By Laura Weislo
The fact that three major teams have signed new title sponsors to begin at this year's Tour de France demonstrates that neither past doping scandals nor a split with the International Cycling Union has devalued the sport's biggest event. The Slipstream Sports organisation run by Jonathan Vaughters announced Wednesday that it had inked a deal with GPS navigation giant Garmin to back the team through the end of 2010.
The news closely followed similar announcements from Team CSC, who adds Saxo Bank to its jersey in time for the Tour, and Team High Road, who becomes Team Columbia after signing on with Columbia Sportswear through 2010.
Vaughters was looking forward to heading to France with the team re-branded in all new kits and team car decals, the design of which will not be revealed until just before the start of the Grand Boucle.
"The team is going into the Tour with the best preparation in their careers. We've been using our tech from partners like Garmin to prepare the team in a way that hasn't been done before," said Vaughters. "We're looking forward to unveiling the new kits and new branding on July 3 in Brest. We've got to keep that a little secret, but we might give a few hints."
Buoyed by recent victories at the Giro d'Italia, where the team won the opening team time trial and had Christian Vande Velde in the pink jersey, as well as an overall victory in the Delta Tour by Chris Sutton and a world record by Taylor Phinney in the pursuit, the argyle armada will be keeping its own unique identity even though the strip will change.
"Argyle is definitely going to be part of the uniform. Argyle has become like Kansas City and Garmin is the Chiefs – it symbolizes the spirit of the team, and we're glad Garmin is OK with keeping it," said Vaughters.
Garmin's media representative Jake Jacobson said the company was more than just "OK" with keeping the trademark pattern. "There's some equity in the fact that the team can have a presence [with the argyle] – it marks the team as unique and colourful, but I can tell you the argyle is alive, and I may be biased, but I think it will be the finest looking kit on the Tour."
Doug Ellis, the financial backer of the team before Garmin signed on said that fans can expect the team to race the Tour with its usual flair. "The team's expectations haven't changed from the beginning of the season. We want to bring the most competitive squad we can to the Tour, and ride with as much committment and be an exciting and unpredictable presence. We may be able to snatch the jersey for a while, but expect to see us every day as an aggressive team which wants to make its mark on the race."
David Millar was on hand during the online conference, and added his agreement with Ellis' statement. "We want to race with panache – the whole of Team Garmin wants to leave a mark on the race and be a team the fans want to support. With Christian Vande Velde, Ryder [Hesjedal] and Julian [Dean], we can be a part of the race." Millar also hinted that there may be a chance he can take the jersey in the first week.
When asked who his favourite was to win the Tour, Vaughters tipped the obvious choice, but said he thought the race would be hard to predict. "The rider to beat is Cadel Evans, but that being said, the Tour this year is going to be a much more interesting Tour de France than it has been in years. There isn't any one team in the Tour that is strong enough to control the entire race.
"There will be quite a few stages which lend themselves to breaks getting 5-10 minutes with riders who wil defend well in the mountains and time trials. The results will be fairly unpredictable. Cunego is good at this type of racing, he's good at attacking. Sastre is always in the mix, but I think there will be some new names that I'm not coming up with like a [Thomas] Voeckler who get some time and then almost make it to Paris in yellow."
Vaughters let on to his own dream for the Tour "Maybe David or Christian or Trent [Lowe] will sneak away some time and find themselves performing beyond their expectations in the mountains and wind up with a high place on GC."
The Garmin team's roster will not be finalised until the four team directors gather on June 24 and try to pick the nine riders who will represent the squad in France, but one thing is certain, David Zabriskie will not be one of them. The moustachio'd American was injured in a crash at the Giro d'Italia, and will be out of commission due to a fractured L-1 vertebrae until mid-July, when he might return to racing at the Cascade Classic in Oregon. But Vaughters said his main goals will now be at the end of the season.
"Dave Z will not be at the Tour, but he really wants to go to the Olympics. It may be a blessing in disguise – he could be very good for the Olympic Games and Worlds, if he stays focused and wants it he'll be the world time trial champion this year."
For further reading see Garmin-Chipotle: Cycling's new deal