AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France (VN) — Thieves stole 17 bikes out of a Garmin-Sharp truck overnight in France and left the squad with no other option than to pull out ahead of the decisive stage up Mont Faron at the Tour Méditerranéen.
Mechanics woke up Saturday morning to discover that a band of professionals had nicked all the team’s Cervélo R5 bikes, 60 sets of wheels, tools and other equipment, including Andrew Talansky’s new time trial bike.
“It was a big shock,” Garmin-Sharp sport director Johnny Weltz told VeloNews via telephone. “This was not a small-boy thing. It was a very organized crime.”
Weltz said mechanics had left the team truck and car positioned as they always do every night, with the truck backed up against a wall, with the car parked in front.
Mechanics were in for a rude shock Saturday morning.
“The mechanic went down this morning at 8 a.m. and noticed the window of the car was pried up 10cm. He thought, ‘Okay, they tried to break in but couldn’t,” Weltz said. “Then he saw that the car had been moved and the truck doors were pried open and everything inside was gone. It was all top-end stuff.”
Weltz estimated the loss at around 250,000 euros, but said the bigger blow was to the team.
The Tour Med was one of Garmin’s first major goals in the opening month of the 2013 season. Talansky, who was sitting 11th overall within one minute of leader Lars Boom (Blanco), was primed to make a run for the podium in Saturday’s “queen stage” ending atop the first-category summit of Mont Faron.
Weltz said it was impossible to try to find replacement bikes. He checked in with the team’s service course, based in Girona, Spain, but it was too far to try to get a rush delivery of bikes up to Aix-en-Provence, France, some three-and-a-half hours away.
Other teams and riders offered Garmin a chance to borrow spare bikes, even just for the day, but with just a few hours before the start of the stage, the team decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
“We did get the offer from other teams, but there is an issue with the pedals. Then you get a sore knee and that can cause other, bigger problems,” Weltz said. “Everyone was so stressed. The riders were super-motivated for today. It was just a huge shock.”
The break-in occurred overnight in the parking lot at a Novotel, which was well lit and protected by video surveillance as well as a gated entrance.
Three other teams — Euskaltel-Euskadi, Ag2r-La Mondiale and FDJ-Big Mat — were in the same hotel. None of their vehicles was burgled.
“It appears that where we had the truck parked was a kind of ‘dark spot’ on the surveillance cameras,” Weltz said. “The police are taking it very seriously. The whole truck was cleaned out. This is obviously a job of professional thieves.”
Teams are well aware of the threat of thieves and do all they can to protect their valuable cargo. Break-ins do occur occasionally, however, as Team Type 1 discovered in 2011 when thieves made away with bikes, tools and equipment in Italy.
“This was a big blow,” Weltz said. “This is the first time in 25 years that anything like this has happened to me. It was a very bad experience.”
After four hours with French police, Weltz and the rest of the team made the long drive back to Girona, Spain.
CEO Jonathan Vaughters said management was planning a camp for the riders who were unable to continue at the Tour Med.
“We’re very grateful to our dedicated riders, staff and sponsors for pulling together in this difficult time,” he said. “We’re also grateful for the support we have received from local authorities and other teams, some of whom offered to help us continue the race by loaning us equipment — although that ultimately proved to be too difficult, the offers were deeply appreciated.”