schmalz So the first question, and I don’t know how to phrase this other than to be blunt so I’m just going to come right out and ask it. Who is your supplier…for your jackets with the elbow patches?
JV (Laughs) You know, I actually only have one jacket with elbow patches, and I just got it, so you gotta look at the photos more closely. I don’t actually have that many elbow patches, but I do obviously have a lot of tweed and so on and so forth, so I could imagine how you might get the impression I have elbow patches.
schmalz Do you have a coupla ascots in the mix?
JV I’ll do scarves, ascots are…I don’t quite know how to pull it off. They’re just a little…I’m not really sure of the utility. Scarves, they keep your neck warm. Ascot, what does an ascot do?
schmalz I think it turns you into Thurston Howell.
schmalz I think that’s the final…before we go any further, can you tell everyone why we had a little pause and we had to wait until we did the interview?
JV I had to go pick up some pants up from the tailor ’cause I was getting ‘em, you know, well, I’m a little guy, you know, pretty skinny, so pants are kinda big on me. So I was getting ‘em tailored appropriately.
schmalz I couldn’t even make up something like that, Jonathan.
JV I know.
schmalz You’re playing right into that stereotype that you’re kind of the clothes horse.
JV Some guys like really complex and big stereo systems, Corvettes, other guys like clothes I suppose. I just happen to fit more on the clothes side of things.
schmalz You’re more on the clothes side of the metrosexual rainbow, then.
JV Yeah, that’s pretty much…yeah…I dunno…I spend my money on clothes and artwork as opposed to stereo systems and Corvettes. It’s kinda always been that way, I’m not really sure…I don’t know where that came from exactly. I don’t know if there’s a support group for it or anything.
schmalz Maybe we can get you the help you need. Maybe we can get you into a fanny pack, Jonathan…
JV Ooof, God, please, that would…oof…
I’m going fishing with my son, I love fishing. I know it’s not a sport…fish blood, it’s not really good with Italian wool. Anyway, I’m taking my son fishing for his spring break and so along with getting my pants hemmed I had to stop by this store to get some shoes that you could fish in. These Timberlands, these really ugly shoes. It really pained me to spend the hundred dollars on these shoes, most people would think they’re great ’cause they’re pragmatic, if you get caught in a rainstorm they’re fine and whatever else. But for me, it was "Oh God, I’m wasting my money on something practical!"
schmalz Were you kinda mad that there were no tassels on those boots?
JV There’s no leather, there’s no tassels, the sole is made out of rubber, what do I do with these? Anyway, that being said, I love fishing, so the dichotomy of it all…
schmalz Just try ripping the sleeves off the shirt that you take when you go there and see how it feels. Try it out, I’m not asking for much, just try it for a bit, no big deal.
JV Hand stitching, Italian hand stitching, is pretty easy to rip, so it should work out pretty easily.
schmalz There you go. As a point of full disclosure I usually ask the interviewees if they’ve ever seen the comic strips that I co-write…
JV (Laughs) Yes, I have, I’ve seen it, I’m a close follower.
schmalz So you probably know that we’ve taken some shots at you in the past, I’m not sure exactly what we’ve done. Most people get thrown in the barrel eventually, so…
JV The thing is if you look at the cartoon it makes…my hair looks really good in it, so even if I do get shots taken at me, I really appreciate the way you guys touch up the hair, so pfft, what am I? I can’t complain.
schmalz So as long as we get the hair right everythings ok then?
schmalz And we do have to concentrate on the sideburns in the comic also.
JV Well, yeah.
schmalz That’s all part of the deal.
JV I’ve had my sideburns since I was 17. Isn’t that funny? Half of my life, I’ve had sideburns for a full half of my life.
schmalz How’d that work out? Was that a hazing incident or did you lose a bet, or…what was the reason for growing those?
JV It was early 90’s, late 80’s, for some reason it was the return of the hipster movement. Sideburns just came right back in right then, along with bell bottom jeans for a…five day period? I decided to grow sideburns basically because I was 18, 17, and I could, and it was the first time in my life I could have some kind of facial hair, so ok, I’m going to grow sideburns ’cause it seemed to be the cool thing to do. And I think I was encouraged by some girls to grow the sideburns, which was probably the motivation of it all, because I think the motivation of all men in life is to impress women at one point or another. Well not all men, but a large majority.
Anyway, I grew the sideburns, and then I think I got tan racing that summer, so there’s a big tan line where the sideburns were when I tried to shave it off so I decided not to shave it off and once you got momentum like that it just lasts fifteen years.
schmalz There’s no interest in Star Trek that motivated that in any way?
JV No, Star Trek’s not massively interesting to me. Star WARS, Battlestar Galactica, that’s cool too, but Star Trek…the James T Kirk school of acting never appealed to me.
schmalz You. Must. Grow. Side. Burns.
JV (Laughs) Exactly. (Clears throat)
schmalz I could probably talk about this sort of thing for hours but I don’t know if anyone else is going to read this.
