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Paris Roubaix Postscript: A Short Chat with Jonathan Vaughters

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The very first thing I wondered after Paris-Roubaix last Sunday was, When you know that no matter who wins, he's going to have the upper body strength of a 5 year old, why do you create a trophy that's got to weigh every ounce of 30 pounds? You have to think that race organizers watch each edition's winner struggle desperately to hoist this mighty chunk of stone above their heads while posing for the camera, and then laugh until they cry.

The second thing I wondered after Paris-Roubaix was, "Why the heck is Jonathan Vaughters getting bashed for winning? And what exactly was his strategy at Paris-Roubaix? Below the fold, some talk about the debate and a short interview with Vaughters.

First, about that criticism. Tyler Farrar finished the Tour of Flanders as the highest placed Garmin-Cervélo rider at 13th, after Jonathan Vaughters orders him to hold back and hope for a bunch sprint for third. Vaughters gets ripped by the pundits. Bad. A little JV bashing after that one was understandable. Misguided, sure, but understandable.

Then Johan Van Summeren takes the top spot for Garmin-Cervélo at Paris-Roubaix (hopefully none of you have hyphenation allergies), the most prestigious cobbled classic, the Queen of them all. That win was gorgeous, emotional and inspirational. It was brought through a combination of Van Summeren's own strength, toughness and suffering, through strong team riding, intelligent tactics, a bit of luck, and the strong guidance of Jonathan Vaughters. I'm certain that my crossed fingers must have helped in some way, as well. Vaughters gets bashed again by some writers. For winning?

Here's a link to the Lionel Birnie article at Cycle Sport Magzine, which was praised by Jonathan Vaughters for it's spot on description of what happened and why. Here is the link to the John Wilcockson article from Velo News, not because I agree with it, but because it leads the charge in painting Vaughters as wrong-headed and Van Summeren as an impostor to the throne. In that Wilcockson article, you'll find all the reasons why Vaughters was wrong, neatly gathered into one convenient location. Like at Walgreens, but without the gum and candy bars.

I won't waste your time going over the accusations and the counter arguments. Enough time has passed that most of you have already heard them all, and you can cover them nicely by reading the two linked articles above. But I had a few questions of my own. I asked Jonathan Vaughters about them and he was gracious enough to reply. I'm just going to share that brief exchange with you.

Bikezilla: After Paris - Roubaix you publicly thanked Peter Van Petegem for his brilliance. What exactly did you mean? How did his brilliance shape the race?

Jonathan Vaughters: "Peter was a great partner in all the classics. He knows those races so well, its just unreal. So, I know the riders, he knows the races, together we made a good team."

 

Van Petegem, for those who don't know, was an accomplished classics rider himself. Now retired, he was hired as Garmin-Cervélo's "Classics Consultant" and JV has offered him Matt White's former position. JV isn't giving away any secrets with that answer. It'd be interesting to know more specifically what each man contributed to race strategies and tactics.

Bikezilla: Going in, was Johan Van Summeren your Plan A? Was Thor a decoy?

Jonathan Vaughters: "Thor was always plan A, but for him to win it needed to be a sprint on the velodrome. So, that's what we were trying for."

Bikezilla: Was Van Summeren your Plan B going in? If so, at what point did he become your Go-To Guy?

Jonathan Vaughters: "Summie made himself plan B by riding across to the break with Boom after the Arenberg. Once he was out there, I knew he could win as well, as he is very strong after 250kms and very strong on the cobbles."

Bikezilla: When Fabian rode along side your team car and said he wasn't going to do all the work, did you think something along the lines of, "Now I have him by the balls!"?

Jonathan Vaughters: "Whenever your rival loses their cool, it's a good thing for your own race."

I'd actually hoped from something more along the lines of, "Hell yes! And me with no orchidometer!" But, ok.

Bikezilla: How did that conversation affect your tactics for the rest of the race?

Jonathan Vaughters: "I simply told Fabian that we would chase with Vanmarcke and I would pull Rasch back from the break to chase too. I didn't say more. Having Thor go pull for pull with Fabian would be a sure way to lose. So, we kept bringing the break back to 50 seconds or so, and then if Fabian wanted to finish it off, he could, but he'd have to take Thor with him. By chasing from behind we also put pressure on the other riders in the break to keep pulling hard, keeping Summie at an advantage, as he is very good at a high/steady pace."

Bikezilla: 15km is quite a solo from the lead group with a race that long. Did you choose that distance because Fabian often makes his move between 15 and 20km? If not, then why?

Jonathan Vaughters: "Carrefour is the last hard cobble section. Summie doesn't have the acceleration to attack on a paved road, but on Carrefour he could just steadlily drop his rivals, which he did. So, that distance was the last opportunity for him to go solo, and solo was the only way he'd win. If he came out with 2 guys on his wheel, he would wait for Thor."

Bikezilla: You told Van Summeren that he could go, but only on his own.

Jonathan Vaughters: "JVS would have had to wait (for Thor), if he didn't come out of Carrefour alone. But he did come out alone...."

Bikezilla: What if anyone had jumped with him when he went at 15k? How would that have gone?

Jonathan Vaughters: "Not well. JVS has no sprint. If Rast/Tjallingi had stayed with him through Carrefour, Johan would have to sit or wait for Thor."

Bikezilla: How did Thor's struggle to stick with Fabian play into your tactics and plans?

Jonathan Vaughters: Thor was fine. We never told Thor not to work, we just said "don't ever put yourself in a position where Fabian can drop you." Thor knows his body well enough to know what he could and couldn't do to make sure Fabian couldn't drop him."

Thank you, Jonathan. And thank you, Jen, for inviting me to contribute to Podium Cafe.

 

 

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