Jonathan Vaughters Interview:
Evolution at Garmin, Not Revolution —

    • Filled in News in English 4 Сентябрь 2009 в 10:08, author: KazakhNeRider
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    Jonathan Vaughters Interview: Evolution at Garmin, Not Revolution

    The Garmin manager dishes on Wiggo and his team’s 2010 roster, what really happened with Alberto Contador, and whether racing is cleaner than in the past.

    by Joe Lindsey

    Jonathan Vaughters is a busy man these days - as general manager for the Garmin-Slipstream team, he’s rounding out the team’s roster for 2010, setting up sponsorships and chasing more, and dealing with about a bajillion journalist requests. He’s also halfway through a two-year term as the head of the AIGCP, the pro cycling teams association, a job that requires him to not only build consensus among a couple dozen other general managers but also the UCI and race promoters as well.

    I got the chance to sit down with him last week for a wide-ranging interview, touching on Garmin’s plans for 2010 and a variety of other subjects.

    Q: Finally! You’re a busy guy right now. What’s kept you so tied up?

    A: I am a little harder to schedule these days, huh? One of the things I’m doing is we just did our media evaluation with IEG – how much value your team has. And we’re pushing like $90 million in value. We may be the highest total publicity to investment dollar ratio in cycling ever.

    Q – How do they track that?

    A: Say for example a 30-second ad on one TV program costs $100,000. So 30 seconds of direct advertising to consumer costs $100K at this slot on TV. Or this amount of print costs this amount of money. Anything – print, tv, radio, whatever. So in the TV example, let’s say the program’s an hour long. 40 minutes of that is actual coverage. Of those 40 minutes, they find that Team Garmin received two minutes of direct commentary and in-focus logo exposure. If it’s out of focus, a helicopter shot where you can’t make out the jersey or whatever, then it doesn’t count. But if the commentators are talking about the team, the logo’s on screen and in focus, let’s say you get two minutes. If 30 seconds cost 100K, you’ve got a $400,000 value.

    They do the same thing for print –what’s it cost for a full page ad? Now, what’s the word content for that amount of space, did you get a photo, did it not have a photo, and so on. And they have a calculus that if a full page in the NY Times costs X amount and you got a quarter page article and there was a photo, we’ll call that X dollars. Add it up worldwide and here you go.

    Q: And you guys are the highest-producing team ever? Even over, say, Postal or Discovery?

    A: I’m sure there are a couple of Lance years, like 2005, where they outstripped the total value but, put it this way, for a non-Lance associated team, it’s unprecedented. And they don’t count value in markets that don’t matter to Garmin. Meaning like, they don’t sell Garmins in Uganda, say, so if you get 20 hours of live coverage, it doesn’t count.

    Q Is there any kind of qualitative aspect- the direction and trends of the coverage, so on?

    A: Yeah, negative stories count as neutral or very limited. Positive stories are counted 1:1 with ad space. I was pretty pleased with the results. It’s $60 million just in TV. Once it gets to all the other stuff…

    Q: Have you done any kind of late-season/end-of-season sporting wrapup too?

    A: Yeah, but that’s done more on the fly because what value does a sporting recap have? Well, what are your hiring needs? So, if you look at who we hired for 2010, it’s based on what our season was. Like, we lost Magnus (Backstedt, who retired in March). So we felt we needed to address that with another strong classics guy. Martijn (Maaskant) I really think can grow into being an absolute leader in the classics, but we need a guy Martijn can play off of, because this year he didn’t have that – if there’s a selection of 20 guys, he’s got no one.

    Q: Well, and we didn’t really get a chance to see Tyler (Farrar) this year in the classics because of his injury. So not only did Martijn not have a teammate in there to help, but tactically, you guys didn’t have any options even if he did make the move.

    A: Right. So we hired Johan Van Summeren (from Silence-Lotto), who I think in the classics next year we have the perfect team. We have three leaders – Tyler, Martijn and Van Summeren, so all three games are covered. If you watch Roubaix, van Summeren’s the guy they make work for Leif Hoste, so he has to pull and pull and pull and pull (Which he also does in the Tour - Ed.). So he’s got the long game covered – like an attack from 100k out or whatever and he’s out there all day long. That’s Johan. Or we have to pull the break back. The middle game is typical Roubaix – group of six comes to the line, they sprint in the drome. Martijn is quick – not as quick as Boonen, but whatever. So that’s the middle game. Then we’ve also got the short game if you want to call it that, the Flanders or Roubaix that comes to a group of 20 for a sprint – that’s Tyler. I think we’ve got all three.

