Manual for Speed was at the Tour of California and talked with various players in the workings of Team Exergy and Team Garmin-Barracuda (now Team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda) at the end of the long, hot week. We spoke with Garmin General Manager Jonathan Vaughters about driving, development, and the ideal cyclist:
Driving is one of the most intense aspects of working a race, even though it's easily forgotten. It's very close proximity, you're inches away from bumping other cars the whole time, and you have to be aware of what's behind you and ahead of you and to the side of you, as well as being aware of your riders with flat tires or mechanicals or that need food or whatever. Then all of a sudden riders are in the caravan and you're still trying to focus on what's in front of you. The drivers are constantly jockeying for position to stay at the front to make sure their riders are fed and taken care of. It's not racing a Formula 1 car but you definitely bump into other cars quite a bit. Certainly nothing thats too terribly safe. The races on small roads where everyone wants to win; those races are the most intense ones to be in.
You always have to be aware when you are working a race but there are some days where you might have, say, a stomach bug and you're a little less on point and thats not a good situation. But it's also just that you're constantly multi-tasking because you're handing bottles out, making sure the mechanic is in a good place to hop out of the car to change a wheel and on top of that you're trying to figure out tactics and read the race. In the tour we usually do two guys, where one guy is driving and the other one is the DS.
At the end of the day if you want to be a Professional Cyclist you need to be willing to let anything and everything else in your life go by the wayside. It is a complete and total commitment. Beyond that, you have to have the physical talent to do it, and not everyone does. I've seen it time and time again with talented juniors, guys who win U23 world championships but can't cut it in the Pro Tour ranks. It's one thing to have a high VO2 max and aerobic capacity or to be a talented climber or TT rider, but thats only half of it. Half of it in the Pro ranks is the ability to race on tiny little roads with 200 other riders who are all pretty mean. And your body has to withstand six hours of training or racing every single day. You need a robust physiology and a robust psychology. You can't see that in lab tests or amateur results, it just doesn't come across. There are those guys who can make it and if they're willing to dedicate their life to it and I encourage that, but its not easy and it doesn't always follow logic. I've seen so many top young riders not be able to make it. It can be as simple as that they just catch colds too easily or have little nagging knee injuries.
I look for guys that are coordinated, that can maneuver in the peloton, that can TT short distances well—longer TTs are a skill that can be developed—because if they're strong at short TTs and short climbs earlier in their career, thats a sign of the explosiveness that it takes to be in the Pro ranks. From there it comes down to attitude. Are they stubborn? Tenacious? Focused? All those things. If you aren't all those things you could be the most talented rider in the world, but you won't go far in Professional Cycling.
I don't know that you can develop those attributes. It's a thing. What I see is that there are guys who have it and there are guys that don't. Anyone can improve their weak points to a degree, but I just see those things as personality traits. Some people are tenacious and some aren't. I'm sure there are lots of jobs where that's not the best trait to have, but in professional cycling it is.
I've learned a lot of how deep our riders can go this week. Stage 6, when our guys went to bring that break back, everybody went very deep to get that done. I've learned what a great rider Alex Howes is, I'm super proud of him. I really like Alex and he has all of those qualities I just talked about. He's young, and he needs a few years to develop but he's tenacious, focused, intelligent. Even watching him ride for other people this week you can see he has a big future ahead of him.
If you want to become a Professional Cyclist? Good luck, man. It's an incredible sport and the feeling you get when you win is incredible, but you have to remember there are 200 other guys out there that want to win or want their team to win. It's a fleeting sport. It's not a job where everyday is going to be a happy day or satisfying. Statistically you lose all the time, and you only win once in a long while. That's just the way it works out, and you have to mentally be able to deal with that to get up each and every day, plug it out, and try again. In a football game one team wins, one team loses. 50-50. In cycling you have 200 riders, one guy wins. 1-200. And every one of those guys really, really wants to win.