Confirming the perception that Garmin-Transitions was pressured into allowing Bradley Wiggins to move to Team Sky, Jonathan Vaughters has said that the desire to avoid a long legal battle was behind today’s announcement that the Briton has moved on.
Wiggins had still the second year of his contract left to fulfil but ever since he finished fourth overall in the Tour de France, he had been increasingly on Team Sky’s target list of riders to sign. Vaughters explained to Cyclingnews this afternoon how it is that the rider ultimately left.
“At the end of the day, we came to a settlement because I didn’t think that a lengthy legal battle would be productive to the team that I have,” he said. “My energy would be put into this court battle as opposed to being put into trying to develop Christian Vande Velde to get on the podium of the Tour de France, or for Tyler Farrar to win stages.
“Quite frankly, even though I’m personally disappointed by this situation, I do have enough respect for Brad’s athletic ability that I didn’t really feel the desire to put him through a legal battle either. At the end of the day, it is a decision that I felt that was best for the athletes that I am going to support next year, and the best for cycling.”
When Wiggins signed for the team prior to the start of this season, he was predominantly known as a track rider. He was a triple Olympic champion in pursuit and team pursuit, but had taken no major pro victories on the road and shown no signs of becoming a Grand Tour contender.
However Vaughters, the Garmin team and Wiggins all worked together and the Briton went on to climb well during the Giro d’Italia, then place an unexpected fourth overall in the Tour de France. A lot of energy was put into this transformation and that’s part of what makes Wiggins’ leaving something that Vaughters regrets.
“On a personal level, I am very disappointed to see Brad go,” he said. “Fourteen months ago, I was the only one knocking on his door and the only one who felt that he could go above and beyond where he was in cycling.”
Once it was announced that Sky was setting up a pro team, it was likely that Wiggins would leave at some point. However it was expected that he would see out his time with Garmin; UCI rules are clear that riders cannot simply walk away from existing contracts.
However, as those regulations are potentially subservient to national employment laws, it means that the rules are not as clear-cut as they seem.
Vaughters is calling on the UCI and teams to work together to come up with a better system. Garmin Transitions may lost out this time round, but others may find themselves faced with costly legal battles in the future if the legislation is not tightened up.
“For me, now that cycling is becoming a more professional sport and a larger sport, there probably needs to be a more formalised reform in regards to transfers,” he said. “That is something that is going to have to come out of a lot of work by the governing body. It is also going to have to come from the agreement of the teams involved.
“There is no formalised and agreed-upon transfer system like there is in soccer, American football and whatever else. I definitely think that this is important for the future of cycling, as otherwise it is a very challenging system to work with.”
In the meantime, Vaughters and Garmin Transitions will focus on achieving the best possible 2010 season. Wiggins is gone, leaving an undisclosed settlement, but there’s still plenty of reason to believe that the team will be a big factor next July.
“In a way, this makes our mission very simple in the Tour de France,” he said, choosing to look on the positive side of things. “To get Christian onto the podium and to have Tyler Farrar win stages. Now, we are heading to the Tour with two American leaders on an American team.
“Also, each time Team Garmin has done the Tour de France, we have ended up producing the surprise of the race. I don’t think it is going to be any different in 2010. Maybe that will be Dan Martin, maybe that will be Dave Zabriskie…we will find out.”