JV (Laughs) Right.
schmalz I can get caught in the minutiae and the fashion stuff… The team’s having a great year this year and you’re winning earlier, especially Christian and Tyler with their stage wins, and Tom Peterson with his stage win too. What happened?
JV I think we just started converting from being a good team and always being the mix to actually doing it. The team is essentially the same, we haven’t made any massive roster changes, it’s just that the guys last year, they’d get in a big race, they’d make the selection or make the breakaway, or like Christian be in the lead group every single day in the Tour de France, and then get down to the crunch moment, it’s not that they weren’t strong enough to win, they’d just… It was like they were so happy just to be there, that they never even considered winning. It was like "Oh my gosh, we’ve accomplished our goal, we’re here!" "Wow, there’s only four guys in front of me! That’s awesome!"
It was almost like it wasn’t a consideration to go ahead and win. It just slowly but surely changed. Well, not even slowly but surely, I think when everyone stopped in the off season and looked back, said "My gosh, look at the season we had and how great it was, and also look at how many seconds, thirds and fourths and wait a minute… Maybe it’s not that great." Basically I think the first step was for the guys, as a whole, including Christian and the experienced guys to believe that they can win and have some empirical evidence that they could win. And the empirical evidence was that they were there in the final of all the biggest races in the world. All that needed to happen was a little more confidence, a little bit of luck.
So this year, the expectation is that we’re gonna be in the final and we’re gonna be in the hunt for the win, and then the hope is that we’re actually gonna win the thing. Whereas last year we’d hope to be in the final selection, and winning was just "Let’s not get too big for our britches here".
schmalz Do you think it took Christian a long time to get out of the mindset, because he was a domestique for so long? It took him a while to get out of the mindset of not going for the win?
JV Yeah, Christian is by nature…
JV …I don’t want to say Chicken Little, you know, who’s the, um, he’s the, he’s the…
schmalz He’s pure evil, isn’t he, Jonathan.
JV Yeah yeah, he’s pure evil. Nah, he’s like…Piglet! Winnie the Pooh. Because Piglet goes around and says, "Oh mymymymymy, wellwellwell…" And that’s Christian. If you hang around Christian he’ll tell you how every single rider in the peloton is awesome. "That guy is so strong! Andy Schleck, he’s so good! This guy is so good! Contador is so good!"
He never actually puts himself in the same realm as those guys, which is something you have to talk to him every single day and go, "Yeah, well you’re pretty good too, Christian."
And he’s like, "Oh yeah, but those guys are incredible, they’re unbelievably talented."
"Well, you’re pretty talented too, Chris-" Well anyway, it’s a constant battle with him. He is starting to come out of it, but the battle is won the war is far from over with Christian’s confidence.
schmalz That’s funny. I have a theory. Christian came up through US Postal through the Lance years, he rode with Lance at the Tour. I think that Lance’s effect on everyone else who was on that team was, he was just the guy there, and I think that effect was kinda smothering on the careers of other people. Because it was just so much centered around Lance that you would never take a second to think, and consider your own…
JV Yeah, but look at the other side of it. Look at Floyd Landis, for instance, he came up through that, right? And he doesn’t seem to be lacking in confidence. I get your point, it’s a little bit of nature vs. nurture. I’ve roomed with Christian his first day as a professional bike rider, we were roommates and we lived together in an apartment, a really crappy apartment, for a long long long time, and he just never overly confident about…he always respected the older riders in the peloton, respected the tradition of the race…
And all those things are great as a teacher, for him to pass along to the younger riders, but he’s never been one to say "Now I’m gonna kick ass". You’re starting to see that come through, and he’s always been able to. I mean, he’s always…I remember when he won Redlands, I don’t know if he even believed he could win Redlands, and that’s way back the heck when, and of course he could. You look back at that and of course he’s that good of a rider.
He’s just a funny one, he’s just a real challenge. Most, I read a site, most men overestimate themselves by 10%, as far as physical ability, and Christian just underestimates himself by 10%. As long as we can just get him to be 0% then just get the estimation right on, then we’ll be in business.
schmalz That’s interesting. When you were putting together the Slipstream team last year, when you were going to be signing more ProTour level riders, was that a tough process? Because you knew the structure of the team and what you were planning on doing with the team, and if you were going to sign established pros, you kinda had to be pretty selective about who you were going to get, didn’t you?
JV Yeah. No, it was a very very…I read all the time on blogs and whatever else "Why wouldn’t Slipstream hire this guy, why wouldn’t Slipstream hire that guy", but there’s a lot that goes into the way we choose riders. Do they fit with our team? Do they fit in with the guys? You have to remember, whenever we win, in the events that we’re good at, it’s a very team oriented win. Ok, Christian getting into the break and winning solo that day, maybe that’s a bit of an exception, but typically when we win it’s a team effort, and we had an individual that was good that day. It’s never a case of us having a super talent that just crushes everyone and the rest of the team just rides on the front and makes sure that they don’t get beat.