    Q: Speaking of Tyler…

    A: We hired Robbie Hunter (Barloworld) as a support guy for Tyler - the leadout train, in the classics, all that. A lot of times I noticed we got kind of pushed around by Columbia because our train wasn’t as experienced and wasn’t as mean, quite frankly. So, Robbie Hunter. The World’s Angriest Man!

    Elsewhere, we sometimes lack a leader in the week-long stage races early in the year – Paris-Nice, Pays-Basque, that kind of stuff. It doesn’t always come together and so I kind of hired eh, a talent but I think he can lead in those races, in Fredrik Kessiakoff (Liquigas). He’s a little bit of a wildcard play, but…Wiggins was speculative, you know.

    (Kessiakoff, of Sweden, is a former pro mountain biker who only switched full time to the road in 2009. In one season of racing, he’s notched top 10 finishes at GP Lugano, Tour of Romandie and was 15th overall in the Vuelta Pays-Basque. -Ed.)

    We also hired Tom Zirbel (Bissell). The guy is winning the NRC, is the dominant TT rider on the US circuit and could probably be a good classics rider and lieutenant. Most of the time, we’re always going to go with young rider, the up-and-comer. But every now and then you have to go, “OK, here’s a guy who had a job as a chemist or whatever until he was 25 and then started riding.” Unique to American teams, every once in a while you have to give those guys a chance.

    Then finally, Michel Kreder, Jack Bobridge and Peter Stetina, our uber-young talents.

    Q: So it sounds like there won’t be any earth-shattering signings - mostly sticking with the guys you have and tweaking the roster a bit.

    A: No, we won’t be doing anything major. To what are you referring?

    Q: Contador for certain. But this has been a funny transfer season. There are guys like Vinokourov and Rasmussen coming back and that and RadioShack and Sky coming in means there are a lot of changes happening out there - some teams are changing a lot and you guys are just tweaking some lesser roles.

    A: Well, we’ve proved that the formula is working, so we just tweak it a little more – add a little power for Tyler, add some power to the classics mix, add a couple of climbers. Yeah sure, for 15 months, people have said “You need to replace Tom Danielson with another climber.” And then all of a sudden it’s like ‘Oh, maybe you don’t.”

    Q: What has the issue been with Tom? You mentioned previously that it was a problem with how he was using his energy systems - his ability to burn carbs vs. fat?

    A: Yeah, see, Tom is a confusing guy. He’d go hunger flat really easy but gain weight really easily. He’s a quarter Eskimo.

    Q: Didn’t know that.

    A: Yeah. So he stores fat really easily but doesn’t burn it and readily uses sugars. So you look at the Tom Danielson pre-2009 lactate profile and you look at the VO2Max and it’s “Oh my God, this is the most talented rider on earth.” Then you notice the underlying acidity. It’s always high, but at threshold it’s even higher.

    Say Lance is like this down here and Tom’s here (motions a little higher). They do the same curve but Lance is physically 2-3 millimoles lower (in acidity). And when you’re burning sugar, you produce lactate. When you use fat as fuel, it does not produce lactate; it can’t. It’s not like lactate is bad like we used to think of it, but Tom’s physiology is just more acidic. So one, he’s bonking very easily. Two, the acidity was compromising his recovery. In very acidic conditions you can do one climb really fast. You can’t do two or three, or four.

    Q: So, how come it took, what, however many years of Tom’s career to figure all that out? And how do you fix it?

    A: It’s not that it took so long, but Tom had all this info and it was a matter of getting to a point of “Here’s what you have to do for training and diet.” This winter, Tom hated me. Because I was like “We just have to put you on a super low-carb diet.” He said he was walking around bonked all the time. Like training bonked, watching TV bonked. And little by little he came out of that.

    And then we had a problem. Like early season, Tour of California, he was really good. But he was able to control his diet more in the U.S., with familiar stuff, you can do your own food. Goes to Europe, not much choice, has to eat the pasta. So his whole thing – he gained weight again. So then it was going back again and figuring out a way to make it work in Europe. Luckily we’ve got good people on staff to help with that. He actually gained weight at the Giro. He gained like five kilos during the Giro.

    Q: Five kilos?!

