The Hesjedal misdirect.
Jonathan Vaughters has a clever plan for the Tour de France to put his Garmin-Barracuda squad into a top five spot in Paris. So far the plan has gone perfectly and the argyle genius has fooled everybody — the media and maybe even their top GC rivals. For lack of a better plan name, let’s just call it Underdog Version 4 or the Fake Captain Ploy.
The Argyle Army has always done well with the underdog role in France. With no expectations, pressure or stress, Christian Vande Velde rode to a 4th place overall in the 2008 Tour. A year later Bradley Wiggins came out of nowhere to also finish fourth. Last season Tom Danielson was the third Garmin surprise, making the top ten in his first tour. They were underdogs, able to deliver a huge result without the burden of being a front runner or tabbed as a contender.
Many cycling journalists were surprised when Vaughters named Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal as the captain for the Garmin Tour team. They rightly noted that the Giro-Tour double has been a disaster for riders — Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador being the most recent examples. Website Podium Cafe does a nice summation of the general head-shake on Hesjedal leading Garmin at the Tour.
In addition, Vaughters had clearly mapped out his team strategy early in the year, publicly marking Vande Velde and Danielson as his leaders for Le Grand Shindig. Things changed when Hesjedal stunned his Italian and Spanish rivals in the Giro but we think Vaughters is playing a brilliant game of subterfuge in calling out Hesjedal as his GC captain for Le Tour.
Once again, Vaughters is playing the underdog game: his real guys are Vande Velde and Danielson but he’s named Hesjedal to take the media pressure off those two riders. In picking the Canadian Hesjedal, he’s shifting the media burden and expectations off his best two Tour candidates.
Tactically it’s a smart move and just another sign that Vaughters thinks way ahead. Hesjedal will be answering all the questions in the first seven to ten days, he’ll get the full force of the crushing Tour media while Vande Velde and Danielson quietly go about their business.
Then somewhere — perhaps as early as stage nine’s 41 kilometer time trial — Vande Velde and Tommy D will hit the gas and the ruse will be over. No matter what, by the time the race reaches the Alps, the captain of Garmin-Barracuda will be Christian Vande Velde.
Until then, chapeau, argyle genius.