Posts Tagged ‘garmin

09
Feb
10

Prying Inside the Mind of Vaughters

Until their breakthrough in the Vuelta last year, Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters did a tremendous job of gaining favor, goodwill and those precious impressions in the media by telling a story after the race of “we were close, but we’re clean.”  For some unknown reason, the message of “hard-working” has always been mixed in.  I’m not sure there are any real ‘”slacker” teams; my guess is the verbiage is innuendo that since they’re so squeaky, the other teams are relaxing on the beach, transfusion equipment in tow.  That bridesmaid/underdog/good guy image along with their multi-musketeer TTT focus was a wonderful marketing tool.  Then when Cavendish wasn’t around, they won.  Now what?

Apparently, the only guess I can come up with in reading the Mind of Vaughters is that he’s going to instigate, incite and otherwise infuriate a few other teams.  Once he’s accomplished that and the competition crushes them mercilessly, he can prop the team up back to that role of underdog or, more likely, the nice guy with a black eye.

The first test of this tactic was last year’s unexplainable peleton-driving effort at the 2009 Tour that kept George Hincapie out of yellow.  Vaughters took the “did not” tactic afterwards, but seeing the action and hearing the feedback of Garmin’s own riders convicted Garmin of being that little rich kid that you just want to punch.  That move ensured that HTC-Columbia and BMC will take the quick kidney punch if available.

Then came Wiggo-Gate.  I do think Garmin was legitimately wronged in this situation.  There are certain aspects of professional cycling that make it better than other sports – the storied traditions and honor.  Compared to other pro sports where contracts represent nothing than a bargaining chip, cycling hadn’t devolved to this purely business approach.  Garmin gave Wiggo a chance and a home, and while business is business, Wiggo was wrong in doing what he did.  However, the bad blood created another story in Sky v. Garmin.

Over the weekend, courtesy of the British Press (The Times) came this little gem tucked into Vaughters heartbreak over losing Wiggo.  “The 2009 Tour route was suited to Brad, but 2010 is less so.  In 2009, the tactics worked in his favor and Astana were soft-pedaling a bit to not embarrass Lance.”

Proof of the Anti-Vaughters French Conspiracy

From a PR standpoint Vaughters, it’s brilliant.  Vaughters just ensured his team was constantly mentioned by directly ticking off The Boss.  Phil and Paul will overplay and beat that story bloody through July.  That is the only possibly benefit I see, because all the other implications just make Vaughters look like his fact-checker had the day off and forgot his filter in his mother-of-pearl buttoned, ostrich-skin messenger bag.  Although Garmin came closest, Astana handled the field pretty easily at the TTT at the TDF while Garmin seemed to be slinging riders wayward. Lance came back from retirement and injury to beat Wiggo and reach the podium with his team soft-pedaling?  While the odds are stacked against Lance returning to the top step in July, he believes he can do it, and he’s won the thing a few times – I wouldn’t write him off.  However, the steely-eyed Texan doesn’t like to be challenged and he has minions.  The core of the team that dictated the race at will last year is now wearing jerseys with a big R on the chest.  They’re fairly strong.  Lance has a fairly well-documented history of making those who challenge him end up with tire tracks across their chest.  If he can’t do it himself, he has the people to send up the road to make it happen for him.

Classic Vaughters "Up and to the Right" Pose.

Garmin does have some very likeable folk pedaling for them – Vande Velde, Zabriskie, Dean, Martin and Pate are quality riders with exceptional personalities you want on any team.  Bobridge and Stetina represent legitimate Future Big Things.  But, the “we’re cleaner than everybody else” mantra has to start being intertwined with actual results.   Maybe Vaughters is perfectly executing his private plan to develop nasty rivalries with every team to ensure Garmin is constantly talked about.  It just seems to this uniformed outsider that if you’re going to push how much Garmin represents the boy you’d bring home to mama, the talk should match the walk.

Final parting shot – does Vaughters have some sort of secret media agreement that photos can only be taken from his left side and why he’s always looking up?  We’re aware of the sideburns.  My diatribe aside, people gripe about the Twitter battles and the outspoken, adolescent squabbles.  However, give me this any day over the uber-sanitized, homogenized, personality-free comments that come out of an NFL player’s mouth any day.

30
Jan
10

Looking for Postives in spite of the Positive

Judging from the number of emails and messages I’ve already received, most of you have read Tom Zirbel’s confirmation that his B sample came up positive.   Tom had foreshadowed this a couple weeks ago in a number of interviews, so this was not a surprise.  As has continued to be the case, Tom has been upfront with the situation with the news ‘breaking’ on his personal blog.

While Tom and those around him (seemingly also including some within the USADA who took samples to additional labs for additional tests) held out hope that the B sample would come up clean or vary enough to be inconclusive, there has been a gradual acceptance of the system’s inevitable results.