    A: Yeah! So he goes back and loses the weight again, goes to (Vuelta) Burgos. And we’re paying attention to the food more. And I think after the Giro he’s more relaxed that he doesn’t have to stuff his face. Because of his fear of hunger flats, he would just eat, he was eating, eating, eating all the time. So he’s getting bigger and bigger and climbing slower and slower.

    And so, because Tommy – at the last week of the Giro, he’s getting like 25th, but he was seven kilos heavier than he is now. 25th? I mean you plug the power numbers in and whoa, he coulda been top five. It wasn’t a matter of knowledge or theory. It was a matter of figuring out how to make it work. It’s not an easy thing to execute. I mean, a guy who hunger flats and gains weight easily. Normally that doesn’t happen. Normally, the guys who go hunger flat really easily are little guys like me who just burn everything real fast. Then the super high VO2 but acidic thing, he’s a bit of a complicated puzzle. So eh, we’ll see.

    Q: Do you lose any riders you wanted to keep?

    A: Some of the Americans we tried to build into the ProTour level but couldn’t quite make it work. Other than that, we’re not losing anyone, honestly, who we really needed to keep. I mean I’d love to have Edvald Boassen-Hagen on the team, but I didn’t bid for him. But on the current roster, we lost nobody that we targeted to keep.

    Q: Speaking of guys on the current roster you could’ve lost, what about Wiggo? There was a lot of talk about him going various places this summer - particularly Sky.

    A: He’s under contract. And people are like “Oh they can just buy him out.” Yeah, but how much would that take? I mean for me, like the multiple – losing your best rider in the Tour – that’s not a million dollar buyout. Maybe it was with Roberto Heras or whatever, but that’s, I dunno, what’s the value of a title sponsorship? Because you’re risking that by losing your best GC rider at the Tour. What is that then, $15 million for a buyout? Really, you look at the real value, it is probably in line with $15 million.

    Q: Did anyone make a move for him? Obviously his stock went up after the Tour.

    A: I don’t really know (if anyone came after him). Wiggo really loves our team and of course, it’s normal that after such a performance that people are coming at you with wads of cash. But the fact of the matter is I have a lot of faith in him and there was a reason I wanted to work with him for two years, not one, and I’m sure he’ll produce another performance in the Tour that will make him equally valuable going forward. I think with time It’ll become apparent that our team is a really good fit for him.

    It’s understandable that there were rumors he’d go to Sky. It’s a British team, they have more money than any other team in the world, but that’s all under the assumption I’d accept a buyout. At the end of the day, I really like Wiggo. How much would you sell your mom for?

    Q: Wiggo was a surprise to a lot of people; was he to you? When did you start to look at him as a GC rider? At the Giro? Dauphine? Back in November when you started working with him?

    A: As soon as Wiggo started showing us in training and the Giro the level he was climbing at, we fully believed and supported him for the Tour. Back in November, the GC was a theoretical possibility. It wasn’t firm, but it was “If you can do this: x, y and z, you’ll have the opportunity.”

    Q: You said you’d love to have a guy like Boassen-Hagen on the team, but you didn’t bid for him. Was there anyone you DID have negotiations with who you didn’t get?

    A: Not really. We don’t have megabucks to play around with.

    Q: What about Contador specifically? You guys were said to be one of a handful of teams in the real running for him.

    A: Contador – there was a lot of speculation there. On the whole thing with getting him for the Tour, a lot of things needed to happen. It’s not like we could just afford that out of our normal budget. Typically what we look for is a guy like Wiggo – a great rider, no one quite believes in him yet, and an incredible talent and you give him an opportunity to explore the depth of that talent. That’s what we’re about. I think Svein (Tuft) is another example of that.

    Q: After the Tour, with how Wiggo rode and Christian and Tyler, did you seriously entertain going after Contador?

    A: Alberto’s situation has always been so complicated. He’s a great rider, and an incredible talent. But he is under contract to Astana, and the late payment issues, and the complexity of that situation was, and is, difficult.

    I like Alberto, I think he’s a nice guy and an unbelievable talent, but for all the pieces of puzzle to come together to sign him, I mean: why do I want to get into a legal battle with…

    Q: The Kazakhs?

    A: Yeah. I just think that he’s a great talent but it’s a lot of complexity involved and I don’t know – who knows what the future will hold. I’m not sure anyone has the money to get him, and I don’t know if the Kazakhs will let him go. Think about it from Astana’s perspective: if they lose him, they potentially lose their ProTour license, their Tour invitation. That’s not a simple calculus. It’s not like “Oh, well, we won’t win the Tour, but Vinokourov will win a stage and get eighth overall.”

