It’s one thing when a cycling scribe knows the riders, their personalities and reputations – we ask certain questions, stay away from others, and present a measured account distilled through these parameters. But when the reporter doesn’t know the faces, and approaches the task with little more than a background in journalism, an enthusiasm to bail out her beloved hubby and cover an event for PEZ-Fans everywhere… the results can be quite different – in this case a pure and unfiltered account of meeting some of cycling’s biggest stars on America’s #1 team.
– By Nonie Rand –
I am bride of a cycling mad husband and the mother of three young children. My husband literally put his cojones on the table on Friday so that we can stop this baby machine before it goes into overdrive. So when he asked me to cover the Garmin team launch for PezCycling News on Saturday, I figured it was my turn to grow some of my own (cahones, that is…). I was asked to wear a wool ‘Ciclsimo Pez’ sweater – but I figured that my little red dress and sexy black boots were more appropriate. After all, if I am to walk up to people of major fame, whom I have never heard of, I might as well look good. But on the inside, I felt a little insecure. It was like going to a High School prom where I knew no-one and had to walk up to twenty of the most popular men in the room and ask, “can I have this dance?”
This insecurity was compounded when I arrived and found that they were fresh out of VIP press passes. So after some smooth talking and some PEZ name dropping, they let me in. Soon I was walking with a glass of Chardonnay up to a man in pink and red argyle socks, a matching sweater and WHAT? Knickers. Who? – even I knew who. David Millar. With no time for a warm up – I was dancing with the prom king.
I introduced myself to “Knickers” and a straw haired man wearing a very large argyle scarf standing next to him who resembled Hugh Grant’s roommate in Notting Hill. I then blew my cover – two minutes into the damn night. I asked “Scarf” if he was a cyclist too, and he took a deep sigh, rolled his eyes and just walked away! “Knickers” then explained that I was speaking to none other than 6 time Olympic medalist, Bradley Wiggins. I felt like I had just lost my dress and was standing buck naked. Well, I thought, pull your dress back up and just keep going.
But my social spiral continued when I walked up to a guy who looked like a “professor,” thinking I would have a little breather. This man was fully bearded, and was wearing a button down shirt, a windsor knotted tie and a tight argyle sweater vest. I asked him one of my canned questions, “Who is the funniest person on the team?” Meatball looked me straight in the eye and said “Me.” He then shared with me that the girls in Boulder were kind of boring. I told him that’s because the girls who go to clubs here are in college. He said he got many “ewwws” on the dance floor when he approached women due to his facial hair!
After two strike outs, I thought, what the hell am I doing here? Well, when you’re down, you might as well get kicked some more, so I went back to Scarf. I said, “Hi, I am the ass who didn’t know who you were…” He insisted on continuing the hazing and said I must be from Kansas because I didn’t know who he was. He kept the Kansas jokes going until I decided I had had enough, and in my best Canadian accent I told him to “Take off, eh, hoser,” and walked away.
I had had enough of feeling like I was at the dance in Sixteen Candles when I finally realized my worth. My courage, despite being out of my element, came from the realization that I was here for the man I love, who was nursing a bag of peas instead of talking to his heroes. The questions I had prepared and the desire to learn about what makes the Garmin team different was valuable information, if not for me, then for you, the reader.
With my new found confidence, this time not feigned, I walked up to the largest man in the room. He had a beautiful shiny head and the most genuine kind smile. I asked Magnus Backstedt, “What makes this team Garmin so cool?” Maggie spent time sharing with me how important the connection of the riders is, on and off the bike. He said, “we all try to keep in touch and really take an interest in each other.” For example, when he broke his collar bone last year, he already had “a hundred” texts from his teammates supporting him while he was still in the ambulance headed for the hospital. The team really pulled him through the recovery and disappointment of missing the Spring Classics.
Similarly, Danny Pate said that in stage ten of the this year’s Tour, he wanted to quit and get off the bike. He had mentally and physically cracked. Instead of giving in, he held onto the wheel and encouragement of Will Frischkorn. Christian Vande Velde told me that his personal friendships were the best part of the team. On some level, I would expect the super stars of the team to feel this friendship and camaraderie, after all they are the “popular” guys. What struck me the most was that the team operations manager, and the mechanic who was “chosen for his good looks” and rider Lucas Euser, all said the same thing to me, “We are all friends and we support each other.” In the buildup of each rider as they were introduced on stage, I could tell who would be announced next, not because I knew their stats, but because of the pats, hugs and cheers of the team mates next to the rider.
Perhaps all of us at the Boulder Theater felt a bit like I did when I first walked in. Maybe we all vacillate on the spectrum of Ego – either feeling like a piece of shit, or feeling like “the shit” that the world revolves around. We all have developed different coping mechanisms to help us along this spectrum. I was simply trying to look hot, thinking my looks would give me the worth to talk to these guys, while I observed various others coping via drinking, humor, and sarcasm. But how could these riders who operate in a world dominated by Ego, not have the crutch of a coping mechanism? Afterall, isn’t their “worth” determined by their results?
I think what makes the Garmin team truly different is Jonathan Vaughters. Vaughters had a vision to create a strict anti-doping team, regardless of the rider’s results. He achieved that notoriety this past year and secured a title sponsor in the process. Next year, Vaughters seems determined to take this vision to the next level, by confronting the core of what makes riders dope in the first place – insecurity. Insecurity in not being good enough, letting your team down or not having your contract renewed. Removing these obstacles and replacing them with core team values founded on individual worth is what sets Vaughters apart from other directors.
What my intuition gathered throughout the night was that each rider struggles with thinking of himself as either being too big, or too small. Jonathan is expertly guiding each rider to see himself in his true worth, which, in turn, creates a stronger team. Vaughters hand picked these men for their skills on the bike but also their personalities. He is working on shining a light onto the truth of who each rider is individually, and waiting to see what they are capable of in return.
For example, Vaughters described Magnus as being one of the largest men in the peloton, yet he sees himself as being rather insignificant. In a video, Jonathan challenged Meatball for complaining about an early start for a team ride by questioning his past cycling results. Even Christian Vande Velde said, in speaking about stage 10 of the Tour, that “he thought too little of himself and too much of the others and then, I realized, that they were going too slow.” In that moment, he went from being a domestique to the undisputed team leader by simply tapping into his true self worth.
I believe that as the cyclists who form team Garmin – Chipotle find their true worth as individuals, they will achieve their team goals for 2009, which is, to win and win big.