As mentioned in my previous blog, the Garmin-Slipstream team held a week-long training camp in Boulder, Colorado from November 15th to the 23rd capped off by a gala team presentation on Saturday night. Over 800 people attended; it was a great time to mingle with team members, cycling VIPs, other pros and fans. I chatted a bit with several riders and team personnel, here's a report.
2008 was a breakthrough year for Christian Vande Velde who has toiled as a domestique for the first nine years of his professional career. Christian has had the opportunity to ride on some of pro cycling's best teams such as US Postal and Team CSC and has ridden in support of such outstanding team leaders as Lance Armstrong, Roberto Heras, Ivan Basso and Carlos Sastre.
I asked Christian what he has learned about being a team leader while riding for such stars of pro cycling. "I think a little bit from everyone. Everyone had their own personalities not necessarily what I would do 100%. I am not going to do 100% Lance or Ivan or Carlos, but all those guys are obviously great leaders and had a great team behind them and guys who would lay on the tracks for them."
Of course, Lance is the gold standard with his seven tour wins and such a cohesive team. "From day one I learned a lot from Lance. He is a reminder every day when I see him. He is always looking me in the face when I turn the computer on. He is just a reminder to work hard and not leave any stone unturned." added the Chicago native.
Jonathan Vaughters brought some new recruits onto the team for 2009 most notably Bradley Wiggins, Svein Tuft and Hans Dekker. What was he looking for in choosing new riders? "Guys that fit in. Guys who would die for the cause. Of course they are ambitious, but not selfishly ambitious," replied the former pro.
Former US Postal, Discovery Channel and Cofidis professional rider Matt White is a director for the Garmin-Slipstream team and is usually found in the team car taking care of his riders during races. In 2009, the team will be part of the Union Cycliste International's elite Pro Tour, elevating the squad to the top tier of professional racing. What changes will the team have to make to rise to the occasion? "Honestly, not so much. There are a few races on the calendar that we didn't do, not so many, actually, we did a lot of Pro Tour stuff being a UCI Continental Team."
With overall wins in the Tour of Missouri, Route du Sud and a 4th place in the Tour de France, Garmin-Slipstream is clearly prepared to do battle in the biggest stages races, but can the squad be competitive in the spring classics? "If you look on paper, obviously we have a lot of time trialists. On paper we are the best time trial team in the world. We should be able to match Team CSC or any other team that is thrown against us. Our weakness is the classics," explains White.
However, with 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt, 2008 Paris-Roubaix fourth place finisher Martijn concludes the director sportif.
How does Tyler feel about his classics chances? "That's my number one objective going into the season. Those are the races I love and that's what I will be aiming at all winter," reasons Farrar.
What about a win in the Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix for Farrar? "I hope so. I have been developing well for the classics. It takes a lot of experience and they are a special kind of racing, but every year I feel like I am getting a little better at them," replies the leader during stage 3 of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California.
Martijn Maaskant had a breakthrough ride at the 2008 Paris-Roubaix. What will it take for the Dutchman to get on the podium at the cobbled classic? "I need to get more experience on how to read the race. You need to be able to tell how your opponents are doing. If they are good or they are not good. And when you get older, you get stronger."
Martijn learned a lot from his first trip into the He11 of the North. "The most important thing in that race is that you have to ride on the front because there are so many crashes and flat tyres you can't really ride in the back because if you get stuck behind a flat or a crash you lose so much time and so much power which you will need in the finale."
The most high profile of Jonathan Vaughters' new signings is Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins is a six-time World Champion on the track and a triple Olympic gold medalist, most recently winning gold in Beijing in the Individual Pursuit and the Team Pursuit. What would Bradley like to accomplish on the road in 2009? "I am still trying to branch out, really. I am still missing that Tour de France stage win. That's what I really want. Just to be part of this squad and win that team time trial in Montpelier at the Tour and put one of us in yellow, whomever it may be, Christian, Dave Z, David Millar. And then to go into Girona with the yellow jersey and defend from there that is something I really want to be part of."
"Besides of my own personal ambitions, being part of a team like that would be massive, yeah. I have never really been part of a team like that so it would be a massive experience and potentially, hopefully going onto the Champs de Elysees with Christian in yellow would top it all off" adds the Brit.
There is no doubt the the Garmin-Slipstream team has the tools and the talents to move up to the top of professional cycling. Matt White sums up the plan for 2009. "We were a big story last year, but now we need to capitalize on the big steps we made in the last four months."