Book Review: Argyle Armada by Mark Johnson
Team Garmin-Cervelo had a dramatic year in 2011. To add to Johan Vansummeren’s victory at Paris-Roubaix, the team also had an outstanding performance at the Tour de France, bagging the team time trial stage, holding the yellow jersey for multiple days, and winning multiple individual stages. Additional success throughout the season and the outspoken nature of team founder and CEO Jonathan Vaughters kept Garmin-Cervelo in the news all season. Freelance writer and photographer Mark Johnson was given free access to the team for the whole season, and this large book is the product of many long hours sitting in on team meals and meetings, standing roadside during races, and traveling with various fragments of the team throughout this remarkable season. Click through the jump to get a peek into this fascinating tale…
I consider Team Garmin-Cervelo to be the Moneyball team of professional cycling. They’re a mid-range budget team with a big-personality former athlete at the helm, who goes out and picks up undervalue, over-achieving members who combine into a synergistic whole that exceeds expectations. Mixing such well-established and storied riders as Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar, David Zabriske, Tom Danielson, Thomas Dekker, Heinrich Haussler, Adreas Klier, and David Millar with emerging talent like Ryder Hesjedal, Andrew Talansky, Johan Vansummeren, Jack Bobridge, Sep Vanmarcke, Ramunas Navardauskas (don’t ask me how to pronounce his name), and Peter Stetina gives an explosive combination of potential. But Vaughters has chosen carefully, picking riders who haven’t necessarily lived up to their potential for various reasons and giving them a second chance, all the while maintaining an eye on relationship chemistry and Slipstream’s strong anti-doping stance. In fact, Team Director Matt White was dismissed in the spring for violating the hedge of team rules designed to remove even the appearance of impropriety in regards to doping. Other riders, like Hushovd, were folded into the team when Garmin merged with the Cervelo Test Team before the season, sometimes creating personality conflicts.
Adding to the White dismissal controversy were issues about Hushovd shopping for another team for the next season (he was unhappy about being forced into the team by the merger, thus he never really fit in with his teammates and especially Vaughters, though he was entirely professional in his on-the-bike team duties, but was left off the Vuelta team), team tactics at Paris-Roubaix that denied Hushovd a chance at victory (actually working perfectly to snuff Fabian Cancellara and propel Vansummeren to the top of the podium and instant stardom), David Millar distracted by writing and publishing a book detailing his mid-career downfall due to doping and his vocal anti-doping return, and war over race radio usage between the UCI and various team leaders, fronted by Vaughters. That is not to say that difficulties were the theme of the season. Far from it. Perseverance is more like it. Offsetting those distractions were peak moments of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France. Vaughters, for all his outspokenness about the sport, is a masterful team director, guiding team tactics in the absence of White and directing brilliant victories and near-victories.
Chief among those victories were those by Farrar on July 4 in the Tour de France and the show put on by Hushovd during the same Tour. The Tour, which as a team they won, forms the centerpiece of the book, and is far-and-away the highlight of Garmin-Cervelo’s season. And Hushovd’s success forms the core of the Tour for them. An unlikely maillot jeune bearer for 7 days, Hushovd provided the leadership to power the team trial victory, led out Farrar’s win (in the yellow jersey no less!), and scored not one, but two breakaway stage victories. Who can forget his Stage 13 victory in Lourdes, powering down a descent at 69 mph to reel in poor Jeremy Roy in the last kilometers? I still get chills thinking about it! And who can forget the team picture (included in this book) of Vaughters holding a life-size cardboard cutout of Zabriske, who had crashed out earlier, at the team victory presentation?
But how about the book? Is it just a collection of pretty pictures? Well, yes, it is a collection of very good images, including the iconic image above, which has featured in many advertisements in cycling magazines. But you get so much more than just a bunch of pictures of cyclists and bicycles (hey, isn’t that enough?). Johnson’s writing stands out as being far more thoughtful and artistic than most of the writing you get in bicycling journalism (including that of your humble reviewer!). Johnson spends time featuring most of the big names on the team, sitting down to get their perspective on some issue or event during the season. A recurring theme, and one that Vaughters in particular is very active on, is what could be called pro cyclist rights. Professional cyclists get NO money from broadcasts of their sport, only getting a share of victory pots (which aren’t all that large, considering the millions orbiting the sport) and their usually meager salary. Add in the danger of death and maiming, and you get a selection of elite athletes who are in it more for personal satisfaction and glory, rather than being remunerated in proportional to the revenue they generate for others. Perhaps in some ways that is good for the sport, seeing as how big money has ruined many other professional sports. But the big money is already there, it’s just not trickling down into the riders’ wallets. Trickle down never was a very good concept, was it? In any case, the photography in this volume is excellent, and the quality of the writing rises to meet the level of artistry set by the images. The story of the season and the unfolding ups and downs, on and off the bike, is gripping. I very highly recommend this book – you will not be disappointed. It would make very good accompaniment to the action this July!