gains where we can, utilizing everything from hydration to aerodynamics to biomechanics. Basically figuring out how I can help using good old-fashioned science.”

Lim admitted to being fatigued with the extensive traveling he’d done with the Garmin team over the past three seasons, and said the chance to spend more time at his home in Boulder, Colorado, was part of his decision.

“I will travel significantly less, that’s part of my contract,” he said. “I should only be abroad three or four months out of the year, which is significantly less than the past few years. It’s more about those big blocks away from home. The Garmin team is based in Girona, and there was an expectation to be there full time, which is something I wasn’t prepared for. Last year I started to have serious pangs of homesickness. I was missing my friends and family incredibly, so part of this switch was trying to get off the road a bit.”

Lim, who earned a Ph.D. in integrative physiology at the University of Colorado in December 2004, has been with Jonathan Vaughters’ Slipstream Sports program since its developmental days, starting with the squad in fall 2005.

During the 2006 season Lim worked with Slipstream, then known as TIAA-CREF, and also as a personal consultant to Floyd Landis. Following Landis’ suspension for skewed testosterone ratios at that year’s Tour de France, Lim signed on with Slipstream full time and was instrumental in the team’s launching an independent blood-monitoring system at the Interbike trade show in September 2006.

Critics saw Lim’s involvement with America’s “clean team” as problematic, questioning how he could have missed potential signs of Landis using performance-enhancing drugs when analyzing his power data. However, Lim denied any knowledge, telling VeloNews in 2007: “Floyd’s testing positive was as much a surprise to me as it was to anyone in the cycling public. I can only draw my own conclusions about what really happened, and they are hypothetical, along with everyone else. If Floyd was part of a darker world, he kept me really protected from that world. That’s a really big if, and I don’t know if I should be thankful for that or angry for that.”

Vaughters stood firmly by Lim, stating time and again that he had full faith in Lim’s dedication to clean sport.

As a longtime member of the Slipstream management, Lim had a very visible role, and was often accessible to the press. He was seen as a bit of a guru — the erudite scientific yin to Vaughters’ urbane, sponsor-friendly yang — helping riders with their training programs and motorpacing while also taking on a soigneur role of sorts, preparing his patented rice cakes and recovery drinks, even as he tinkered with new technologies, using cooling vests for time-trial warm-up and “space legs” — the NormaTec MVP, a machine designed to compress the limbs — for added recovery.

Speaking on Lim’s role at Slipstream Sports, Vaughters told VeloNews in 2007: “Allen is very involved with visible projects, like wind-tunnel testing, power, that side of things. He’s almost like a free electron inside the team. He doesn’t necessarily have the authority for dictating tactics inside of a race, he doesn’t schedule things, but he’s out there helping any little gap in the performance/technology/physiology realm. If there is a gap there, he fills it in. If we have slow skinsuits, he figures out how to make them fast in the wind tunnel. If we have guys that have iron deficiencies, he will look at what is the most efficient way to correct that. There are all kinds of aspects that Allen gets to deal in as far as the performance part of it.”

At RadioShack, Lim said he would not be directly coaching any riders, but instead looking for ways to innovate sports science, with a focus on the Tour.

“I’m not here from the perspective of being a coach,” Lim said. “Of course I’m happy to help, but these guys already have their own coaches and trainers. I’m here in a sports-scientist role as opposed to a coaching role. The name of the game is innovation. That has to be the center point, and that innovation has to be brought together for the Tour. All the little details, and the execution of those details, have to come together at that race. Part of the move is that I will now have all these resources at my disposal, and in a more focused role.”

The news of Lim’s switch to RadioShack generated great media interest, both because of Lim’s long relationship with Slipstream Sports, and because of the not-so-secret rivalry between Slipstream manager Jonathan Vaughters and Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong, his former U.S. Postal Service boss and teammate, who are now heading up RadioShack. Lim said that while he understands the appeal of drama within sport, it had nothing to do with his move.

“I’m not part of that rivalry,” Lim said. “I’m here to do the best job I can and represent the field of sports science the best way I can. Whatever that rivalry is about, it’s all in the past, and it’s not even my past. I’m not interested in a rivalry as much as creating the best possible lifestyle and matching my skill set.”

