The innovation of 'car-cam" has given TV viewers a window into the minds of sport directors during a race. But after hearing Garmin-Cervélo at Flanders, Anthony Tan says they were playing to lose.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

"Tyler [Farrar], no riding – you and Thor [Hushovd] do not ride. Do not ride. Just sit in, [and] rest as much as you can. Do not ride. If it's a sprint for third it's a sprint for third, if it's a sprint for first it's [for] first – but no riding. Just sit in; let the other teams do the work. No more riding. We're just surviving for the sprint now."

Garmin-Cervélo CEO Jonathan Vaughters at the Tour of Flanders,
25km from the finish

With a handful of kilometres left to race at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Jonathan Vaughters uttered these exact words via race radio to his entire team, but very specifically, to two of his men, Tyler Farrar and Thor Hushovd.

Defending champion Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) was away with Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), the latter who had been in one break or another since the crest of the Oude Kwaremont, 87km from the finish line in Meerbeke. At that point, they had a 53-second lead.

Eight kilometres prior and 33km from the finish, Peter Van Petegem, a double winner of Flanders (1999, 2003) and recently employed by Garmin-Cervélo as their Classics specialist, was sitting in the passenger seat alongside Vaughters, and sent out a slightly different message:

"Guys, I think Tyler and [Heinrich] Haussler have to wait riding. I think Thor, with one [of the] guys from [Omega Pharma-] Lotto, have to ride full [gas]."

Said Eurosport commentator Sean Kelly on Garmin's tactic to sacrifice Hushovd: "They can see the race is slipping away, so they have to sacrifice some of the men. We can see with the Garmin team, they have to put two men up front if they're to have any chance of coming back to this group with [Tom] Boonen."

Van Petegem's call was because at that point, Boonen (Quick Step) and five others РGarmin-Cerv̩lo was not present Рwere chasing Cancellara, who was 10 seconds away from linking with Chavanel. Little more than a kilometre later Boonen's group was caught by the Garmin-Lotto led-chase, and Cancellara made the junction to Chavanel.

But even though the Boonen group was caught, Garmin-Cervélo's sporting directors had sent out two different messages to their riders: Van Petegem telling Hushovd he had to sacrifice himself for his team-mates Farrar and Haussler; then 10 minutes later, Vaughters telling Farrar and Hushovd not to aid in the chase of Cancellara and Chavanel.

Also, let's recall when Vaughters said this. The riders were still 10km from the famed Kapelmuur Рthe penultimate and arguably hardest climb of the race, given its position on the route Рso what made Vaughters think "sitting in" and "surviving for the sprint" would lead to a profitable outcome? Okay, BMC Racing, still with seven men, had the numbers and was doing much of the legwork for their leader Alessandro Ballan, but wouldn't it have been better for Garmin-Cerv̩lo to tell their riders to stay up the front with BMC before such a decisive point in the race?

"If you've got a team [BMC] who's riding at the front at the moment," Kelly said, "then you use that situation and work your tactic on that. And that's what Jonathan Vaughters is doing with Tyler Farrar; if it comes back together for a sprint then it could be for the win but if not, it could be for a place on the podium. With a sprinter, I think it's a good tactic to go for."

Sorry, I don't agree.

Because when Cancellara and Chavanel were caught over the top of the Kapelmuur, by Ballan, Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Björn Leukemans (Vancansoleil), no Garmin rider was sufficiently in position to latch on to that group or be at the head of the first chase group containing eventual winner Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank), who, along with Chavanel, was able to go with Cancellara when he forged the winning move four kilometres from the line.

Sure it was a sprint in the end, but it was a sprint among three non-sprinters.

"Sitting in" only allowed Farrar to win the bunch sprint for thirteenth. One week, one year, or 10 years from now, no-one will remember or care who came thirteenth.

It was an incredibly defeatist and reactive strategy by Garmin-Cerv̩lo, and if you saw the comments to @vaughters on Twitter moments after his words were broadcast, he got hammered for it. As far as I'm concerned they got what they deserved Рnothing. And if they chose to use the same strategy this Sunday in Paris-Roubaix, they can expect a similar outcome.

If this is what Vaughters, one of the biggest proponents for keeping race radios, is telling his riders, I say let's ditch the bloody things. Let the riders assess the situation and decide for themselves. As Stuart O'Grady told Cycling Central before Flanders: "With or without radios doesn't make any difference. We [he and Cancellara] both know how each other are feeling."

But the innovation of "car-cam", to hear what sport directors are thinking and saying throughout the race, I'm absolutely in favour of.