Garmin-Cervélo’s 2011 international road season began earlier this week — on Grand Cayman Island, of all places.
There was no racing, and the newly merged team hasn’t yet been issued 2011 clothing, but at the outset of the meet-and-greet camp, team manager Jonathan Vaughters gave his riders an opening “mission statement” speech that specified the team’s longstanding drug-free philosophy, as well as its objectives for next year.
Atop that list of objectives is to be the number-one ranked team in the world by the end of the 2011 season, Vaughters said. (The team heads into the season not far off, ranked third in the UCI’s “sporting criteria rankings,” behind The Luxembourg Cycling Project and Rabobank. On the UCI World Ranking, Garmin-Transitions was seventh and Cervelo TestTeam was 12th in 2010)
“You can become the top team in the world a lot of different ways,” Vaughters said. “Whether it’s winning one-day classics, or doing well at grand tours, or both, there are a lot of ways to get there. But the focus is to win races all year long.”
In order to make that happen, Vaughters brought his new team together on Grand Cayman Island for a weeklong team-bonding camp that includes daily 80km training rides and island activities such as beach volleyball, snorkeling and a treasure hunt.
It’s the team’s first official gathering, bringing together longtime Garmin riders Tyler Farrar, Ryder Hesjedal, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie and David Millar with several riders coming over from Cervélo, including newly crowned world road champion Thor Hushovd as well as Heinrich Haussler, Roger Hammond and Brett Lancaster, among others. Also new to the team is promising young American signing Andrew Talansky.
And what might sound like pampered professional athletes frolicking in a Caribbean paradise over the off-season is actually an important first step in building camaraderie for the trench warfare of European road racing, Vaughters said.
“When we brought on the guys from Cervélo, I knew we needed to do something similar to our previous team-bonding camps in Boulder, Colorado,” he said. “It’s not just two or three new riders next year: we’ve got 11 new riders total. It was important to get everyone together.”
The inspiration to hold the camp on Grand Cayman began with Garmin rider Peter Stetina, whose girlfriend’s family lives on the island. Over his visits Stetina made acquaintance with Tom McCallum, an island resident and cycling fan who in turn invited Vaughters for a visit.
“Tom had invited me to come, to do a talk or a clinic with the local cycling club here,” Vaughters said. “Once I realized we needed to have a team bonding camp I asked him, ‘How about I bring 50 people with me?’ We batted the idea around, he got support from the local tourism board, hotels and cycling club, and it got to the point where it was affordable for us. He did a great job pulling together sponsors and government support for us to have fun in the sun for a week.”
So far Vaughters said the highlight was visiting Stingray City, a mating ground for stingrays.
“You can touch them and pet them, and they don’t sting you unless you step on them,” Vaughters said. “No one got stung, but Christian came up and pinched Dave Zabriskie in the leg; he really thought it was a stingray and jumped into Christian’s arms like a little girl. That was pretty funny.”
On Thursday the team will participate in an event titled Ride with the Pros, allowing participants to ride alongside the team. In the evening, the team will attend a charity auction where several team bikes will be up for bid; proceeds from the auction will support the Cayman Islands Cancer Society.
VeloNews will report on both events, as well as post photos and interviews from all the team’s top riders and management.