2011 classics season a frustrating one for talent-rich Garmin-Cervélo

On paper, Garmin-Cervélo boasts the deepest classics team in the sport. Yet the team came up empty-handed at Milan-San Remo and now Flanders.

MEERBEKE, Belgium (VN) — For what was billed as the strongest classics team in pro cycling, the spring classics season is growing progressively more frustrating for Garmin-Cervélo.

With Heinrich Haussler, Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar, the team has riders who have reached the podium at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix and won on the cobbles at Ghent-Wevelgem, De Panne and Scheldeprijs.

Add to that list Roger Hammond, Sep Vanmarcke and Andreas Klier, all podium finishers at Gent-Wevelgem, and Johan Van Summeren, a two-time Roubaix top-10 finisher, and, on paper, Garmin-Cervélo boasts the deepest classics team in the sport.

Yet the team came up empty-handed at Milan-San Remo and now Flanders, with only Farrar’s third-place finishes at Ghent-Wevelgem and Dwars Door Vlaanderen to speak of.

At Flanders Farrar was again the team’s top finisher, in 13th. Hushovd was the next-best placed Garmin rider, in 53rd, 4:29 back. Haussler finished 61st, at 8:02.

Outside the team bus, the mood was somber as both Hushovd and Haussler could only say they simply weren’t able to follow the moves.
“I just had no more energy in my legs, I was cramping,” Hushovd said. “I wish I could have been up there, but I just didn’t have the legs in the end. I thought I was strong enough to be there, but then, I don’t know why, I suddenly was cramping at the end.”

Haussler, who missed much of 2010 with injuries after placing second at San Remo and Flanders in 2009, could only point to his time away from racing.

“I felt okay for the first 150km or so, but I just didn’t have it in the end, and there was nothing I could do about it,” Haussler said. “I just have to put it behind me, work harder, and train harder. I just didn’t have the energy. I know I’m not good enough right now. I need one more year of racing.”

With this year’s televised program broadcasting radio communications from inside several team cars, including Garmin’s, team manager Jonathan Vaughters was criticized for calling his riders off the chase in the final 30km as Fabian Cancellara and Sylvain Chavanel had opened a one-minute gap. Instead, Vaughters told Farrar not to work, saying the team’s best chances were to fight for a podium placing in a potential bunch sprint.

“Tyler asked if he should work on the front and I said no,” Vaughters said. “I was hoping, hope against hope, that maybe everything would come back together at the end and we might have a chance in the sprint. But when you have two riders, and one is basically saying he doesn’t have it, you don’t have any other options than to say just sit in and hope for the best.”

Vaughters followed up on Twitter, where he wrote, “I’m happy to be the one to take it on the chin … but obviously, you all paid attention to the open radios, didn’t you? I’ll say it again: We had Thor and Tyler (2) in the group. Neither was feeling great. Tyler was asking if he should work. The answer was ‘no.’”

The team’s biggest wins this year have come at stage races — Cameron Meyer’s stage win and overall victory at Tour Down Under, Haussler’s two stage wins at Tour of Qatar, and Farrar’s stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico. But so far, its classics campaign has been a disappointment.

“The guys have worked well together, we’ve executed our plans, but at the end of the day you have to be strong,” Vaughters said. “So far none of our guys have been 100 percent on top of their game. Of course there are little pieces of bad luck mixed in there, but classics are made of bad luck and you have to deal with that.

“But no matter how good your team is, and how good your plan is, and how good your tactics are and how well you executed a plan, you have to be strong. I mean, Cancellara had no teammates with him for the last 80km of race, and he still almost won. It just goes to show you that you have to be really strong, and at this point in time, our guys just aren’t there.”

Asked why his top classics riders have been unable to reach top form for the most important races of the spring, Vaughters had different answers for different riders.

“I think Tyler is very much close to the top of his game, but he’s a sprinter, he’s got to be the one having other people; he can’t be the one pulling himself,” Vaughters said. “If you do that then you have absolutely no chance. Heinrich is on a bit of a comeback year. He didn’t race last year; he doesn’t have the foundation for 260km races. Thor, I can’t say exactly why he isn’t on the top of his game.”

Looking forward to Paris-Roubaix, Vaughters said the team couldn’t expect much of a fitness boost in the next seven days, though the flatter course was better suited for Hushovd and Farrar.

“We’ll have to focus on getting guys in the front group and then hope for the best,” he said. “Obviously we won’t be the favorite going into that race. Maybe that will help us out.”