ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Jonathan Vaughters finally landed a big fish. And it doesn’t get any bigger than Paris-Roubaix.
After years of nipping at the edge of major success, Garmin-Cervélo was standing at the top of the winner’s podium in arguably the most prestigious one-day race of the year. The Garmin-Cervélo team manager was understandably ecstatic with Sunday’s victory.
“It’s easily the biggest win of the team. You cannot get bigger than this,” Vaughters told VeloNews. “It’s a race that we’ve focused on and we finally won it. We’ve been trying to win this for years. We started trying with Magnus (Backstedt in 2008). It’s a race that we’ve always been close. We’ve always have a good team at Roubaix. This time is just worked out perfectly for us.”
Since entering the European big leagues in 2008, Garmin has notched some impressive victories that are the envy of any top pro teams, with stages at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana, the pink jersey at the Giro and victories at scores of other important one-day races and stages. Despite the team’s consistent success, however, it’s often found itself as a lightning rod of criticism. Vaughters, particularly, seems to catch some flak in the anonymous Web forums.
On Sunday, Garmin got it right. With retired Belgian star Peter Van Petegem along for the ride to add his tactical and classics acumen, Johan Van Summeren won on a day when Garmin got the tactics just right.
“What great about Van Summeren’s win is that he’s a guy who spent 99.9 percent of his career dragging ass on the front. You can’t get better than that, you just can’t,” Vaughters said. “This race is about who’s got the balls and the hardest ass, not who is the most talented. I love it, that’s why Roubaix is so great.”
Vaughters was quick to thank Van Petegem for helping devise the tactical plan for Garmin, saying: “Van Petegem knows the cobbles like no one else; I know my riders.”
WIth Fabian Cancellara looking all but unbeatable, Garmin did the unthinkable and rode a race that frustrated Spartacus just enough to allow Van Summeren enough space to deliver the stunning victory. World champion Thor Hushovd shadowed Cancellara when the attacks came in the closing 50km, but refused to betray his teammate Van Summeren, who was up the road with Garmin-Cervélo teammate Gabriel Rasch.
Other factors played a hand as well, including summer-like heat and a breakaway that had just enough hitters to have legs. Crashes and mechanicals also derailed classics juggernaut Quick Step, leaving Roubaix without its two-pronged attack of Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel. When Sep Vanmarcke pulled up to join Hushovd, Cancellara was simply out-numbered.
“Fabian Cancellara is an incredible athlete. Thor (Hushovd) was able to follow him and that is very difficult. Not many people have shown they can do that when Fabian is strong,” Vaughters explained. “The tactic was to make a sprint with Thor. It was a good tactic. Johan was the strongest in the group up ahead. We kept telling him to wait, wait, wait for Thor. At the Carrefour, when they still had a gap, we let Johan ride for the victory. I knew Johan was very strong. He cannot sprint, but out of a small group like that, he can drop the others, and that’s just how it played out. At the Carrefour, we told him to go full-bloc, to go for it. That was the perfect place to attack. An individual wins the race, but racing is a team sport. I am very satisfied with how our team rode.”
At the finish line in Roubaix, Hushovd put on a brave face. He admitted that he had good legs, but loyalty to the team colors overrode his personal ambitions.
“I think I had the legs to have won today. I was able to follow Cancellara when he attacked and I was feeling comfortable. I had a teammate up the road and I was not going to work,” Hushovd said. “The team tactics played out well today. The team rode great today. The advantage of the team helped us win today. We had two up front and a rider with me. I am very happy that the team could deliver this important victory.”
Hushovd honored the unwritten code of not attacking a teammate up the road, something that lesser riders might not have done, but L’Equipe — the respected French sports daily — didn’t quite see it that way. In Monday’s edition, the paper gave Hushovd a one-star rating out of 10, writing: “Hushovd didn’t respect the rainbow jersey. He wanted to play hide-and-seek with Cancellara. Luckily for him, Van Summeren (won). He earns one point. One.”
Cancellara was equally exasperated. After realizing that he wasn’t getting any help from Hushovd or from others such as Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) or others in a chase group, Cancellara cooled his jets. It was only at the insistence at Leopard-Trek sport director Kim Andersen that he unleashed his final-hour counter-attack to chase down Van Summeren’s pursuers and earn an honor-saving second place.
“If I had stopped for a coffee, everyone would have stopped as well,” Cancellara said.
After the race, Vaughters actually went up to Leopard-Trek general manager Brian Nygaard to apologize. Nygaard said that wasn’t necessary.
“They (Garmin) rode the perfect team tactics today, so there was no need to apologize,” Nygaard said. “They were the strongest team today and they won. That’s bike racing.”
Fate almost had one last final, cruel twist. Van Summeren — who became the tallest-ever winner of Paris — punctured with 2km to go, but was able to finish on a slow leak. That, too, is bike racing.