Joking a few days ago on Twitter that pagan sacrifices might be the way to break Garmin Slipstream’s unbelievable run of near misses in Grand Tour stages, Jonathan Vaughters must be thanking the ancient gods after another superb day for the team. Two days ago Tyler Farrar galloped to victory on stage eleven of the Vuelta a España, landing the first individual win for the Argyle Armada in a three week race. Farrar headed home on Thursday’s rest day, but Ryder Hesjedal made it two from two today, infiltrating a decisive breakaway and then catching and outsprinting David Garcia (Xacobeo Galicia) on the Alto de Velefique.
What’s more, Tom Danielson had his strongest day yet in the race, attacking on the steep earlier slopes, looking sharp the whole way up and then finishing in the same time as race leader Alejandro Valverde and second-placed Cadel Evans (Silence Lotto). Across the Atlantic Dave Zabriskie won the time trial in the Tour of Missouri and took over as race leader.
“I think we have got a very good team here [in the Vuelta], and Tommy D. is going better than he has for years,” said smiling directeur sportif Johnny Weltz after the stage. “The other guys had a good rest day and they were very motivated, and for sure it gave a huge boost to their morale that Tyler won. Everybody is more focussed.
“During the year we had been extremely strong, but we had just been unlucky in getting the last bit and landing the win,” he said. “I think that once it started [with Farrar’s victory], more success will come.”
Hesjedal certainly proved that point, bouncing back after his second place on stage 10 to win today. Prior to this, the former mountain bike rider’s biggest road win was the 2007 Canadian national time trial championship. Needless to say, he’s eclipsed that now.
“This victory is still a shock,” he said at the finish, looking very much like he couldn’t quite believe it. “To be that close on stage 10 and then to have the chance today and for it all to work out is unreal. I was just so motivated from coming so close on stage 10 and then watching Tyler win finally the next day.
“I had a good rest day and I knew if I could get to the last climb with enough time and my legs felt good enough that I would be able to at least put in a good ride,” he added. “To be thinking victory is always daunting, but I definitely believe in myself now.”
Clearly, so too does Danielson. He was very focussed all day and rode aggressively on the final climb, showing that he’s back to his best form.
“I felt good, even if it is tough to decide who to go with and who not to go with,” he told Cyclingnews at the top of the Alto de Velefique. “I attacked early in the climb as I felt strong and was just going with my feelings, but my director said I should just follow the favourites. So I ended up doing that. The climb wasn’t as hard at the top as I had hoped. If it had been, I would have gone again.”
Describing Danielson as being amongst the three strongest riders in the race, Weltz explained that he advised caution in order to make sure that he has no problems on Saturday and Sunday’s equally tough stages.
“He went early, but that wasn’t the plan,” Weltz said. “I told him to take it easy…it is three days in a row with the high mountains, so we don’t want to risk anything. We need to be very sure before we make moves. Today was perfect for Tom.”
Success breeds success
It’s often the case that once a team starts winning – particularly after a drought – then it can set the ball rolling and generate more victories. The Columbia HTC team is a case in point; riders play off each other, using the success of their team-mates as both a confidence boost and also a spur to achieve big things themselves.
The days ahead will show if Garmin can keep the momentum going. Danielson’s within striking distance in Spain, Zabriskie is in the driving seat in Missouri. And Hesjedal? He’ll draw motivation from his big win and hope that more is in store for the Vuelta team.
“The team is that much more motivated than before and we will continue to work for Tom,” he said. “We have got quite a few hard days left but I think the team still poised to produce more good results.
“We were waiting a while for a big win like this, but it was just a matter of time before it swung the other way,” he added. “If guys are getting seconds and thirds, it means we are good enough to win races. We were just plugging away and making sure we were staying motivated; in fact, perhaps that scenario [of near misses] made us even more focussed. And now things are working out.”
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