The competitive but friendly relationship between the Garmin-Slipstream and Columbia teams turned bitter after the stage to Besançon after the Garmin team appeared to work on the front of the bunch in the last 15km to stop Columbia’s George Hincapie from taking the yellow jersey.
With a five kilometres to go, Hincapie still had a 25 second cushion and looked set to take the yellow jersey for the second time in his career. After he crossed the line everyone was convinced he would be in yellow, and he was hauled to the podium area.
But at the same time three Garmin riders were on the front and helped bring home the bunch 5-20 behind Hincapie. He had started the day 5-25 behind Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) and so missed out on yellow by five seconds.
Hincapie refused to speak to the media when he returned to the Columbia bus. His family had travelled to the finish to see him and Lance Armstrong admitted that Astana rode easily on the front for much of the stage so that Hincapie could gain enough time to take yellow. However Garmin spoiled Hincapie’s big day.
Garmin team manager Jonathan Vaughters claimed that his riders were working to keep team leaders Bradley Wiggins and Christian Vande Velde out of trouble.
Not surprisingly Columbia team owner Bob Stapleton and his staff had a very different opinion.
He insisted that Garmin and Columbia have a good relationship thanks to their shared values on clean sport. However he revealed he would probably call team owner Doug Ellis, and not team manager Jonathan Vaughters, to find out why Garmin chased and stopped Hincapie pulling on the yellow jersey.
“Having a chance at getting yellow is pretty special, is something every athlete would aspire to and I think everyone would like to see,” Stapleton said.
“We’re focused on our own success. We don’t define ourselves against any other team. We’re trying to use our resources wisely in the team. If it’s competitive on the road, if it makes sense for us to go for a win that might hurt Garmin, we’d do that, for the win. Not to try and screw up the chances of another team.”
Stapleton denied any bad blood between the two teams but wanted an explanation. “Sure there’s been some trash talking about some pretty minor things but the fact of the matter is, that we’ve won a ton of bike races. If we were keeping score, that scoreboard would be pretty lob-sided in our favour.”
“I’ll probably give Doug (Ellis) a ring. I think that’s more a rational point of view.”
To say what say?
“Just ‘what’s going on? What’s the story? Is there anything I should know?”
“I think it’ll be more rational to talk to Doug. He’s one step away. He’s not driving the car, not sitting in the heat of battle. I think that’s totally logical.”
ALDAG TALKS STRAIGHT
Columbia team manager Rolf Aldag was not as diplomatic as his boss.
“We have a lot of different issues to deal with today: missing the yellow by a few seconds and not winning the green jersey, but that’s sport,” Aldag told Cycling Weekly.
“I can’t comment on them for their sporting decision but it was hard to understand. They started chasing when the winner was almost at the finish line, so they weren’t chasing for the stage win.”
“I thought we had a sporting rivalry but if they take it personal than that makes it a little more complicated. If they take it personal that will really destroy the sport because sport is about fair competition and not just trying to stop some else succeeding.”
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