You do not have to be a team of winners to be a winning team, writes Anthony Tan.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

It's our thing. It's part a question of motivation. We take it so seriously; we train really hard for it. And we really think through every little detail… and I think that makes the difference in the end.

Let me ask you a simple question. When you look at the Garmin-Barracuda band of nine riding this year's Giro d'Italia (Jack Bauer, Robert Hunter, Tyler Farrar, Ryder Hesjedal, Ramūnas Navardauskas, Alex Rasmussen, Sébastien Rosseler, Peter Stetina, Christian Vande Velde), which name/s stands out from the crowd?

That's right: they don't. No one exhibits a preternatural level of ability or talent above anyone else. No one man is what you would call a prolific winner or superstar in their own right, nor would they describe or perceive themselves that way.

Save for the very odd occasion, none of these guys would finish in the top three in the individual time trial at world championship level. But combine their strength and it's a different story.

Even before the Giro's fourth stage team time trial in Verona, the signs were already there. Placing third, sixth and thirteenth in the opening time trial in Herning last Sunday was enough for Garmin-Barracuda to top the team classification (calculated by aggregating the best three riders' times), on level footing with BMC Racing but winning on a count-back of fractions of a second.

So why is it, then, that year after year, this cacophonic-looking crew keep winning team time trials? How can they beat teams that on paper appear stronger, appear superior, but in reality are not? Has one of the team doctors concocted a winning formula that flies under the anti-doping radar, and which only works for TTTs?

Fortunately, it's nothing like that.

Team owner/manager Jonathan Vaughters, irrespective of what you think of him, has managed to foster an environment where strength lies in unity. No one is put on a pedestal and worshipped and mollycoddled as if they were some deity and the rest a bunch of plebs. And Vaughters doesn't just tolerate idiosyncrasies but encourages individualism, which often gets misconstrued; 'Oh, they're just of bunch of whack-jobs run by a bespectacled nutter with pork-chop sideburns,' is an oft-held sentiment among their detractors.

Those who tend not to agree with the team's ethos leave before too long. A classic example is Thor Hushovd's falling out with the team after last year's Paris-Roubaix, where the Norwegian bemoaned his lack of outright leadership despite then teammate Johan Vansummeren scoring a remarkable solo victory. His transfer to BMC Racing for a reported $2.85 million, far more than Vaughters could ever afford to pay any of his 30 riders, has been less than successful. In fact, he's still searching for the podium, let alone the top step. (The God of Thunder has transmogrified to the God of Coming Asunder, it seems.)

Those who embrace the 'all for one, one for all' mantra thrive in its egalitarian milieu. David Millar, a part owner of Slipstream Sports (along with Vaughters and primary benefactor, Doug Ellis) came to the team in 2008 with a chequered past, having succumbed to intolerable pressure while at Cofidis (1997-2004) and admitted taking EPO. Since joining, however, the eloquently spoken Scot left his ego behind in Biarritz (the French party town where a Friday night bender was the norm rather than the exception), found a new lease on his racing life, and has become a respected and elder statesmen in the peloton, where journalists now seek him for his candour.

Thursday, when Navardauskas took the race lead after the fourth stage TTT, there was real emotion in Farrar's words. It wasn't some 'couldn't have done this without the team' BS that cynical journalists like myself automatically disregard because they've become trite as Tony Abbott's rebukes during parliamentary question time. "There's no one on our team that deserves it more than him," Farrar said of his Lithuanian teammate, the first from his country to wear the maglia rosa.

"The amount of work he puts in for everyone else every day… it almost makes me want to cry, I'm so happy for him. I hope we can keep him in (the maglia rosa) for a while. After that, hopefully we can pass it onto Ryder (Hesjedal) or Christian (Vande Velde)."

A Garmin-Barracuda rider probably won't win the Giro. They may not even win another stage. But as the team time trial proved, you do not have to be a team of winners to be a winning team.