Interview by Chris Fontecchio and Jen See.
Welcome to the first episode of the Podium Cafe interview with Jonathan Vaughters. Today, we talk about how Garmin and Cervélo became one big team, a process Vaughters describes as a "tug-of-war." The UCI limits how many riders a team can sign. Consequently, not all the riders from Garmin-Transitions and Cervélo TestTeam could continue with the new team. No doubt the process left some bruised feelings along the way. Vaughters also had to sign the Cervélo riders he wanted, which meant negotiating new contracts. The way to true love — and world cycling domination — never did run smooth.
In this episode, we also talk about the new Garmin-Cervélo women’s team, which has evolved out of the Cervélo TestTeam. Vaughters candidly admits he is starting at "ground zero" with women’s racing. The team has a roster of ten riders this year with the goal of giving the riders more racing time. Whether the team grows depends upon what sponsor resources they can attract. Vaughters tells us he expects to have more ideas once he’s met the riders and got a feel for the personality of the team.
To the under-the-fold!
Tug-of-War: The Garmin-Cervélo Deal
PdC: I know you’ve told this story, but can you give us a sense of how the Cervélo deal came around? Did you go into the summer thinking you were looking to beef up the classics side of the roster or was this just a totally unique situation?
JV: It’s a very unique situation. We’ve obviously been friends with Gérard and Phil White and that whole gang for a while now. This is almost our second go-round with Cervélo, they came very close to sponsoring our team when they decided to go off and do their own team. Very friendly relationship. Gérard and Phil were looking for a partner who would keep their team afloat, and they ran out of time, they couldn’t find anyone.
So they came to us and said ‘we have X amount of money, and we’d like to honor as many of the contracts on this team as we possibly can.’ And, at that point in time it was a bit of a tug-of war, because they’re trying to honor their contracts but I’ve only got so many spaces available. And it was a matter of, how can we keep as many people happy as possible?
So he wanted someone to sponsor his team because he could not find a partner, and, I hate to say it but we were definitely his second choice! And we tug-of-warred with the numbers, which riders he wanted me to extend an offer to. Of course, it’s not a matter of honoring the contracts, the rider would have the option to go somewhere else if they wanted, it’s not that he gave me a contract and said, ‘now it’s yours.’ You can’t legally do that. So each and every one of those Cervélo riders had to be convinced that their best move was to come to our team.
PdC: Basically you're re-signing these riders all over again, you had to start new contracts because it was a new company.
JV: Yup, yup, yup. It's a new company for them. Slipstream sports LLP is still the company...
So those guys made their decisions, whether they wanted to stay or go, and we figured out the maximum number that we could take on without disrupting the integrity of the team that we already built. And got everything ironed out with Gérard to an acceptable point to where he decided his best move was to sponsor us as opposed to just pulling out of professional cycling altogether.
PdC: That would have been sad to see them go. He's so committed.
JV: Yeah! Gérard is a great guy, he's got a lot of passion for the sport, that's clear. He's a good partner to have in this whole venture. I like the guy quite a bit.
An Untapped Market: Women’s Cycling
PdC: On the women's team, I was chatting with Gérard Vroomen over Twitter, he mentioned you guys were going to carry ten riders this year.
PdC: And you're doing two-year contracts?
JV: Yep. And I know, there's been some talk, maybe you didn't bring the women to the November thing. One thing you've got to understand is, we now have a 15-rider continental team, and we've got a women's team and a pro tour team.
PdC: You didn't want to bring like 100 riders to the Caymans? [laughing]
JV: No! And so, the objective of that camp is that we have a lot of aces, as you guys noticed, in the pro tour team, we need to deal with this to make sure it's gonna work. So we checked that box firmly down there. So now it's on to Calpe camp, and the objective there is obviously training, but it's also to unify the men's team and the women's team. It's gonna be the first time that they're together, in January in Calpe, Spain. It's just a step-by-step process. And sometimes silence on our part — and this goes back to our talk about stability — everyone assumes silence means, it's about to blow up!
JV: Silence, a lot of times on our part means, we're not going to talk about this until the details are totally buttoned down because ... let's just make sure that everyone knows what we're doing, we've got a plan in front of us, and then let's talk about it. We try to under-promise and over-deliver, and that's the objective with this team. Let's not promise anything we can't deliver, but when the rubber hits the road, let's try to do this right.
PdC: Well, you definitely have the roster to get some great results. There's little to criticize about who the riders are and the talent you've brought in. Do you plan over time to let the team grow? I gather now you want to let the riders can actually race more. Do you anticipate growing or sticking to this plan?
JV: That depends. The first year Gérard is continuing with his sponsorship and we're coming in with Garmin. Long term, I think growing the women's program depends on our ability to bring in additional partners to that program. And that's something we're going to have to work on over the next 18 months, because it seems like that's a pretty untapped market, and if it seems like we can bring in more partners, why wouldn't we do not just a women's pro team but a women's development team?
