Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fuse lit once again in Columbia's rivalry with Garmin

By: Daniel Benson

Serguei Ivanov won the stage and Rinaldo Nocentini remained in yellow but the biggest talking point to emerge from stage 14 was Columbia-HTC’s attack on Garmin-Slipstream’s racing tactics.

George Hincapie had escaped earlier in the stage along with 12 other riders and with 10 kilometres remaining was the maillot jaune virtuelle. Astana, who rode most of the stage at the head of the peloton, was replaced at the front in the final hour by AG2R and Garmin-Slipstream. The latter sent riders to the front in what Columbia-HTC perceived to be a bid to help Nocentini’s AG2R team and foil Hincapie’s bid for yellow. Hincapie eventually missed out on the yellow jersey by 5 seconds and Columbia-HTC’s Bob Stapleton couldn’t hide his anger at the stage finish.

"I’m really disappointed and at the right time I’ll talk to Jonathon [Vaughters]. The fact is we’ve won nearly 60 races this year and they’ve won less than 10 so they’re probably tired of seeing our guys in jerseys and I understand that. But to hurt George Hincapie in that way just doesn’t seem right to me. He’s the most liked cyclist in America and the second most known," Stapleton said.

Stapleton wasn’t finished and went further still, adding that he’d possibly seek a conversation with Vaughters’ boss, Doug Ellis: "Maybe I’ll talk to his boss. He seems a little more forward thinking. If I was in their shoes why would I chase? You tell me why we’d waste our team energy for no reason. Their tactics were obvious and disappointing. It was a big effort to pull the jersey off his back."

One reporter then asked Stapleton if he’d try and seek revenge throughout the rest of the Tour. "We’ve had our revenge. In the scoreboard it’s not a contest and if you look at the Tour it’s no contest but I don’t know why you’d do that with George. That would have been a victory for everyone and would have got attention all over the US. An American in yellow would magnify the sport incredibly. How many more chances is he ever going to have? It’s something every athlete would aspire to."

Vaughters, who wasn’t at the race today and followed the final kilometres of the stage, countered: "I was assuming that we were working to keep Wiggo [Bradley Wiggins] and Christian [Vande Velde] out of trouble. From what I saw from the television some of our guys were just on rotation at the front. that’s pretty normal if you’re trying to keep out of trouble.

"Bob is always negative about our team and he has been for months now. I really don’t know why but it seemed to start a long time ago. Obviously Cavendish was upset with us at the Giro and I don’t know what brought that about and Bob has been consistently upset, yes they win a lot more than us but I don’t why they’re upset."

Vaughters later posted on Twitter: "That had nothing to do with George or Columbia. Wiggo almost lost 15 seconds the other day due to a split. We can't have that happen again."

Garmin-Slipstream's war of words with Columbia-HTC blew up at this year’s Giro d’Italia when Mark Cavendish called their bid to focus on the team time trial disrespectful. Since then the two teams have had several spats in the media, with Cavendish also questioning Garmin’s tactics in his book, Boy Racer.

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