It feels like we need a new approach to the Garmin franchise. Once Jonathan Vaughter's little team that could, it is no longer a scrappy bunch of underdogs but a group of riders increasingly becoming a threat to podium - and win - in the Ardennes classics and stage races all year round, even including the Grand Tours. Though the team is still distinctly American, drawing up and developing US talent more than most other teams, it is a far stretch from even three years ago.
Now Garmin is powered by a strong group of talent, some at the beginning of their careers, some nearing their peaks. Dan Martin, Ryder Hesjedal, and Andrew Talansky spearhead an upwards trajectory in results with a strong backup cast. Veterans who have been around since the team's ascension to the WorldTour are gone and new talent is coming in, all under team director Jonathan Vaughter's plan to restructure the team. The winds, they are a changing, and I like how they're blowing.
What We Thought Coming In
Grand Tour -wise 2013 will perhaps be the most exciting ever in the history of the Slipstream franchise. Ryder Hesjedal will be going into the year with a new level of confidence, presumably to try and defend his Giro-title against Brad Wiggins and others, while Talansky might test himself in the Tour de France for the first time. They still won't be going into any races as the favorites but they will have interesting cards to play and the depth is building up with Martin, Danielson, Howes, Kreder and Stetina. Add to that the influx of promise with von Hoff, Rohan and the much hyped Lachlan Morton and 2013 looks mighty interesting but perhaps uncertain. Farrar could provide much stability if he could return to his winning ways because nothing calms a team down like a dependable stream of wins from a rider, allowing the others to compete without the massive pressure at every race
Where the last two seasons have seen the team take some very big steps 2013 looks a little bit like a likely rebuilding and transition year. Many of the older stalwarts of the squad look likely to be entering the fading ends of their run and the team is chock-full of young talent that isn't quite ready to deliver the major wins just yet. Both Farrar and Hesjedal are guys peaking and quite able to win the biggest races but they will never be the big favorites in any of them. So a reasonable expectation for Vaughters is to see his kids progress and hope the established riders pull in enough points to keep them safely in the World Tour. World domination is still a few years away.
What We Got Instead
Lots of highs and lows, and lots of impetus for change. Andrew Talansky and Dan Martin started the season off on a strong note with dazzling performances in the early season stage races. Talansky bit and clawed his way into the lead of Paris-Nice with a win on Stage 3, joining the late attack in the cold rain over the top of the final categorized climb and displaying much caginess before out-sprinting six others. As the race hit the cols, Talansky decided to defend the yellow jersey by attacking everyone, probably to his own downfall as Richie Porte ruthlessly dismembered him near the top of La Montagne de Lure on Stage 5. But the pitbull never stopped fighting and nabbed a second on the final stage's Col d'Eze time trial and on the overall. Martin followed suit a few weeks later by winning the Volta a Catalunya.
But then, the cobbles happened. Or didn't happen, to be truthful. For a team that has always loved the rough Belgian roads, the duo of Nick Nuyens and Johan Vansummeren delivered precisely nothing, unless you count crushing disappointment as something. All the talk of Nuyens finding a good home got derailed by... Injury, maybe? It's hard to know because even the annals of the internet seem barren on this point. But thankfully Jonathan Vaughters was only forced to suffer a few weekends before Dan Martin won Liège - Bastogne - Liège.
After that, the year was generally positive, especially as Talansky went on to place tenth in the Tour de France and as youngsters Rohan Dennis and Lachlan Morton put on sterling performances in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour of Alberta, Tour of Utah, and USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Though Hesjedal's Giro defense fell short, illness happens and there were enough highlights to make up for it. Dan Martin reappeared in July to take a stage win at the Tour and Tyler Farrar finally got the monkey off his back with a stage win in the Tour of California.
Though 2013 was a good year for Garmin, Jens' predictions - particularly that world domination was a few years away - were pretty close. For a team that aspires to more, 2013 only whet the appetite of team director Jonathan Vaughters. Throughout the year it seemed Garmin was reaching the limits of its nearly patented "throw three riders at every race and see what sticks" approach. Sometimes it paid off, as in the Tour of Utah with the duo of Lachalan Morton and Tom Danielson. But in others, we began to question if picking one leader and supporting them more deeply would work better. After years focusing on classics, sprints, and GC where it was possible, the former two streams of good results dried up and the third offered prospects of more to come if the right changes were made.