But all these things cost money. And beyond that, is there a way to more consistently have women's events along with men's events? Are we overlooking different ways of making the sport more popular? So what I'd look at with women's cycling is, let's come up with a long term strategy for this sport, and if that works out, bringing in partners and sponsorship to make the team bigger and more robust, that's gonna be easy.
PdC: So it looks like you're in the stage where you're getting the team going, and identifying what it is about the team that will appeal to sponsors and how to sell the team, and then moving forward with a strategy.
JV: Right. And you know, even getting to know some of the riders, like I want to know what their personalities are. I don't want to say there are matching sponsors to personalities, but right now I don't know the character of the team well enough to say the perfect match for this is going to be X, Y or Z. We need to familiarize ourselves with these people, who they are and how they win, what the racing looks like and feels like. If you look at how we've done that with the men's team, we've always had a personality to the team.
JV: And I didn't create that personality. OK, I said, let's have argyle, and I'm sure my personality is embedded in the team. But the riders that have come — Christian Vande Velde, Tyler Farrar — they've got personalities and that sort of becomes the collective personality. And now we're adding another element with Thor and Roger Hammond and Heinrich Haussler. So we've always had a personality, and Garmin, they like that personality. So I need to figure out, what's the personality of the women's team? And then we can find someone who's gonna go, this is a perfect match for us long-term.
PdC: Emphasizing the personality and the people, that's just starting to happen in women's cycling, and that's something that could make a big difference overall.
JV: Back when we were much smaller, I always thought it would be such a great thing if Sarah Hammer could have ridden the team pursuit, like when we were doing that with TIAA-Cref, if Sarah could have ridden the team pursuit and become the national champion with three guys.
PdC: Oh, that would have been cool!
JV: And that's the exact kind of story that can build out — you know, then she goes to the Olympics and wins a medal, then you've got this whole backstory of competing with the boys. It's creating stories like that. And that's what I need a year or two of, being around them. I can't just call up Emma Pooley and be like, what kind of dog do you have? I've got to be around them a little bit.
PdC: She seems really nice, by the way. I've only talked to her a couple times, but...
JV: And that's great. That's exactly the type of personality that we want involved in the organization. That's the reason that Tyler and Thor work, and you know, you bring in Emma, and it seems like she's going to be symbiotic to that whole feel we've got going on, and if that's the case, which I think it is from the brief conversations I've had with her, then the whole thing starts to work and we can start integrating things on a bigger level and start searching for sponsors that can match up with that.
PdC: One more question on women's cycling. At the moment it seems like the UCI doesn't have a ton of structure in place for women's cycling. That top-level structure of women's cycling, is that something you might find yourself getting involved in?
JV: Well — it's funny, when we were signing up with Cervélo and we'd registered the men's team and we're trying to register the women's team — I didn't know how! Absolutely ground zero... who do we talk to about this? So we registered them with UK cycling, it's not an American-registered team.
So it's been a really big learning process for me, and it hasn't been totally seamless. I forget who asked me early on what can be done to improve women's cycling, and — the same problem exists in men's cycling but there's so much tradition it sort of overshadows the fact — but there's not a cohesive series in women's cycling. There just need to be more events and those events need to be more robust. I can't singularly influence that.
And — with men's cycling there's not a cohesive series, there certainly don't need to be more events — so maybe what would be good is, let's learn from men's cycling, because men's cycling grew in this organic way, back to Henri Desgranges, there's a thousand branches on the tree and it's very hard to get it to come together and be understandable to the public. But with women's cycling, we've got an opportunity right now to actually direct it and come up with a cohesive series. There aren't that many races, so let's take what races there are and let's raise them up in standard and make them interrelate to each other, so the sum is greater than the parts. That would be great.
PdC: And find a way to get them on the internet so people can see them.
JV: Yeah. And there are tons of sports where the women's side is as popular or almost as popular as the men's side, skiing with Lindsey Vonn or golf Michelle Wie is becoming a huge figure, and other extreme sports. So the template exists.
PdC: You're right, it's frustrating when you see other women's sports and you wonder why can't cycling do this too? There's a lot of women who like riding bikes and who are engaged, and it hasn't happened yet. But other women's sports out there have huge followings, so it's a matter of figuring out what story cycling has that can be sold.
JV: And I don't have the answer to that just yet, but give me a season or so of observing it. And, well, I dunno, hopefully I'll at least have a couple ideas, I don't know. At this point in time I'm relying on Gérard, I'm relying on Theo Maucher, who’s been helping us [ed: Maucher is working on the operations aspects of the women’s team and comes from the Cervélo team organization]. At this point in time I do not know. My experience in women's cycling is pretty limited, so I don't want to pretend to be something I'm not.
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That concludes today’s episode of the Podium Cafe Interview with Jonathan Vaughters. Tomorrow, Chris picks up the story and we chat with Vaughters about what the team will look like on the road. How will Garmin-Cervélo manage its stacked classics team? Come July, can they support sprinters like Tyler Farrar and World Champion Thor Hushovd and classification riders like Christian Vande Velde? Check in tomorrow!