Garmin-Cervélo manager Jonathan Vaughters did his best to put a brave face on a disappointing day at the office for his charges at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen on Saturday, as Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) triumphed in Harelbeke with an ominous show of strength.
Speaking to the press outside of the Garmin team bus at the finish, Vaughters reiterated his belief that his was the best Classics team, but conceded that his riders were powerless to derail Cancellara’s locomotive charge in the final 30km.
“For sure [we have the strongest team], but we don’t have the strongest rider,” Vaughters said wistfully.
Heinrich Haussler and Seb Vanmarcke were on the attack before Cancellara's series of race-winning moves, and though each man put up stout resistance to the Swiss rider’s dominance in the finale, they ultimately came away empty handed.
“As soon as everyone lost his wheel that was it,” Vaughters said. “I could have told you with 15.8km to go that that was it. Haussler responded immediately but he couldn’t do it. With Fabian, when he’s on that sort of a ride, you literally have to be right on him. You can’t be five metres off him.”
Vaughters acknowledged that Garmin-Cervélo could learn lessons from Saturday’s race in Harelbeke, even if they did not necessarily square with the team’s racing philosophy.
“It’s a lesson, but sadly the lesson is that you have to race negative,” Vaughters said. “Realistically you almost have to race against just him, but there’s no other way to beat him, apparently, when he’s like that.”
Cancellara’s brutal acceleration on the Oude Kwaremont and his metronomic ride to the line in the finale were reminiscent of the exhibitions he delivered on the cobbles this time last year, and Vaughters echoed the concerns of every other team in the peloton when he pondered how to counteract the Leopard Trek man’s dominance.
“Of course he’s beatable, but in order to do it you just have to use very negative tactics just against him,” Vaughters said. “You can eliminate him but then you risk losing the race because you’re not watching the other 100 guys. Yeah, you could beat him but whether it’s in your best interests or whether it makes for exciting racing, well, I don’t think that is necessarily the case.
“We’ll have to see how we play it. I don’t want to say to the guys, all we’ve got to do is beat Fabian, just stay on his wheel no matter what.”
Nonetheless, Vaughters was pleased with the way his team had bounced back from the bad luck that had plagued its showing at Milan-San Remo last weekend, although he jested that extreme measures could be required to deny Cancellara victory in Meerbeke next Sunday.
“Each time we get a little bit closer, from Milan-San Remo, to Waregem, to here, and tomorrow [Gent Wevelgem] will be even better,” Vaughters said, before joking, “but with Fabian like that… I don’t know, I’ll have to hire a sniper!”