While the ‘another day, another doper’ jackals initially came out in full force, ripping at somebody they didn’t know, over time you found a significant number of people who knew him personally or knew his character well enough to come out in support of Tom’s proclaimed innocence of knowingly ingesting any USADA banned substance.  Velonews’ Ben Delaney came out in the latest issue with a supportive editorial piece, which was a welcome surprise for those supporting Tom, as most of the cycling press, much less a leader such as Velonews, has a defacto cynical response or no response at all.  Unfortunately, the only external quote Velonews on their web story today was garnered was from Jonathan Vaughters, the Garmin-Transitions boss who unceremoniously disposed of Tom’s contract via email with no contact otherwise.

Many will say that a professional athlete has to be responsible for the knowledge of what goes into their body.   While in principle, I believe that to be the case, unless an athlete decides to eat nothing but organically grown yams from their backyard garden and drinking regionally isolated, triple-distilled rainwater, an athlete cannot truly know unless only taking supplements from the limited number of companies who have submitted themselves to having their supplements certified for sport and surgically implant a video recording device to document every instance they consume anything of caloric value.  Given the degrading circumstances athletes have to go through just to submit a test sample (for those looking for photo verification, check out Comeback 2.0), one has to wonder if this could be a next step.

Conspiracy/future wacko theories aside, my comments all along on Zirbel’s case still hold true.  Tom Zirbel has demonstrated himself to those who know him to be a person of tremendous character.  He has shown that he has a well-centered outlook on life and while he enjoys racing his bike, it wasn’t the tipping point to throw his life’s balance over the precipice.

Those who point to Tom’s hiring of legal and expert assistance as the standard play of a guilty party would be well advised to do some self-examination.  If you were accused of a crime you were innocent of knowingly committing, would you do anything different?

I still believe in Zirbel’s innocence of knowingly ingesting DHEA.  I hope he’s able to find the cause of this sidetrack to his career quickly and the system can find a fair and just resolution before two of what should have been Tom’s best years pass him by on the bike.  Above all, I wish the best for Tom and those close to him as he deals with this detour on his path to success.

28
Dec
09

Facts on Tom Zirbel; Clear Lake, Iowa and presumed innocence.

By now, cycling journalists and bloggers are typing furiously to put their spin on Tom Zirbel’s announcement that his “A” sample came up positive for DHEA.  While most riders who come up positive are just following the European tradition of denial, the tone and handling of Zirbel’s response rings different to me.  Right now, I believe him.  I believe that he might have ingested DHEA, but did so unknowingly.  My hope is that this doesn’t end the cycling career of somebody who just reached new heights.

Because the national pro scene doesn’t get nearly the coverage of the international, not nearly as much is known about Zirbel.  Let’s start with facts and declarations.  I’ll acknowledge that Tom being a Midwestern native from about 3 hours from where I live, I’ve got a bias towards his presumed honesty.  Tom is a native of Clear Lake, Iowa.

Clear Lake is a pleasant, fairly homogenous community of slightly more than 8,000.  Other than Zirbel, the only notable native listed on Wikipedia is Milo Knutson, a Wisconsin mayor and member of the State Senate.  The only real notable thing to have ever happened in Clear Lake was the last concert before “The Day the Music Died.”  Zirbel eschewed larger state colleges and stayed close to home.  He attended Wartburg College, a small Lutheran liberal arts college where he ran track/cross country all four years and occasionally studied chemistry.  After college, he moved to Boulder with the intention of continuing to run competitively before knee pain forced him to switch athletic pursuits; he climbed on a road bike in early 2003.  His passion and previous track training helped him make the transition to a successful domestic pro.  One of his old team bios lists Tom as “the heaviest rider in the domestic pro peleton” and that he “crashed in 8 percent of the races” he started in 2006.  All things pointing to somebody with a moral code and not consumed with chasing greatness.

Most fans had the revelation of watching Zirbel ride during the 2009 Worlds where he did two things.  First, he led the race early and sat on the ‘hot seat’ for about 3 hours.  Second, he turned himself inside out to accomplish that.  The man honked all over himself during the effort and in his desire to stay aero, apparently didn’t want to turn his head and avoid the mess.  You have to respect that.

And of all the drugs to be caught for, DHEA.  DHEA entered cycling’s consciousness when Tyler Hamilton wanted to get caught and wanted it to be over.  While it’s a banned substance from cycling, it’s something any of us can walk into GNC and buy as a supplement.  It isn’t without controversy, but other than sex drive, has little documented benefit outside of manufacturing claims.

To think it isn’t manufactured on the same equipment that makes whey powder or endurance drinks is naive.  Yes, athletes have to be very responsible for what goes into their body.  But shy of keeping a mortar and pestle around, athletes cannot control the production process of products they believe to be pure for their purposes.

In the end, Zirbel came out and said that he came up positive, didn’t knowingly ingest DHEA, attended his B sample opening, is working to track how this could have happened and obviously hoping the B comes back negative.  The tone comes across as a little bewildered and a little ‘aw shucks’, but honest.  Garmin quietly terminated his contract and he was left off the announced 2010 roster.

I’m hoping for the best for Tom.  My gut tells me that unfortunately, that won’t happen.  By the time any probable cause to prove innocence could be generated, a 2 year suspension will have gone by, Zirbel will be 33 and any chance to make it to Europe will have passed.   Innocence lost will be nothing more than that.




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