    You know that’s a situation where if they don’t have Alberto, the Tour says you can’t come, or the UCI says “The level of riders you have isn’t sufficient to really keep a ProTour license.” So why would they let him out of that contract? He’s got a good legal case for sure – the management has changed, a lot of things have changed in that situation, but a buyout? No.

    And for us also, at some point you’ve gotta realize, our team’s pretty good no matter what.

    Q: Speaking of, Wiggins raised a lot of eyebrows with his performance, and then you released the data on his testing to back it up.

    A: Well, with that, Wiggo told everyone in the media “I’m going to release all my test data,” and we’re like “OK, he said it, we’ve got to back him up.” We have to do it – you can’t say something and then not do it. I felt like he claimed it so we had to do it.

    Q: But do you feel that you needed to other than that? Is the sport really cleaning up? I mean, we had no positive tests at the Tour this year. (Stage 16 winner Mikel Astarloza tested positive prior to the race, but the results weren’t known until after the Tour. - Ed.) What does that say?

    A: I think it’s a great sign. The net is tighter and tighter. Of course, I don’t think that there can’t be any relaxation of the effort. It’s great job so far, but we’ve got to keep pushing. An autologous transfusion test needs to continue to be explored. What I really like is that, now you can store a sample for 8 years, and test it after the fact with a new test that comes out – that’s a positive development.

    Q: And yet there are still some rumblings. There has been some criticism of the UCI biopassport and other testing procedures. Both David Walsh and Greg LeMond have criticized the passport.

    A: OK, I like David and Greg both. But if you’re going to criticize something that’s that scientifically evolved as a mechanism, you need to be doing it from a perspective of knowledge instead of a perspective of “I think.” I haven’t seen criticisms from a perspective of knowledge.

    Q: Mike Ashenden has gone on the record saying that the passport is beatable. He’s a proponent, but he’s saying guys already can beat it.

    A: Fair enough; you can beat federal taxes, too. But what happens to you? You can beat the taxes but you might get caught. Do you want to find out?

    Q: Are you concerned about new drugs, like AICAR or hematide?

    A: Well, hematide is just a next-generation EPO and we can test for that. At the end of the day, the only thing that continues to concern me is autologous transfusions – good old fashioned 1978 technology. Even AICAR, you can get damn lean being really strict about your diet. I mean look at Wiggo. So yeah, autologous is what I worry about. That will evolve over time with the testing.

    I see a lot of criticism of anti-doping, that it isn’t perfect and someone will still get away with something. But you’ve gotten to a point where maybe that’s true but, from my perspective, what you can get away with now, the differential is so small that the amount of sleep you lose…OK, you can microdose a transfusion and what my guess is the amount of sleep you lose wondering if your room will be raided by French police at any given moment, or that somehow you’ll screw it up, that 80 hours of sleep you lose might offset the 2 percent oxygen gain.

    The margins available from pharmaceuticals now are so small I don’t even think about it. I didn’t even know AICAR was available until you told me about it. When it gets to “Oh fuck, we’re non-competitive because testing is such a failure, or we’re so behind the doping technology at that point that I feel there’s no way we can compete,” then yeah, that sucks. Right here, now, I don’t feel that’s the case. I feel like it’s a non-factor.

    I mean, the argument goes both ways. Bernhard Kohl said the top 10 were doping and my counterargument was, Kohl: when had he ever done 3rd in the Tour – not ever, I mean not even close. People ask what did Christian ever do. Christian finished 20th or thereabouts in multiple Tours in a full-on domestique role.

    Kohl was finishing way down and then all of a sudden, boom! That’s more indicative of a doped rider doing well in a clean environment, because they have no talent, as opposed to everyone else is doing it. It’s a risky environment right now because you can make a donkey into a racehorse right now, whereas whatever, a while ago, everyone’s doing it, the talent maybe still rises to the top.

    Q: Is that the “level playing field” idea?

    A: I don’t agree with the level playing field concept because, yeah, a large percent of riders were doing it but the way people react to doping is different, but it’s a totally unfair assessment to say “I did it and got third in the Tour therefore…” I just don’t see that. What I see now is I feel like had a couple tweaks gone different, Brad would have podiumed.

