LIÈGE, Belgium (VN) — Expect fireworks at this year’s Tour de France from American outfit Garmin-Sharp. And expect them early, and often.
This Garmin-Sharp team rolls into the Tour de France playing with house money. They’ve won a grand tour this year in the Giro d’Italia and have several riders who could place in the top 10 in France. And yet they have little responsibility to control this race.
“We’re going be basically looking to wreak havoc on the race and throw a wrench in the works. That’s our job,” said Jonathan Vaughters, the team’s manager.
“For us, the less control there is to it, the crazier it is, the more breakaways that no one’s anticipated — that’s what we’re looking for. We have four guys who can all do very well in the race and who are all dangers for a team like Sky or BMC.”
Garmin is a team that won’t be looked at to manage the race — that falls squarely upon Team Sky and, to a lesser extent, BMC Racing. RadioShack-Nissan will also do some heavy lifting this week to protect the maillot jaune of Fabian Cancellara.
“The expectation is, they’re going to have to carry the race for three weeks. And that’s going to be hard,” Vaughters said of Sky. “We’ll see if it’s just (Bradley) Wiggins and (Cadel) Evans racing.”
It’s a bit of a tactical sweet spot, providing the Garmin riders can go out and make the race.
“What we need to do, is create a dynamic with Dan Martin, Christian (Vande Velde), Tom (Danielson), Ryder (Hesjedal). Sky and BMC, what they’re going to want to do is control the race. Have it come down to the time trials. See who the best guy is,” Vaughters said.
“It will be very rare if you ever see Garmin pulling on the front, but we should be represented in all the breakaways and rolling the dice over and over again. And you can only do that when you have three or four guys who can ride a good GC. Not just one leader.”
In Giro champ Hesjedal and teammates Danielson and Vande Velde, Garmin is formidable on the general-classification front. Whether Hesjedal has recovered from a punishing Giro remains to be seen, but if he’s rested, there’s no reason to think he won’t be in the conversation in Paris.
The team will also rally around American Tyler Farrar in the sprints, but it’s built more for climbing than sprinting, meaning Farrar will have to freelance in the final kilometer.
Just before Sunday’s stage rolled out of Liège, Danielson told VeloNews he was ready to go in this Tour — his second — after finishing eighth last year.
“I’m definitely ready for this. The Tour is the Tour. You really can’t have any expectations. You just have to take what happens as it comes. And do your best,” he said.
“We have a great team. With Ryder’s Giro — he’s on really good form right now. I think that we have a really strong team and we’re ready for any sort of scenario that presents itself. Right now, we’re going to focus on Ryder and give him the best opportunity.”
The Tour is the year’s most controlled race. The top teams will attempt to suffocate the stages, condensing three weeks of racing into three or four key days — rather, moments — of racing. Not Garmin.
“I think it was the same in the Giro as well,” said sporting director Allan Peiper. “The onus wasn’t on us to do a lot of the work, because Ryder was underestimated. Liquigas took a lot of control of the race. We come into the Tour de France and the onus is not on us again.”
This is because it’s immediately on Team Sky.
“That’s what they’ve worked for, that’s what they’ve planned on,” Peiper said. “Every race that Wiggins has gone to this year he’s won, and he’s won in crushing form. The way that Sky crushed the Dauphiné left no doors open about what their ambitions were and what they were prepared to do.”
Garmin, from the outside at least, is taking a laissez-faire approach to this year’s Tour, similar to their outlook in the Giro. There has been very little reconnaissance done (that’s Vaughters’ strategy, not that of Peiper).
“From my perspective, the kind of person I am — a kind of person who likes to be in control as much as possible of all situations — that’s the way I would lead,” he said. “But for Jonathan, who’s a little bit the opposite, that’s the way he leads.”
For Vaughters, this race will be one of managed chaos.
“When you have a fairly loose tactic like we’re going to have, you just have to be ready for the moment,” he said.
The moment is looming.