Posted by: mdegeorge | July 4, 2011

Farrar, Garmin give clean cycling a holiday gift

Jonathan Vaughters may not be the most popular man in the world of cycling.

With doping as systematic and as widespread as we’ve been led to believe throughout most of the last decade, Vaughters looked like a proselytizer when he formed the TIAA-CREF team in 2005 to commit to clean racing. By pledging cleanliness, the former pro cyclist highlighted precisely what so many in the sport wanted to hide. With millions of dollars on the line, the recipients of which were potentially decided more by doctors in a distant lab than a riders’ actually talent, it’s a safe bet there were plenty of people rooting against him, perhaps even hoping for one of his squeaky clean riders to slip up.

Tyler Farrar, seen here in 2009, scored his first Tour de France win on Monday's Stage 3. (Courtesy of Creative Commons.)

The detractors had some reason to celebrate at the expense of Vaughters’ teams (first Slipstream-Chipotle before the introductions of others sponsors such as Transitions, H3O and now the current Garmin-Cervelo formulation.) They were still a heavyweight in the big American races such as the Tours of Missouri and California, as well as taking home national championships of some minor cycling countries.

The big Grand Tour breakthroughs always seemed elusive. General Classifications in the Tour came from Bradley Wiggins and Christian Vande Velde. Grand Tour stage wins came courtesy of the rapidly developing Tyler Farrar, a homegrown American who is now one of the world’s foremost sprinters, Ryder Hesjedal and time trialists like David Zabriskie and David Millar, the latter the posterchild for reformed dopers reassimilating to a cleaner peloton.

But the crown jewel of the racing calendar, the July’s Tour, remained out of reach for the crown jewel of clean racing proponents.

That is until this week, when Garmin-Cervelo picked up its first ever Tour stage win in the team time trial, first ever Yellow Jersey thanks to Thor Hushovd and first individual stage win through sprinter Farrar a day later in Stage 3.

In a Tour that promises to be epic, the win underscores a truly epic sea change in the world of cycling.

“I am confident that clean riders can win big races,” Vaughters told Velonews after the Stage 2 time trial. “The proof is in the pudding. I believe a broad majority of the peloton is riding clean. There’s no way we could achieve what we’ve done if that were not the case.”

“When you look at things such as power outputs, the climbing speeds and everything we’ve seen from this team and the victories we’ve achieved, when I look at the body of evidence, a broad majority of the peloton is riding clean. That has been the case for the past several years now,” Vaughters continued. “There have been some very public cases that have convinced some people that is not the case. The level of enforcement of anti-doping controls is so high that people are getting caught. That is a good thing, because that is allowing the sport to clean up and allowing younger riders to come into the sport and compete without doping and win without doping.”

The Stage 2 team time trial was a thing of beauty. Led by a one-time world champion in Millar and a six-time U.S. champ in Zabriskie, the team turned over the pedals in an aerodynamic poetry in motion with all nine members working in near-perfect sync.

Stage 3 was again a team effort, though only Farrar was left standing on the winners’ podium at days end. The leadout train was executed to perfection, highlighted by the collapse of the HTC-Highroad team of Mark Cavendish that fell apart with just over three kilometers left, with Yellow Jersey wearer Hushovd working hard before giving way to leadout expert Julian Dean to launch Farrar to the win.

It was a truly astounding chain of events. The Yellow Jersey, a fellow sprinter, unselfishly deferring to the younger and presumably more explosive Farrar. Dean, an excellent sprinter in his own right and a long-time leadout man for Hushovd on the old Credit Agricole teams, doing a mammoth turn of work for Farrar. And Farrar, the American, winning his first career Tour de France stage on July 4 as a touching and classy tribute to fallen friend, Wouter Weylandt.

While Garmin-Cervelo has in the race’s first three days done what most teams would kill to do throughout the three-week Tour, the results shouldn’t come as a shock. Vaughters has not only acquired but also developed a slew of talented racers through his drug-free program. They’re hardly the new team on the block in their fifth year on the UCI Pro Tour. This isn’t a bunch of nobodies suddenly shocking the world with a leader and a pair of stage wins.

Instead, it’s a sustained effort by Vaughters to something he believes is in the best interest of the sport. The success in France this week is only a small part of what the Garmin-Cervelo program has managed to accomplish.

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