Juan Manuel Garate didn’t win a lot during his 17-year professional career, but those five wins were big. Stages in all three grand tours, including atop Mont Ventoux in the 2009 Tour de France, the Spanish national championships, and the Clásica San Sebastián.
More often than not, the Basque rider had his antennae up, acting as the unofficial “road captain,” reading the race and helping support the team’s confirmed winners. When he took his chances, they usually came out of breakaways, one of the hardest ways to win a race.
Now 39, Garate hopes to bring his cycling acumen to the table to help a new generation of riders, and he started this week in his new role as sport director at Cannondale. He made his debut Wednesday in stage 1 at the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal, where his sprinter, Wouter Wippert, finished fourth.
“I’m very motivated, and very excited about this perspective that cycling is offering me,” Garate told VeloNews via telephone. “I have a lot of experience as a racer; now it’s a new challenge to pass along what I know to a new generation of riders.”
Garate is Cannondale’s newest sport director, replacing Robbie Hunter, who left at the end of last season to become a full-time rider agent. The team’s other directors from last year, Charly Wegelius, Bingen Fernández, Johnny Weltz, Fabrizio Guidi, Andreas Klier, and Eric Van Lancker, all remain on board.
Stability in the sport director ranks will help Cannondale in 2016. Perhaps more than any other team in the peloton, Cannondale has had a complete transformation in its lineup. Long gone are the veterans, such as David Millar, Christian Vande Velde, and Ryder Hesjedal, who formed the core of the team since its founding in 2008. In fact, 21 of the team’s 30 riders are new to the squad within the past two seasons.
The experience that Garate brings to the team bus will prove invaluable to what is the WorldTour’s youngest squad, based on average age. That new sense of opportunity is already producing early season results, including a strong showing at the Santos Tour Down Under.
“Cannondale is a team that’s undergoing a big change, and they’re focused on working on young riders for the future,” Garate explained. “You have to be patient with younger riders, always working with them in a professional way, and the results will come.”
On Tuesday, Garate was busy with the final preparations ahead of the Algarve race, where Wippert, 25, is making his European debut, along with another new star, Rigoberto Urán. Garate took a call between meetings and other final touches ahead of Wednesday’s start.
“As a rider, I always liked to read and study the race book, and work inside the peloton once the race started,” Garate said. “Let’s see if I can do that from behind the steering wheel. Inside the sport director’s car, you see things from a different perspective than you do as a rider. You have to have a feel for the race, and make the best possible decision about the tactics.”
Garate knew his new workmates, Wegelius, Fernández, and Klier, when they were racing together in the peloton. Garate’s final races were in 2013, and though he was still under contract with Belkin in 2014, he didn’t compete. Last year, he worked on race radio during the Vuelta a España, and began conversations with the Cannondale crew.
“They were looking for a new director, and they felt that I could fit into their team’s plans,” he said. “They wanted someone to fit into their mentality and their philosophy, of working with young riders. It was a very easy decision.”
Garate will focus on a Spanish calendar, including the Vuelta a España and Volta a Catalunya, as well as the Amgen Tour of California and Tour de Suisse.
“The team promises to be very competitive this year,” he said. “These are all races where we can do some serious things. They’re not going to take me to the classics, because that was never my specialty. Instead, we will work with the stage races, with the young riders, and count on my experience to build some solid results.”
That sounds just like when Garate was a rider. Keep knocking at the door long enough, and the wins will come.