Vaughters hopes this is his year at the Tour
By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
For Colorado native Jonathan Vaughters, the plan was simple enough leading into this year’s Tour de France: Hang on for the first week and a half of the three-week race, and then see how the legs feel. The first indications would likely come on the 10th stage, from Aix-les-Bains to L’Alpe d’Huez, but the stage that really stuck out in Vaughters’s mind would come the following day.
“[The Tour] has an uphill time trial for the first time in five or six years, and I’m just keeping my fingers crossed,” he said two-and-a-half weeks before the start of the Tour, from his summer home in Spain. “The way I look at it is, get to the uphill time trial, then see where you’re positioned after that, and not concentrate on the overall until then.”
A simple plan, true; but unfortunately for Vaughters, his first few attempts at the Tour de France have not gone as intended. In 1998, he crashed out of the race before it even started. In 1999, a head-first crackup on the dangerous Passage du Gois saw the climber leave the race after stage 2. And then last year, in his first Tour with the French Crédit Agricole squad, Vaughters went down hard on a wet descent during the first mountain stage, the route from Dax to Hautacam, which saw Lance Armstrong take the yellow jersey.
“I was just overconfident in my descending,” said Vaughters. “I was just getting better and better on the descents [throughout the season].” Indeed, he was flying past other riders on the top of the descent … but when he slid out and hit a retaining wall near the bottom, his Tour de France came to a premature end again.
“It took a long time for me mentally to get over that,” Vaughters said. “It took me months and months to get my head back together. I was very disinterested in the sport for a long time.”
This year, his bad luck continued in the early season. “I just got sick a lot. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to it,” he said. “Some years you go in and you catch the flu, get a stomach virus, crash in a race … it’s just one thing or another.
“This year, and ’99, I had complete crap for an early season, and I had to take the time and rebuild myself.”
For Vaughters, rebuilding meant six weeks back home in Colorado for training and local racing in April and May. “It’s always good to be home,” he said. And indeed, the break from the European scene helped Vaughters recharge his batteries. He returned to the Continent in late May and got the Tour buildup off to a good start by finishing 16th in the Midi Libre. His best result, though, came in the fourth stage of the Dauphiné Libéré, when he won the 43km time trial, 3.92 seconds ahead of Cofidis’s David Millar. That performance moved him up into second place overall in the important Tour preview race.
Unfortunately for Vaughters, the following day didn’t go quite as well.
“I blew up the next day,” he explained. Unable to recover completely from his time-trial effort, he lost almost nine
minutes on stage 5 and withdrew midway through stage 6, which included the Alpine climbs of the Col du Glandon, the Col du Télégraphe and the Col du Galibier.
“I wasn’t in the hunt for G.C., and we decided it was best to rest me up for [the Tour of] Catalonia,” Vaughters explained.
That Spanish race would give Vaughters eight more days of racing heading into the Tour de France, and with its difficult last few stages it would also provide a few more chances to really test his legs.
“The last couple of days in the mountains, I might try to take a stage win, and test my legs in the mountains for the Tour,” he said two days before the start of Catalonia.
Catalonia would end on June 28, giving Vaughters just a little more than a week until the start of the Tour. With both him and fellow American Bobby Julich as threats, but not heavy favorites, their Crédit Agricole team would likely be active in the race with more than just the general classification in mind. “We’ll all try to win stages, get in breakaways,” Vaughters said. And aside from assigning one or two teammates apiece to protect the two Americans, no special considerations would be made for a single team leader — at least, not until that uphill time trial.
After that, it could be anybody’s ballgame. But until then, Vaughters just hopes that for a change, everything goes according to plan.