    To me, Schleck and Contador were one notch above everyone else and then there was a good battle for third. But look – what was ‘86 Tour like? It was a battle between two guys – there was no one else even in the race! What was the ‘85 Tour like?

    The way I see it is you can have clean athlete exhibiting no differences in power output in a long history getting 4th in the tour – then why couldn’t a slightly more talented or better-suited athlete beat him? If there were something that was so effective you’d be non-competitive not doing it, you’d have a huge number of people doing it and Brad and Christian would be in 70th place.

    It’s hard – I can talk all day long and people can say “Oh, he’s just spinning bullshit.” But I’m there, in the riders’ rooms and it shocks me just as much as it shocks eveyrone else that they’re doing well. To me it’s incredible. But when I look at that data, it makes sense. They do it in training before the Tour.

    With Wiggo and Christian, the attitude on our team is pervasive in that they know winning the Tour of the Mediterranean does nothing for their career. Doing well in the Tour de France does. They tend to treat smaller races a little more lightly and focus on the Tour, but the power numbers – Wiggos’ hasn’t changed. His body weight and focus changed; his ability to repeat the effort over and over has, but his raw 10-minute power flat-out is the same now as in February as in 2008 as in…

    Q: You’ve gotten dinged before by other people in the sport - notably Cavendish - for focusing on some events so intently. What’s the reason for that focus?

    A: I think our guys just have a team that is psychologically more set up to do well at key moments of the season. Theyre not workaday winners. When they’re on the biggest stage they put up big performances. Smaller stages they don’t. They rise to the occasion. It’s just the athletes I selected.

    Q: Well, Tyler certainly has in August.

    A: Tyler? Yeah, was he a month too late with his form? I don’t know.

    Q: Do you have the leadout more dialed than the Tour?

    A: The last sprint (in Paris), we had it dialed too but the funny thing is there was no one else even involved! It was like, the rest of the peloton didn’t exist. Go back 3-4 years and it was like “Maybe it’s this guy, maybe it’s that guy, maybe it’s this guy.” Now it’s just – the Tour was two guys sprinting and the rest it was like “Oh are you in the race?” You didn’t even know they were there. It was Cav and Tyler.

    Q: How much did it bother you that Columbia was getting the better of you guys during the Tour? And then the Hincapie thing? Are relations there totally poisoned?

    A: No, no, I talk to Bob (Stapleton). We remain really good friends. We talk about once a week - usually about separate issues. There is no tension between us.

    Q: But between the teams?

    A: Within the teams it would be hard for there not to be any, but between Bob and myself, no. He’d say the same. We’ll see. I mean, Columbia will be a very different team next year. My hope is that my relationship with Bob can overcome the past issues and we can get back to being on more friendly terms. And that they will discontinue lambasting us publicly. That happened well before, like a year before the Hincapie incident ever occurred.

    Q: That seems like a strange disconnect - you and Bob are friends but then there are his riders and directors kind of talking smack. Have you ever asked him what is going on?

    A: No; sometimes I’ve thought about it. I don’t understand it. I mean, Bob seems very friendly to me on the phone and we are collaborative on a number of projects (such as the USAC development team - Ed.), but then I read some of his interviews and they’re…hurtful. I don’t know. I think that he’s thicker skinned than I am and I think he just thinks I won’t notice it.

    Q: So, speaking of Hincapie, what did happen that day? ProCycling’s September issue indicates that it was Matt Johnson who directed the team to chase.

    A: You know, I wasn’t in the car. I don’t know the specifics of what went on that day.

    (Vaughters declined to comment further.)

    Q: Final question: in the past, you’ve mentioned your enjoyment working with the development side of things.

    With the juniors, yeah, I really like the hands-on stuff with them and the U23 team. I enjoy it a lot.

    Q: You’ve said the pros, often there just isn’t a lot that you can add for them. That anyone really can.

    A: Yeah, I mean, look at Wiggo. He didn’t even use a radio in the prologue at the Tour. Pro riders, you can help them and give them confidence, but they’re very knowledgeable already. Sometimes, the hands-on stuff doesn’t work that well with them. You can’t be like “No, you did this wrong; no, you did that wrong.” They want an advisor, a confidante.

    Q: Like you mentioned just now, you’re not in the team car all that much anymore. Are you backing away from the day-to-day stuff?

    A: It’s clear that it’s not ready for me to back out of that yet, and it’s not that I want to back away from cycling or the team, but I want to get to a more strategic level, where I am not just helping the team, but helping the whole sport progress forward.

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