Q&A with Jonathan Vaughters: Cannondale-Drapac ‘pulled off something incredible’ at Tour de France

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Standing at the team bus in Paris on Sunday evening, Cannondale-Drapac manager Jonathan Vaughters was holding a glass of champagne. His team had reason to celebrate; 30 minutes earlier Rigoberto Uran had finished second overall at the Tour de France.

In previous years the team had taken fourth with Christian Vande Velde [2008] and Bradley Wiggins [2009], with the latter result being upgraded to third after Lance Armstrong’s disqualification. Second, though, was something else, particularly as Uran ended up just 54 seconds back. Had he not hit a barrier and come to a halt in the final time trial, he likely would have been 10 or 15 seconds closer.

In conversation with CyclingTips, Vaughters gave his immediate thoughts about the race, speaking about the success and what it means for the sport, confirming his belief that Uran is a clean rider, and also talking about the team’s new partnership with media giant Oath and what that meant for both the squad and its ongoing search for a title sponsor.

CyclingTips: This is the team’s best ever-result at the Tour de France. What’s your reaction to that?

Jonathan Vaughters: As I’ve been saying, we come to every race with the objective of making sure that all the riders are prepared the best they can — that the staff has done everything that they can to get the race ready, to do the reconnaissance, to make sure the nutrition is correct, the training is training…whatever. A hundred percent of the effort of the whole team to make things work.

And, you know, sometimes that ends up being 23rd place and sometimes that ends up being a win. And sometimes that ends up being 10th. And the point of it is, when I’m most happy is when I see that the organization is doing everything it can to achieve the maximum results.

And you have to be happy with that, whether it’s first or second or fifth or 50th or whatever. It doesn’t matter. And by the way, if you’re taking an anti-doping stance in the sport, you cannot focus on the final result. If you focus on the final result, then you are thinking about, well, I need to get to that final result, and no matter how I get there. We focus on the process, and in this case the process worked great and we’re incredibly happy.

But I’m more happy about the process. I’m more happy about the people that made it happen. I’m more happy about the fact that you guys, the press, voted us the most easy and accessible team of the Tour de France.

I’m happy about the fact that Rigo [Uran] is an incredibly nice and humble person. Those are the things, the effort that everyone put in, that’s what makes me happy. This second place – it’s incredible and it’s wonderful, but it’s a number. And, you know, that can disappear. But the ethos and the spirit of the team…that’s what matters.

You speak about the anti-doping ethos. Can I presume you are 100 percent confident in Rigo?

Yeah.

So what does this mean for the sport, if he is second?

Well, listen, it means that Rigo is an incredible athlete and you can race the Tour de France, for the win, clean. That’s what it means. I mean, that’s what I believe. I can be proven wrong and, you know, my opinion isn’t perfect and so on and so forth. But at this moment in time, that’s what I believe.

I believe that he and the rest the organization pulled off something incredible. And you just have to be proud of that.

But I presume that’s a reflection of how the sport has changed, for him to be here? You believe in him, and he is second overall.

Yeah. Listen, I believe that fundamentally most athletes want…what they desire most is an equal playing field. And that if you if you set up a structure in a sport or a team or an organization or whatever you want to call it that gives them the opportunity to compete on equal playing field, to me 95 percent of athletes want that. That is what they desire most.

Of course you have your crazies off to the side that that are hardened cheaters. But for the most part, you know, that’s what these guys want. That’s what I wanted in my career and wasn’t able to have it. And, you know, more than anything else I’m happy that these guys have the opportunity to race in that environment.

[Some people] are never going to believe that. And that’s a bummer. That actually hurts my feelings. But, I don’t know what to tell them. Show up to a race, hang out on the bus, see what’s going on.

Rigoberto Uran took a career-best result in the Tour, having previously taken second overall in two editions of the Giro d’Italia.

You announced this partnership with Oath a few days ago. I presume what it offers is a huge platform for a title sponsor.

Listen, it’s a huge platform for any sponsor — bike sponsor, whatever. Any of our sponsors in the years to come will be the beneficiary of a one-billion person online audience. So that’s great.

More importantly than that, I think we’re going to bring a whole new audience to cycling. Because the whole point of the content generation that Oath wants to do is to bring people that…maybe they ride bikes, but they’re not necessarily completely focused on professional cycling.

So, start bridging that gap. You know, there are more people that ride bikes than participate in any other sport in the world. Let’s start bringing those people into what these athletes go through to become professional riders.

You know people always ask me, when you’re 14 years old, 15 years old, how do you become a professional rider? How do I answer that? That story has never been covered.

We spoke on the rest day and you said there were talks with two potential sponsors. I think Oath was the American one, and there was a European one. You said that one would be more dependent on the result. Now you have got second in the Tour and you have this Oath platform…

Yes, it’s good…

So where does that put you with those talks?

I’ll start talking again on Monday. But we are in a very good place. In a very good place.

Because of those two factors, I guess? Oath and also Uran?

You’ve always got to be proud of the result, no matter what it is. Of course, getting the attention that comes with second place isn’t going to hurt us. But you can’t count on that attention year to year. And I tell our sponsors that before they come in. I’m like, ‘hey, listen, we had an incredible Tour de France this year. It might be the same next year, and it might not.’ And that’s part of clean cycling.

What’s next for Uran? Is he doing the Vuelta?

No. He is doing San Sebastian, Colorado Classic, and Montreal.

Can he return to the Tour next year aiming for yellow?

Oh yeah, that’ll be the intention. That will absolutely be the intention. I mean, why not? We’ll dig into all the details and see if we can come up with something that that creates a little bit of magic.

Looking back, is there anywhere he could have made up the time to Chris Froome?

Listen, there’s a lot of ifs, ands, and buts. Unless you lose a race by five minutes, you’re always going to have ifs, ands and buts.

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