After a week of outdoor island adventure, the 2011 Garmin-Cervélo team bonding camp wrapped up Saturday on Grand Cayman Island.
Held at posh beachside resort The Reef, the weeklong gathering included scuba diving, golf, stingrays, volleyball, helicopter rides, a scavenger hunt and a trip on a submarine — shared experiences intended to smooth the merger between Garmin-Transitions and the Cervélo TestTeam, which folded earlier this year when it could not land a title sponsor.
Seven riders came across from Cervélo to Jonathan Vaughters’ Slipstream Sports organization, including world road champion Thor Hushovd; also coming across were Cervélo’s bikes, clothing sponsor Castelli and component sponsors SRAM and Rotor.
Riders from the Garmin-Cervélo women’s team, which Slipstream acquired in the merger, were not on Grand Cayman; neither were riders from Slipstream’s long-running U.S.-based under-23 development team.
Also absent from the camp were Aussies Jack Bobridge and Cameron Meyer, who were competing on the velodrome at the December 2-4 Melbourne World Cup, as well as Irishman Dan Martin, who recently underwent sinus surgery to alleviate persistent allergy problems. Brazilian Murilo Fischer was also absent.
The goal of the camp was to forge friendships and a sense of allegiance between former rivals, particularly among sprinters and classics riders.
“We are here having a good time, but there is a purpose,” Farrar said. “Doing stuff like this brings guys together in ways that would be hard to do if we were to just get together in January for a training camp. You have two large, closely knit groups coming together. You can’t snap your fingers and have guys become friends the way we have, or they have, over two or three years. But this gets the process started in a fun setting. We’re all doing things most of us have never done, and no one is comfortable with, so that helps break the ice a little bit.”
Of the Cervélo riders coming over to Garmin, Hushovd, Heinrich Haussler, Roger Hammond and Andreas Klier are podium finishers at either the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix or Gent-Wevelgem. Aussie workhorse Brett Lancaster brings additional power for sprint lead-outs.
Add to those names returning Garmin strongmen such as Farrar, Fisher, Julian Dean, Martijn Maaskant, David Millar and Johan Van Summeren, and the Garmin-Cervélo squad appears, on paper, to be the strongest classics team in the world, with arguably the strongest lead-out train as well.
“The biggest thing in the classics is numbers,” Farrar said. “The advantage to being on the strongest team is having as many guys in the final selection as possible. It’s better to have four or five guys in the final who are pretty good, rather than one guy there who is really good but with no one to help him.”
Vaughters was also beaming about signing 20-year-old Belgian Sep Vanmarcke, who finished second at the 2010 Gent-Wevelgem riding for Topsport-Vlaanderen as a neo-pro. “I would say he’s the most talented young classic rider in the world, by a long shot,” Vaughters said.
For the general classification, the team will look to Vande Velde and Hesjedal at the Tour de France, with Martin pegged for the Giro d’Italia.
“I still have a lot of faith in Christian Vande Velde,” Vaughters said. “I think he will be back at the next level, and Ryder Hesjedal is our wild card.”
Tom Danielson, Dave Zabriskie, Tom Peterson and former FDJ rider Christophe Le Mevel all expected to target the classification at specific stage races.
Danielson said he hopes 2011 is the year he finally earns a spot on a Tour team, while Vaughters said Danielson and Peter Stetina, both high-altitude specialists from Colorado, would likely be the team’s GC leaders at the Quiznos Challenge in August.
New recruit Andrew Talansky, a 20-year-old neo-pro who began 2010 with California Giant Berry Farms-Specialized and ended the season second overall at the Tour de l’Avenir, will be given opportunities to test himself on the general classification as well.
Vaughters said an ideal 2011 season would include at least one win at cycling’s five monuments, as well victory in the Tour de France’s team time trial, time spent in the maillot jaune, and the green points jersey in Paris.
It’s perhaps for that reason that both Haussler and Klier said they have no intention of racing next year’s Tour — between sprinters, GC leaders and TT specialists, Tour team selection, like with the classics squad, will be difficult.
“It will be hard to make the Tour team, and there are so many good riders on this team, I don’t want to deal with the stress,” said Haussler, who won a Tour stage in 2009 but missed the first half of the 2010 season due to a knee injury, and was forced to skip the Tour after a crash with Mark Cavendish at the Tour de Suisse. “I only had 25 race days in 2010 and I need to get back into the form I had in 2009. Instead of the Tour, I’ll focus on the classics, and I’ll race the Vuelta to prepare for the world championships.”
As for the green jersey, Hushovd said he would have no problem riding to help Farrar.
“I’ve tried for the green jersey many times in my career, and I’ve managed to win it twice,” Hushovd said. “But to be honest, in 2011 I prefer to wear my rainbow jersey at the Tour. Besides, you have to look back two or three years for the last time I beat Mark Cavendish in a flat field sprint. I don’t want to sprint for second, third or fourth. I prefer to choose a few stages that are better suited for me, and on days that are for Tyler, I am happy to help him.”
It wasn’t all fun and games on Grand Cayman. Riders were also given 3D bike fits, were sized for custom clothing, and met individually with team director Matt White to discuss their 2011 race schedules.
“This team is full of talent in certain areas, that’s for sure,” White said. “It’s a mixed blessing. It’s not always going to be smooth sailing. There may be a few tricky situations, but you can always work out a solution.”
The remaining 18 riders from the 2010 Garmin-Transitions team also spent the week getting accustomed to equipment changes, with Cervélo replacing Felt frame geometry, and SRAM shifting replacing Shimano.
“When you have ridden the same set up for three years, it takes a little while to get used to,” Farrar said. “But that’s why we get the bikes in November. It gives us the whole winter to train and get used to it before jumping into a race. It may take a week or two to get used to some of the nuances, and you have to re-train your brain a little, but it doesn’t take long to make the switch.”
For Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie, the merger sees them reunited with Cervélo; they both rode the Canadian manufacturers’ frames while riding at Team CSC.
There were other reunions on the new team: Hesjedal and Hammond rode as teammates at Discovery Channel in 2005, and Hushovd and Vaughters were teammates at Crédit Agricole for three years, from 2000 to 2002.
“I did Thor’s first race with him as a pro, and his first team camp,” Vaughters said. “I always really liked Thor a lot. He’s one of those guys I was always in awe of his talent, and his good nature, and he’s been that way since day one.”
Other relationships were sprung from the camp. Danielson said conversations with Klier reminded him of exposure to Chris Horner during the early days of his career on the domestic Saturn squad.
“I never knew Andreas Klier, but he speaks the language of cycling as if it’s slang,” Danielson said. “He can communicate difficult things so simply, the guy can see every race situation. He reminds me of Chris Horner, how he’s able to communicate with sprinters, climbers and classics guys. I want to be a sponge around him and absorb as much as I can.”
And Danielson said he expects the union of the Garmin and Cervélo teams to create a whole that is greater than its sum parts.
“This team will be more successful than people think,” he said. “It’s not just that we signed some great classics guys. I see those guys as filling roles we were missing, rather than knocking heads with guys in roles we already had.”