By Neal Rogers
If there was a representative moment of Saturday night’s Garmin-Slipstream 2009 team presentation, it came as the squad took the stage of the Boulder Theater following a few short videos and words from both team sponsors and management.
As the 27 riders sauntered single-file up a short staircase and onto a stage scattered with couches in no particular order, the last men onstage were left to sit in chairs placed at the front of the stage.
However, instead of sitting front and center, established stars such as David Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde either moved the chairs even with the rest of the furniture, or pushed them away and simply squeezed into already-full couches.
After a week of bonding at the team’s second annual meet-and-greet camp in its American base of Boulder, Colorado, it was evident no one was comfortable placing themselves ahead of his teammates.
It was an observation Kiwi sprinter Julian Dean pointed out following the individual rider introductions, during a question-and-answer session with the sold-out crowd of nearly 1000 fans, VIPs and assorted media, including The New York Times and ESPN.com.
“I don’t know if anyone else noticed [the onstage seating arrangement] or not, but I did, and I think it says a lot. It says that no one on this team feels above anyone else,” Dean said. “I think that’s a reflection of our team ethic — of who we are, and how we operate.”
And with only five new riders, the Garmin squad of 2009 holds a strong resemblance to this year’s team — as did its team presentation, held in the same venue and in a similar format as one year ago.
In attendance were USA Cycling president Steve Johnson, national road champion Tyler Hamilton of Rock Racing, Garmin vice president Jon Cassat and Boulder mayor Shaun McGrath, who opened the evening by announcing that the city will honor the team with a series of argyle-painted bike racks to be installed around town.
“We could have given the team a key to the city, or made a proclamation, but, we think this is more appropriate,” McGrath said.
Several riders from the team — Will Frischkorn, Tom Danielson and Vande Velde — have called Boulder home at one point or another during their careers, and both Timmy Duggan and Blake Caldwell are Boulder natives.
Another Boulder native, race announcer Dave Towle, emceed the evening’s events.
Following the mayor’s announcement, a pair of videos was shown. First was an 18-minute preview of a feature-length Sundance Channel documentary following the team throughout the 2008 season. The second was a culling of interviews and 2008 race footage from the Versus cable TV network, including highlights from Vande Velde’s top-five ride at the Tour de France and his overall win at the Tour of Missouri, as well as Caldwell’s second-pace ride at the national road championship.
In between clips, Cassat told the audience that Garmin is thrilled with its multi-year title sponsorship of the squad. Twelve months ago, Cassat said, he attended the November camp as part of Garmin’s lower-tier sponsorship, and was “caught up” in team manager Jonathan Vaughters’ impassioned speech about the future of cycling and his team’s role in cleaning up its image. A year later, Cassat said, the GPS manufacturer is “delighted to be part of this.”
Unlike in 2007, this time around Vaughters kept his words to a minimum.
“Last year I asked for your faith, and assured you we would change the world,” Vaughters said, referring to his team’s clean-team philosophy. “Throughout the 2008 season we looked the skeptics in the eye and raced with dignity, passion and honor. We were on a crusade. We were at the front, and in the mix, but we were so ecstatic about our reception we sometimes forgot to go ahead and win. And I know we can win more than we did this year. We owe the fans, the sponsors and all of our supporters the beauty and emotion of victory. We’re done with the crusade. Now we have an obligation to win.”
To that end, Garmin added five new riders to its roster to reach the ProTour maximum of 28 riders, including Olympic pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins, from Columbia, and world time-trial silver medalist Svein Tuft, from Symmetrics. Only two riders from the 2008 roster, Christophe Laurent and Pat McCarty, are not returning in 2009.
Following his short speech, Vaughters invited the riders onstage to a large ovation. Only one rider — Australian Chris Sutton — was not in attendance, as team management allowed him to skip the camp to compete at the Melbourne track World Cup. Riders were introduced alphabetically, and each received generous applause, with perhaps the biggest reception reserved for Vande Velde.
Also different than last year’s presentation, when the team was outfitted in custom Paul Smith suits, riders were allowed to incorporate their own style, the only requisite that it must include some variation of the team’s trademark argyle.
It was a winning decision that gave the audience a chance to get to know the riders via their individual fashion preferences. Australian Trent Lowe sported a spot-on schoolboy outfit, a la AC/DC’s Angus Young, while Millar donned retro-Scottish knickers, attired with matching argyle sweater and knee-high socks.
During the Q&A session that followed the presentation, Wiggins was asked if any of the new riders had undergone any hazing during the week’s festivities. After comical confusion that required Vande Velde to translate the term “hazing,” Wiggins told how earlier in the week, the five new riders had been put to a beer-drinking competition at a local brewery. Wiggins, the loser, was obligated to run around the brewery’s parking lot au natural.
“It was nothing, because in England it’s a tradition,” the Manchester resident said, adding, “I would love to see President Bush do that when he gets kicked out of the White House.”
Later an audience member asked how the team would compete against Astana in 2009. Millar fielded the question, answering, “We’re not competing against Astana. We’re doing our own race, within our team. Besides, I think Lance’s returning is probably motivating Christian more than ever.”
Following the Q&A session, the team raffled off a Felt F1 team bike and auctioned off several items, including an autographed maglia rosa from the Giro d’Italia, and a Zipp time trial wheelset. Proceeds from the auction benefited The Children’s Hospital in the nearby city of Aurora.
In addition to its ProTour status for 2009, the most apparent changes in the team’s identity are found in its top-level sponsorships. For 2009 the team will be called Garmin-Slipstream. Longtime team sponsor Chipotle remains involved, however not at the co-title level, which Vaughters said the team now values at well into seven figures. Also, the team’s 2008 presenting sponsor, H30, is now referred to as Holowesko Partners.
Also different in 2009 will be Garmin’s independent anti-doping program. The Agency for Cycling Ethics, the team’s testing and blood-monitoring provider since January 2007, closed its doors in early November due to financial difficulties.
In a recent New York Times article Vaughters said the team would choose between Danish researcher Rasmus Damsgaard, head of internal testing programs for CSC-Saxo Bank and Astana, or Don Catlin, who founded the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory in 1982. Vaughters told VeloNews Saturday the team would be announcing a new testing arrangement in coming days.