LES HERBIERS, France — Jonathan Vaughters couldn’t hold back his smile Thursday as he discussed the Garmin-Cervélo lineup for the 2011 Tour de France.
Courting the press in a French elementary school library, because the team hotel didn’t have enough space to accommodate the media, Vaughters was like a proud professor ready to watch his understudies take on the world.
“This is the best team we’ve ever fielded for a Tour, without a doubt,” Vaughters said. “Our ambitions are higher than they’ve ever been before, but we have the capability to aim higher than ever before.”
To his right were reigning world champion Thor Hushovd and sprinter ace Tyler Farrar and to his left were Americans Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie. The rest of the squad, perhaps appropriately enough for cycling’s “clean team,” were undergoing blood screenings at the nearby hotel as part of the UCI’s testing program for the biological passport.
Vaughters said Garmin-Cervélo brings a well-rounded squad that can target stage victories in all terrain as well as aim for a high GC placing with Vande Velde and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, who rode to a surprising seventh last year.
The team’s first goal is to win a stage, something that’s eluded them so far through three Tours.
“Although we’ve had some success in the Tour, we’ve yet to win a stage,” he said. “That’s our first objective. We’ve got to get that monkey off our backs.”
Vaughters insisted that the team will take an “all for one, one for all” mentality into the Tour. Hushovd and Farrar are expected to split up the sprint stages while Vande Velde and Hesjedal can share the leadership on the GC front. Garmin-Cervélo will search out stage wins in the sprints and the transition stages before hoping for the best in the GC battle in the Pyrénées and the Alps. Vaughters promises that the team will ride as a unit.
“We will support the best-positioned rider in each scenario we will find ourselves,” Vaughters explained. “Everyone here is professional and we’re all working for the same goals. We can adapt to the race conditions and ride together. We will be chasing stage wins and the yellow jersey.”
Defending his Tour selection
Vaughters also defended his choice of his Tour Nine. Left at home were such riders as Irish climber Daniel Martin and Paris-Roubaix champion Johan Van Summeren while making the grade are Tour rookies Tom Danielson and Ramunas Navardauskas, the recently crowned national Lithuanian champion.
“The rider selection was a painful and hard process,” he said. “I can only pray I got it right.”
Vaughters said he bypassed Van Summeren in favor of the 23-year-old Navardauskas based on what he saw over the past few weeks.
“(Van Summeren) just wasn’t at his best right now. He was 10 minutes off the back at the Belgian championships and Navardauskas won, OK, I know Lithuania isn’t as hard as other nationals, but he won,” he said. “I was looking at small things that give you an indication of how guys are riding. At the Ster tour, when Gilbert attacked, Navardauskas was the only guy who could stay with him. He is a pure sprinter. He’s going to be a big help for us in the sprints. It was a tough choice. Do I bring someone who is experienced or do I give someone an opportunity? I remember in 2008, I brought Magnus Backstedt and I sat Tyler Farrar. I was wrong.”
Vaughters said Danielson earned his long-awaited Tour spot based on merit while Heinrich Haussler, a former Tour stage-winner who’s battling back from injury, simply wasn’t ready for the Tour.
“Tom was great at California and the Tour de Suisse, so I know he’s strong. He won’t have any pressure on him at all, so we hope he can do well,” Vaughters said. “For Heinrich, he didn’t even want to come to the Tour. He only raced 18 days all season last year, so this year has been about rebuilding. We talked about it and we decided the best thing for him is to go to the Vuelta and aim for the world championship.”