Lim said his phone had been ringing nonstop since word leaked out that he had switched teams, adding that he was surprised by all the attention the move had brought.

“I’m shocked, actually,” Lim said. “I’m floored, because while I personally had a massive emotional, personal stake in Slipstream and Garmin, I didn’t know if anyone ever cared or noticed. I was always ‘nose to the grindstone,’ focused on the task at hand, and not so aware of how people saw my role. It’s come to my attention that I was symbolic of sorts, as part of the Garmin program, which is both flattering and also scary.”

Asked if it was Armstrong or Bruyneel who had expressed interest in signing him, Lim said it was “a combination of the two, I’m sure.” Lim added that the only time he’d previously spoken with Armstrong was nearly 10 years ago, when Armstrong called him asking “how to convert kilojoules to kilocalories.”

And while RadioShack is a ProTour team basing its season around European racing, Lim said he will be able to do much of his “tinkering” from home in Boulder.

“Although both Garmin and Radioshack are American teams, Garmin is based out of Girona, whereas back in the early Slipstream days we were based out of Boulder,” Lim said. “With RadioShack being more Austin-based, at least for the Americans, we can go to race in Europe and come back home. Since I have been home back in Boulder, it’s been fantastic. This past fall has been phenomenal, I feel like I am part of a community again. That’s something I haven’t felt since I was at university. I am ready to be back home.”

Vaughters told VeloNews Monday that Lim had informed him following this year’s Tour  that he was suffering road fatigue and that he might prefer to return to scientific research in 2010. Given the news, Vaughters said he added Marc Quod, a physiologist at the Australian Institute of Sport who has worked closely with Garmin’s new recruit, Aussie phenom Jack Bobridge.

According to Vaughters, Lim asked in September if the door was still open to return with the team. At that point, Vaughters told Lim he’d like to have him back, but until the team added a co-title sponsor, he couldn’t guarantee his full 2009 salary. The team announced photochromic sunglass lens manufacturer Transitions Optical as a co-title sponsor on November 27; Vaughters said Lim told him just days before then that he would not return with Garmin in 2010.

In the interim, Vaughters has permanently added Inigo San Millan, who will conduct lactate analysis and free radical testing along with sponsor POM; Carlos Gonzales, another trainer who will work closely with Quod; and Robbie Ketchell, a specialist in aerodynamics. Former Greg LeMond trainer Adrie Van Dieman will continue coaching several Garmin riders, including Tyler Farrar and Christian Vande Velde.

“On a professional level, I’d replaced Allen, and I think we have a better crew,” Vaughters said. “On a personal level I’m pretty bummed. Allen was pretty good at a lot of things, but these guys are all geniuses in their respective fields. Allen is a super-hard worker, but at the same point in time, Robbie was always doing all the aerodynamics work, and Adrie was coaching guys like Christian and Tyler and Martijn (Maaskant). He was their full-time coach, and Allen was just making sure they were doing what Adrie said. There was always a high degree of loyalty with Al, and when he said he was leaving we were forced to reinvent the wheel. I think we did a good job of building a new team, but I’d be lying if I said on a personal level I wasn’t kind of bummed.”

Lim said it was with “a sad heart and great memories” that he left Garmin for RadioShack.

“I’m sad too,” he said. “They will be fine, they have great people coming in, so in a sense my leaving creates more opportunities for others. The guys heading to Garmin are colleagues of mine, and I know they will step in and do a great job. On a personal level it’s difficult. I love the team and hope they can succeed at the highest level. I poured my heart and soul into those riders, and I still care deeply about those guys.

“But personally, this situation is a lot better for me, and I think the outpouring of support I’ve received from the riders I worked closely with is an important part of the story.”

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Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers is editor in chief of Velo magazine and VeloNews.com. An interest in all things rock 'n' roll led him into music journalism while attending UC Santa Cruz, on the central coast of California. After several post-grad years spent waiting tables, surfing, and mountain biking, he moved to San Francisco, working as a bike messenger, and at a software startup. He moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 2001, taking an editorial internship at VeloNews. He never left. When not traveling the world covering races, he can be found riding his bike, skiing, or attending a concert.

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