Garmin-Transitions enters its third Tour de France with very high ambitions as the U.S. squad brings sprinter Tyler Farrar and GC man Christian Vande Velde.
That’s a huge step from the team’s Tour debut in 2008, when simply being in the Tour was a major achievement. Now the team wants to taste major glory, with stage wins and a run at the final podium as realistic goals.
“We’ve never won a stage at the Tour, so that would be our next step,” said team manager Jonathan Vaughters. “Tyler is stronger than ever and we have a strong team to support him. If we can do that, we would be very satisfied. Then we’ll see how things go in the GC with Christian.”
Garmin-Transitions is back at the Tour with its deepest and most diverse squad.
Farrar will anchor the team’s sprint effort, with support from lead-out man Julian Dean, newcomer Robbie Hunter and David Millar playing the role of team captain. Vande Velde will spearhead the team’s GC hopes, with the likes of Ryder Hesjedal and Dave Zabriskie looking for stage wins.
“This is our most ambitious Tour ever,” said David Millar, who is starting his ninth career Tour. “We have a team that’s going to be fighting in the sprints and the GC. There are not many teams who can say that.”
Garmin ambitions will first be centered on Farrar, who roars into the Tour following a strong first half of the season that saw him taking two stage victories at the Giro as well as a huge spring classics cap at Scheldeprijs.
With more support in the sprints, Farrar will be more confident as he squares off against British ace Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia).
“This year we’ve got more of a lead-out train than in the past, which lets me sit back more and let experienced riders like Julian Dean and Robbie Hunter make decisions. I think there are a lot of field sprint opportunities in the first week,” Farrar said. “It would be a dream to win a stage of the Tour. Besides the fact that it would give me a stage win in all three grand tours, the Tour is the biggest race in the sport. It doesn’t get any bigger.”
Behind Farrar’s push in the sprints, the team will also be able to sneak riders into breakaways. Riders like Martin Maaskant, Hesjedal and Zabriskie will have their opportunities in the transition stages.
Vande Velde enters the Tour banged up following a crash at the Tour de France that left him with broken ribs just as he was fully recovering from his spill in stage 3 at the Giro d’Italia that left him with a broken clavicle.
Vande Velde bounced back from similar physical problems last year to finish eighth overall, an excellent result to confirm his break-through top-5 in 2008. Getting safely through the first week will be paramount for Vande Velde.
“I hope to have the best race I can. We’ve got a lot of options within the team, with Tyler and myself. I still feel pain in the collarbone and the ribs, and I need this first week to pass so I can heal up,” Vande Velde said. “I know no one is going to feel sorry for me and let me go up the road, either. I am definitely nowhere near 100 percent. I need to get through the first week, heal up, and see how it’s all shaping up.”
The team will be one of the key players in the peloton, especially in the first half when the sprints are in play. Garmin will be looked to to help take responsibility for the stages to control the breakaways to set up the mass gallops.
Once the stage transitions into the second week, Garmin will play off favorites RadioShack, Astana and Saxo Bank.
“I think it’s the most open Tour in years. I think RadioShack and Saxo Bank are the strongest teams in the race. The big question is how good are Astana? Alberto is the best rider in the sport, but how good will his team be? No one is sure if they can control a race like the Tour de France. There are a lot of teams with strength, but to control the race for three weeks is not easy,” said Garmin sport director Matt White. “We’ve got a lot of ambitions, but no one expects Garmin to control the race. If a break goes up the road, no one is going to look at us to bring it back, whereas RadioShack, Saxo Bank and Astana are going to have more responsibility.”