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The Livestream Diaries: Vaughters drops the Hammer

A be-wigged Thor Hushovd entertains his team. Photo: Graham Watson
A be-wigged Thor Hushovd entertains his team at the 2011 Tour team introduction ceremony. Photo: Graham Watson

Thor Hushovd won’t be riding the Vuelta a España with Garmin-Cervélo. Nor should he. The reigning world champion has had a strong 2011, topped by an amazing Tour de France (during which the multiple stage winner was a part-time bearer of the maillot jaune and a full-time badass). But that wouldn’t have made Jonathan Vaughters any less a fool to drop him into the team’s Vuelta mix.

Whether the tension started at Paris-Roubaix or earlier is hard to pinpoint, but suffice it to say the spring classic served as a critical turning point in Hushovd’s relationship with the team. The Norwegian’s desire to hoist a Roubaix cobblestone is well-known and he began the April race with a sensible enough strategy: mark Leopard-Trek’s Fabian Cancellara like a used college textbook. But when Spartacus realized nobody else would be sharing the day’s work, he backed off — allowing Hushovd’s teammate Johan Van Summeren to play his own card at the front before dropping the hammer to take second place.

While Hushovd (who finished eighth — 26 seconds behind Cancellara) celebrated his teammate’s victory in the immediate aftermath, the rider was soon singing another tune. Hushovd began making his unhappiness known — disparaging Garmin as a team in which race leadership is often poorly defined (e.g. not always about him) and complaining of Vaughters’ inability to produce bonus money to accompany his world championship jersey.

Things looked up for the pairing in July, as Hushovd took two individual Tour stage wins and wore the yellow jersey for eight days, thanks in no small part to the strong support of his Garmin-Cervélo teammates. Vaughters’ hopes of returning Hushovd to the fold fell apart earlier this month, however, as the rider announced his intent to sign a multi-million-euro contract with BMC Racing. (BMC’s Cadel Evans welcomed his new teammate by announcing he did not wish to ride the Tour with a sprinter, leaving general manager Jim Ochowicz to clarify that Hushovd would ride the Tour — but would be forced to leave any hopes of team support on the BMC bus. Evans later tweeted that, to be clear, he was excited to have Hushovd on the team.)

Particularly given recent changes to the UCI’s methodology for awarding WorldTour licenses — which will see Hushovd’s 2011 points transferred in support of BMC’s 2012 license — the Norwegian as much as dared Vaughters to kick his rainbow jersey to the Vuelta curb. In a thinly veiled swipe at Vaughters, Hushovd praised BMC as a “serious team” where “everyone knows what to do.”

So Vaughters did what anyone with a bit of sense would have done. (Editor’s note: No, not shave.) After a difficult Tour selection process, which left many capable Garmin riders off the final roster, he selected a Vuelta squad with loyalty to the team (and whose winnings will inure to the benefit of its 2012 license, development and sponsors).

While it’s a shame for fans of the sport (who would love to see Hushovd light up the Vuelta — if even briefly), it’s a perfectly sensible decision for Garmin and the logical conclusion of a UCI points system designed keep teams focused as much on the coming year’s points tally as that of the present.

In truth, Hushovd’s Vuelta goals were bound to be personal — having more to do with preparations for his September defense of the rainbow jersey in Copenhagen than anything related to the aspirations of his current team. And what reward would await Vaughters for supporting Hushovd’s quest? The promotion of a rider and (potential) championship jersey poised to jump ship, along with any new points accumulated, as soon as the party’s over. Say what you will about JV, but the guy knows the score.

The Livestream Diaries is Dan Wuori’s semi-factual look at the world of professional cycling. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dwuori.

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