The shots are being fired more frequently by two of America's biggest professional cycling teams, as Columbia-HTC and Garmin-Slipstream pedal toward Paris in the 2009 Tour de France.
Instead of firing their collective shots at uber team-to-beat Astana, the teams have aimed their cannons squarely at each other, in an exercise that was aggravated by former Lance Armstrong teammate George Hincapie's near-taking of the race leader's yellow jersey after a valiant stage 14 breakaway into Besançon July 18. There's plenty of 'he said/she said' going on in both camps after Garmin appeared to pour on the late-race gasoline to prevent Big George from wearing yellow into the Alps Sunday.
So, to add fuel to the fire, we present some season-long banter between the two teams in black and white:
Mark Cavendish, writing in his autobiography Boy Racer about stage 7 of the 2008 Tour de France:
"Who was that battering on the front? I made a few enquires and discovered that it was David Millar’s team, Garmin. I f#*king knew it. We were both American teams, we’d both made a big deal of our strict anti-doping politics, there was a healthy rivalry between us, but there was also one crucial difference: as far as I could see, we rode to win races and they rode with no sense of purpose other than to f#*k other people up."
Mark Cavendish on Garmin’s alleged fixation with the 2009 Giro d’Italia team time trial:
"The thing about it is that the Giro’s 21 days. I think it’s a bit disrespectful to the race [Garmin staking so much on this]… Your race is going to start on the first day and end on the first day, and that’s what Garmin are fundamentally doing. They’ve made no bones about that. They’ve said their season starts tomorrow.
"Their sponsors paid money for the first five months of the year and I think that’s highly disrespectful to those guys [the sponsor]. It’s May. Their season starts tomorrow and I think it’s going to end tomorrow night. I mean, come on."
Bradley Wiggins on why he left Columbia at the end of 2008:
"It was starting to become the Cav show a bit. I also felt the vibe in the team was very artificial. I always liked JV[Garmin-Slipstream manager Jonathan Vaughter]'s relaxed friendship, and I've had a good relationship with him over the years, since he was a rider.
"I might have had the same year if I'd stayed at Columbia, but they were definitely building a team around Cav for the sprints. They've got so many riders who can win bike races, you almost just become a number there. I wanted to blend into a team of similar riders with similar attitudes, and this team gives you the freedom to be who you want to be.
"We're much more of a family, without shouting about it. People want life contracts here. It's just like a close knit friendship, without going on about it. It's a relaxed atmosphere, and there's no pressure to get results, which suits me."
Columbia-HTC team manager Rolf Aldag, reacting to Wiggins’s comments about the strict regime at Columbia:
“Yeah, for sure it is like that, but we’re not here to have fun – we’re here to have success and have fun. It’s professional sport and I don’t think you find big sponsorships if you hang out with a bunch of friends. I think we have 55 [now 56] wins. I think it’s crystal clear that definitely works.
"Our philosophy is we do bring new stuff into cycling, we need a good structure…Not 'I’ll maybe do it or not do it'. We have expectations. For example, on ethics, our code of conduct in contract is twice as long as any other. We are strict, we are hard on that. We learned our lessons from history.
"I don’t think you can make friends with the riders and agree to everything. I do believe the best way to have fun on the team is to have success. Not talking yourself into it, saying “Oh what a great team of losers!”
Bradley Wiggins in Besançon after today’s 14th stage of the 2009 Tour:
“We thought George had the jersey at one (point), then [Garmin team manager] Matt White said to start chasing at the end so they didn’t get it. Columbia were going off a bit and it all got a bit chaotic. There was pidgin German being spouted all over the place."
Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters, speaking about today’s stage to cyclingnews.com:
“I was assuming that we were working to keep Wiggo and Christian 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.”
Columbia-HTC president Bob Stapleton, on Garmin’s chase today:
"It was a pretty good effort to pull that jersey off (George's) back. It’s disappointing. I think we’ve had our revenge; we’ve won 60 races and they’ve won something like 10. If we look at the scoreboard it’s no contest. If you look at the Tour it’s no contest.
"They’ve got a lot of quality people on the programme and a good team but I don’t know why you’d do that to George at this stage of his career. I mean that’s a victory for everybody. It would have gotten attention all over the US and that would have been good for the whole sport in America.
"You’ll have to ask Jonathan why they chased. It’s very discouraging that they would actively contribute to doing that."
Columbia's Rolf Aldag on the same subject:
“I don’t know why they chased. I think George deserved the jersey. We were hoping for green and yellow, and it turns out to be nothing. It’s kind of frustrating…but if Matt made the call to chase it down, not even to go for the win but to make sure he didn’t get jersey, that wouldn’t make sense.
"It’s kind of strange. We try to keep it sporting - it’s a bike race, everyone is free to decide. But everything comes back in life…”
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