Team Garmin-Slipstream—Tour Contenders

Tracy YoungContributor IJuly 11, 2009

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JULY 09:  Stephane Auge (L) of France and team Cofidis, Sylvain Chavanel (C) of France and team Quick Step and David Millar of Great Britain and team Garmin - Slipstream ride in a break away group during stage six of the 2009 Tour de France from Girona to Barcelona on July 9, 2009 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Team Garmin-Slipstream’s riders have made surprising impressions through the first seven stages of the 2009 Tour de France, darting and hovering like persistent, blue and peach hummingbirds around Team Astana, the big birds of prey, and others.

The drama in the 2009 Tour thus far, despite Saxo Bank’s Fabian Cancellara in yellow for much of week one, has been about Team Astana and the internal dynamic between seven-time return winner Lance Armstrong, and last year’s Tour winner, Alberto Contador.

As of yesterday, Garmin’s Bradley Wiggins sat fifth in the overall standings, and Christian Vande Velde in 10th. Wiggins transitioned from being a championship track rider to a road racer, dropping seven kilos recently toward that end.

And Vande Velde had been expected to do well at this year’s TDF prior to a bad crash in the Tour of Italy in May, in which he fractured three vertebrae, two ribs, and his pelvis. Naturally serious doubts arose about his recuperation and overall condition for the start of the Tour de France, but he has proved his toughness.

The buzz around Garmin yesterday centered around David Millar’s highly aggressive solo breakaway in stage six, which he sustained until a couple of kilometers to the line. His consolation prize was wearing the red and white “aggressive rider” number the following day.

Another big story line in the race so far is the dominance of Columbia HTC’s Mark Cavendish in finish line sprints. The fascinating subtext is that Garmin’s Tyler Farrar has presented a serious threat to Cavendish’s monopoly, particularly after beating him in a sprint at this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico.

Farrar showed that when the planets align, and strong work from leadout men including Julian Dean, he has the legs. He has finished close behind Cavendish in the sprint stages in this year’s Tour.

There were high expectations for Garmin in the stage four team time trial, in part because Dave Zabriskie is a time trial champ. The team lost four riders sooner than predicted, but managed to finish with the required five men, in fourth place.

Garmin’s been consistently near the front of the peloton—sharing the workload, ready to jump—should the occasion arise.

With Wiggins and Vande Velde as legitimate GC contenders, Millar stealing some breakaway thunder, and Farrar as a sprint threat, Jonathan Vaughters’ Garmin-Slipstream team has to be gratified with the Tour so far.