It was one of the most consistent teams in the peloton, in look, in personality, in tactic, and on paper. But now, Jonathan Vaughters and his Garmin-Sharp team are about to enter a new era.
The American squad will make wholesale change next year, as it signs more key climbing domestiques and gives its top general classification riders specific objectives, and dedicated squads to support them.
It will also say goodbye to Christian Vande Velde as he retires, and could also part ways with several other longtime riders whose contracts are in the balance.
The changes are designed to help the likes of Andrew Talansky, Daniel Martin, and Ryder Hesjedal toward their grand tour ambitions. At this year’s Tour de France, all three of those riders showed up, but no one man was tended to as a team captain. This has been the Garmin way and this will change.
“I feel like our team has evolved by the basis of what we have as far as up-and-coming leaders — Talansky, Dan Martin, Lachlan Morton as we start to move forward. And Ryder isn’t a young rider, but he’s there. And all of those guys have been under-supported in their pursuit of getting good GC results,” Vaughters said. “Classically, we’ve been a little more focused on sprinting, team time trial, the northern classics.”
The squad could see as much as a 10-rider turnover next season. New additions for next year include Nathan Brown (Bontrager), Phil Gaimon (Bissell), Ben King (RadioShack-Leopard), Sebastian Langeveld (Orica-GreenEdge), Dylan Van Baarle (Rabobank Continental), Tom-Jelte Slagter (Belkin), Lasse Norman Hanson (Blue Water Cycling), and Andre Fernando Cardoso (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA). The team has also widely been rumored to have signed climbing ace Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman), but that has not been announced. It will retain captains Talansky, Martin, and Hesejedal.
“I needed to shift the strategy of the team to supporting those guys, and the recruitment strategy as well,” Vaughters said. “So it’s really drawn a little bit away from the sprints, a little bit away from team time trials, and going a lot younger and focusing on guys that can support Talansky and Dan Martin and Ryder in their objectives, which are weeklong stage races, Ardennes classics, grand tours.”
Garmin had a middle-management heavy squad: not a ton of true workers and it seldom designated true leaders, either. In the past, the team has gone to a race with three riders who could place in the top 10, but perhaps not one who was able, or supported enough, to win it. The team’s major grand tour triumph came in the 2012 Giro d’Italia, where Hesjedal claimed the pink jersey.
“I feel like sometimes we got in a little bit of a rut, and we needed to freshen up the roster and get some new enthusiasm in there. Give some guys a chance, you know?” Vaughters said. “These guys are hungry, they really want it. Not just, ‘Oh, another year on Garmin.’”
Vaughters’ longest-tenured rider, Peter Stetina, signed with BMC Racing for next season, and Garmin also parted ways with Martjin Maaskant. Tour of Utah winner Tom Danielson, Tour de France stage winner David Millar, and former Paris-Roubaix champion Johan Vansummeren will remain with the team. It isn’t clear yet if Garmin stalwarts David Zabriskie and Tyler Farrar will line up in argyle next year.
The turnover and youth movement will have their prices, at least on the front end. And the different personalities coming together will take some time as well.
“It’s always hard to replace experience. We’re really working on strengthening up our directors,” Vaughters said. “It’s not easy. Christian’s a great road captain. And that’s not easy to replace. I think we’ve got some intelligent guys coming on board that will be able to fill that role, and I really do think that Charly Wegelius is one of the brightest and most creative head directors out there. He imparts his knowledge.”
Langeveld, Vaughters said, could fill the role of shepherd and road captain, and will also be a strong addition to the classics team. He finished fifth at E3 Harelbeke, seventh at Paris-Roubaix, and 10th at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) in 2013.
“I think Sebastian, he can be the road captain,” Vaughters said. “He’s an incredible classics rider, but he’s also an incredibly powerful guy to keep a guy like Dan Martin in position, and out of crashes. I think that was another issue that we needed to address. We need guys who can maneuver around in the peloton and keep our leaders safe. And that’s a real specific kind of rider.”
Slagter, he said, should pan out to be a stellar climber over the long run.
“That guy, he’s got big things ahead of him, that’s for sure. He’s explosive on the one, two, three kilometer-long climbs. He’s unproven on the longer climbs, but that’s exactly how ‘Purito’ Rodriguez started out,” Vaughters said. “There’s this old saying in physiology that says you can make a marathoner out of a miler but you can’t make a miler out of a marathoner. I think as time passes he’ll prove to be better and better on the longer slopes.”
It’s not like the Garmin of old was broken (Danielson won the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah this season, Martin took a Tour stage and won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Talansky was second at Paris-Nice and 10th overall at the Tour, and Rohan Dennis won the Tour of Alberta), but the end goal is consistent grand tour success.
“We’ve got the best young talent in the peloton. But you have to reinforce with support riders around them,” Vaughters said. “Our focus is shifting to really in the grand tours having one leader, maybe two, but really one leader and having a team built around that leader. And it’s not just grand tours,” Vaughters said. “We’re going to do that at the [Critérium du] Dauphiné, we’re going to do that at Tour of Swiss, [USA Pro Challenge]. Try to focus in our approach a little bit and build infrastructure around those leaders as opposed to what we’ve had in the past sometimes, which is a little tension and trying to figure out ‘who’s riding well today?’ I just want to let the guys who are proven leaders, won a grand tour, won a monument, whatever else, give them their objective. Give them their crew around them, and that’s how we’re going to run it for the most part.”
As of Monday, Garmin still had two open roster spots. Whether the team will retain two of its veterans or complete its overhaul is yet to be seen.