As the Giro d’Italia enters its decisive final stages, Garmin-Barracuda manager Jonathan Vaughters is keeping a watchful eye on race captain Ryder Hesjedal’s success… albeit from a safe distance.
With the race still undecided, many believe Hesjedal – who currently sits in second place overall, just 30 seconds behind Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez – is the strongest rider against the clock, and stands a good chance of taking the maglia rosa during Sunday’s final time trial in Milan.
But Vaughters, who stayed stateside to lead Garmin’s Amgen Tour of California squad, has not yet travelled to Italy to share in the Canadian’s success. And he isn’t planning to do so until Saturday’s ascent of the Passo Dello Stelvio is complete.
“I’m not jinxing anything. I feel like I haven’t been at the race so far, so… I have a plane ticket to Milan reserved, but not purchased, arriving Sunday morning. I’m not moving forward until the Stelvio stage is done.”
It would appear that Vaughters, who has previously compared his squad to the underpaid but overachieving 2002 Oakland A’s of Moneyball fame, shares more than a little of General Manager Billy Beane’s famed superstition.
“I’m not even talking about the Giro. We’re obviously sitting in a very good position with a couple days to go. We just need to keep our cool and hope for the best.”
Despite his best efforts to ward off a grand tour jinx, Vaughters does take some satisfaction in his role in Hesjedal’s amazing May.
“The only part I had in this whole thing was that in November when the directors were meeting, I said, ‘You know, I think the Giro is more suited to Ryder than the Tour de France. I think we need to send Ryder to the Giro as our GC rider.’ And everyone said, ‘Okay, yeah, let’s do that.’”
Hesjedal, who has traditionally followed a different path to the Tour de France, needed a little convincing at first.
“Ryder’s had the same run up to the Tour for the past couple years. He’s gone to the Tour of California and then the Tour de Suisse. So when we mentioned the Giro he was a little hesitant at first, but then it was like ‘No, you’re going to be the absolute leader of the team at the Giro and I think this race is going to be better for you.’ It was a chance to really shine. So it didn’t take long, maybe 20 minutes, before he was into it.”
And what of the Tour? Given Hesjedal’s outstanding Giro performance, Vaughters plans to leave that option in the Canadian’s hands.
“At the end of the day, [participation in this year’s Tour de France] is going to be Ryder’s decision. If he feels like he can take some time to really think about what he’s accomplished at the Giro, spend a little recovery time with his family, and then come back and race at a high level at the Tour de France? If that’s what he wants to do then we will be supportive of that.
If, conversely, he feels he’s physically spent from the Giro, and says ‘I’m tired’ and maybe wants to focus on the Olympic games or something other than the Tour to give him more time to recover, then we will respect that as well. Most of the time these decisions are really made by myself and Alan Peiper, but this is an exception. We’ll probably leave it up to Ryder.”
With two hard days of climbing ahead, Vaughters is cautiously optimistic about the team’s first grand tour win. As long as Hesjedal can hang with the leaders until then, Sunday’s TT should suit him well.
“I think Ryder’s going to be fine on the Stelvio, but the next two days will be key. As you know, hanging with those guys [in the mountains] is far from simple.”