In Part II of our interview with Jonathan Vaughters we discuss the team's objectives for 2009, leadership at the Grand Tours and the enigma known as Tom Danielson.
BKW: What are the team's biggest objectives for 2009?
JV: It sounds overly optimistic, but our effort with the riders and staff is to win the Tour de France. We realize that is a dark horse scenario. The point is we see it’s a possibility. Contador is the best stage racer in the world right now. For us to go head-to-head with him, we have to create enough of an advantage in the two time trials where Christian has a large advantage and then limit losses, limit losses. Contador is hard. Schleck is hard. We have a great TTT squad.
If Christian were to win the Tour de France, it wouldn’t be a specatuclar win, lots of steady Eddie, lots of 4ths and 5ths on mountain stages. Contador can make extremely violent accelerations on climbs. Christian can’t match those, but he can maintain a very high, very steady pace. He just has to ride his own pace.
BKW: Team Garmin/Slipstream is going to face increased competition at the '09 Tour de France with the presence of both Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, not to mention Levi Leipheimer. What will you do differently from '08 in your quest to put Christian Vande Velde in the yellow jersey?
JV: It seems like everyone is changing to our program. They are all shifting to doing the Giro before the Tour. I don’t think with Christian we’re going to change a whole lot. He’s going to the Giro but more importantly, he has a greater sense of confidence about his ability and he’s at a higher level of fitness.
We can do the Dauphine and Tour de Suisse with other riders. Dan Martin and David Millar can do a more traditional run-up to the Tour. We’d really like to win the team time trial. We’d also like to have a climber up there with Christian in the mountains. And we might take some guys that people might not expect. Svein Tuft, because of his time trialing ability, could end up at the Tour.
BKW: Now that the team is in the ProTour, you're going to field teams at each of the three Grand Tours. If Vande Velde will be the team's leader at the Tour, who are your likely leaders for the Giro and the Vuelta?
JV: It goes back to our base of where we can win. The Giro starts with a TTT and we want to get the pink jersey and defend it a little longer. Christian could lead at the Giro.
The Vuelta: David Millar really wants to go there. He wants a chance to repeat some of the stage wins he’s had at the Vuelta in the past. He’s doing the Tour/Vuelta double and skipping the Giro. We’ll be trying out some of our new climbers—stars of the future—at the Vuelta.
BKW: Let's talk about Tom Danielson. He's a rider who has possessed immense potential, and while he was able to win nearly anything here in America, he hasn't enjoyed any significant success in Europe. Factoring out injuries and illness, it seems he should have been able to achieve more than his resume shows. Why is that?
JV: I think Tom is a little bit of a victim of his own expectations and the expectations of his fans and the press. He immediately started winning shorter stage races in the US. In bigger, faster-moving pelotons he’s had a lot of trouble.
Tom’s a pretty high-strung person. He wants to win for himself but he also wants to win to meet the expectations of others. He is a people pleaser, and it quickly spirals down when he doesn’t feel like he’s pleasing others. He began wondering why he was racing a bike. I had to wait until he hit bottom before we could rebuild him as a bike racer.
He has a very unique physiology. He says he’s 15% Eskimo. We’ve done tests and he does not utilize fat very well. He was burning sugar almost exclusively. When you burn sugar you become more acidic and after three and a half, four hours, he really couldn’t perform at the same level as he did one hour in. He couldn’t do anything at the end of a six hour race.
So I said, ‘We gotta teach you to burn fat as fuel. How well do you produce power after six hours and three or four 20-30 minute efforts?’
Tom had to work on his ability to burn fat. We completely changed his diet. We moved him away from the standard carbohydrates. He was eating a lot of nuts, a lot of protein and guacamole. For the first two months he was bonking on every ride. He was cursing me on every ride. Now he’s up to six hour rides not finishing all the Clif bars in his pockets.
He’s really professional, and he has really put his heart in it. He can be a really good, solid, quality bike rider and have success on this team. I think it really showed at the Tour of Missouri. There was a stage in which he was the last guy with Christian and was really able to keep it together for him. He’s turned his attitude around.
End Part II
Images courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International