Top Three Highlights
- Dan Martin wins Liège - Bastogne - Liège: Monument wins are monument wins, and it was a confirmation of the talent we knew lay within Martin all these years. And just think of the sponsor exposure those pictures of Martin with the panda chasing behind generated!
- Andrew Talansky's stage win and 2nd overall in Paris-Nice: After a promising Vuelta last year, Talansky really delivered, racing aggressively (perhaps too much so, but the young pitbull is still learning) and showing consistency day to day. Finishing second to Richie Porte is no small feat, but it was the way Talansky raced that really seals the deal here. He proved that he is able to do much, much more than simply push watts up cols and in time trials, which will help him become a well-rounded GC contender in the years to come.
- Lachlan Morton in the leader's jersey in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge: Morton won a stage in Utah, and elder teammate Tom Danielson won the entire race. But Utah did not have the same depth of field that was present a week later in Colorado and Morton's ability to perform again by nabbing second and the GC lead on Stage 2 after going on the attack with Lawson Craddock and Matthias Frank showed more of what the young, lanky Australian is capable of. With a team that is building for the future more than reveling in its veterans, this means more than Danielson's win in Utah.
Bottom Three Lowlights
- Ryder's Giro defense. The might of Sky and Bradley Wiggins did not deter Hesjedal in the early stages of the Giro. He went on the offense early and often, trying to steal seconds here and there and providing a healthy dose of excitement even if it seemed he was spending too much energy too soon. But then he got sick and the doors fell off, leaving him to depart the race early.
- Tyler Farrar: I know, I said he was on the upswing. But for a former Tour de France stage winner and prolific podium finisher, a mere two wins - in California and the Circuit Franco-Belge - is weak and he was so invisible for most of the season that we wondered if he would be resigned. Please, Tyler, find your Wentachee Wonder again.
- The cobbled classics: Johan Vansummeran, winner of the 2011 Paris-Roubaix and stalwart performer in the cobbled races, could not even keep Garmin's cobbles squad afloat, finishing 20th in Flanders and an even worse 50th at Roubaix, the race tailor made for him. Fact: Euskatel almost equalled Garmin's performance at Roubaix. And Nick Nuyens? He was invisible in the early cobbled races and not even on the start list at Flanders. For a squad that has always had a love for the harsher classics, it was a great disappointment, and perhaps a contributor to the realization that more eggs needed to be in one basket instead of five.
What Happens Next?
2014 is a big leap for Garmin as they abandon their path over the past few years and put most of their focus behind their younger GC and Ardennes classics talents. The turnover on the squad is notable as Vaughters reshapes the team. Out are Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie (retirement), Slipstream veteran Peter Stetina (BMC), and Jacob Rathe (Jelly Belly) among a host of others, and pouring in are a lot of guys who like to go up hills fast. Most notable are a host of promising riders at various points in their careers who have been racing in the United States the past years - youngster Nate Brown, stage racer Phil Gaimon, and Janier Acevedo, who climbed his way to third in the Tour of California and USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Also joining is Tom Jelle Slagter, who exudes promise in both the Ardennes and shorter, punchier stage races like the Tour of the Basque Country. Vaughter's expressed goal is to support Talansky, Martin, and Hesjedal more fully, and also to provide opportunities for riders in the mold of Morton and Slagter to develop.
It would not be a year at Garmin without a budget cobbles signing, and this year that comes in the form of Sebastian Langeveld. This should strengthen their hand from February to April where they seem content to stick with the buckshot method rather than the more expensive focused approach. With such promising youngsters and guys nearing the peaks of their careers, one cannot blame them. Tyler Farrar is back at long last after contract negotiations dragged out (or happened) very late and hopefully can get back to his old self. Signs this year were that he may be on the upswing finally and if that is true then he can offer the stream of wins and valuable WorldTour points the team needs to comfortably invest in the future.
2014 is a big investment for Garmin and odds are it will pay off, though likely only modestly this year. Talansky is still developing and Dan Martin and Ryder Hesjedal need the right conditions to strike to hit near the podium in Grand Tours more than a deep support crew.