We’re actually putting together a real pinpoint effort, eight riders having to contribute everything they have and one guy being able to pull it off. It’s rarely because that one guy is physically superior to everyone else. So when you look at it that way, we consistently have to find guys that are willing to really, this is cliche, but die for the cause. They gotta go in with the attitude of "This is my team", and take ownership of the team. "This is my team, I love argyle", whatever, "These are my brothers in battle", and when we go to race it’s 100% for whoever’s best on the day. There’s no question of selfishness.
In professional cycling, there’s obviously a lot of people who think very highly of themselves. Getting that sort of mix, where you’ve got confidence in the individuals and they can work together and be giving of one another in the team…it’s hard. At the end of the day, that’s half of my job. That’s the most key part of what I do, is hiring the right people from a staff perspective and a rider perspective.
schmalz Also, when you’re putting the team together, your internal testing is a big part of what Slipstream does, and you had to find people who were going to embrace that. And I get the feeling that you probably found people who thought the internal testing was going to be a relief to them, that they didn’t have to go anywhere where there was going to be any sort of shenanigans or any sort of pressure put on them for…nefarious doings.
JV Yeah, the guys that we have on the team are all guys that see the internal testing not as an imposition but as a way to make sure that everyone knows that when they win a race they’re doing it straight up. It’s their backup. They’re happy to do the testing, they wanna be able to go, "Yeah, I won this race, and if you have any doubts about it, here’s my test results. Here’s one from the UCI, here’s one from Don Catlin. Anything else you wanna look at please let me know, but this win was straight". And that’s what we’ve got, athletes that are tired of everything the sport’s gone through and are looking for a way to make sure all their friends and family and fans and peers know exactly what they’re about.
So yeah, I’d say the guys we got look at it as a good thing, not a bad thing.
schmalz I heard early in the season last year when you guys were overseas there was a little bit of backlash from other riders in the peloton. Was that true?
JV I think people assume that. No, I really don’t have any story from inside our team of other teams going, "Aaaaah, these guys!" If it happened it never got all the way to me, so I don’t think so.
schmalz So there really wasn’t any people resenting…I think people got the idea that because you decided to take a positive spin on things, everyone else felt that they might be getting tarred with the opposite of what you were doing. Since they weren’t running a program they obviously must’ve been doing something, and I think that it took a while for teams to get over that feeling.
JV That’s not the case, just ’cause a team doesn’t have a testing program, to me, doesn’t mean that they’re doping. We’re just doing the way we’re doing things, because, I don’t know, it’s just the line and the philosophy that we set down, and it IS NOT accusational of anyone. It’s basically just saying "This is the way we’re going about it, and yeah, we’re going to put a positive spin on it and we’re gonna talk about it in the media." We’re not gonna be shy about what we’re doing, it’s something you should be proud of, it’s not something you should be ashamed of.
It really doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else. Of course, I think that the more teams that do this kind of stuff…well, realistically the passport system is getting better and better, in a year, we’re almost at the threshold where that’s gonna be adequate enough for all the teams, and the independent testing systems may go away. I really don’t know. But the point is I think all the other teams, they’re doing a great job too, they didn’t start out in their inception thinking "We’re gonna spend a half a million dollars on anti-doping". Where do you find a half a million dollars that’s just sitting around?
To them, it’s unfair to say you need to do this too. Of course, we’d encourage them if they want to. Join up, I’ll give you Don Catlin’s phone number no problem. I’m sure Bob Stapleton at Columbia would too. It’s obviously something we’d like to encourage, but at the same time I don’t inherently doubt other teams because they’re not doing the same thing we are. That’s just ridiculous.
schmalz I don’t want to paint you guys as the goodiest two shoes out there, though you might be, but last year I found that the transparency-which is kind of a crazy term for just plain "honesty"-that you guys ran everything with was refreshing. ‘Because if you go back to, say, the Lance years, there was always bodyguards, a lot of combatively, there was always strained relations with the press, going through all that with Lance, near the end of his career, it was just tiring, you know? It just wore on you after a while, because everything was a battle. Whereas with you guys, everything was just out in the open, here we are, here’s what we’re doing. It made being a bike racing fan a lot easier.
JV I’m glad to hear that. We knew what we were doing, the criticism, other people saying they’re goody two shoes or whatever, that actually didn’t bother me. But one criticism that did bother me was when people would say, "They found a way around their own testing." And that’s when I just said, fair enough, then we’ll just open it up. You can have, any journalist can have any access to any rider at any time. And of course, the riders are like, "What if I’m clipping my toenails in my room? Do I really have to have a journalist in my room?"
And basically I just said to them, listen, we kinda do. For the time being, let’s just do this. Finally all the guys bought into it, ’cause at the end of the day, the sport was in a really rough spot, and it seemed to me that the best way to come out the other end of that was just to show it all. Just say, you want access to this this and this? Fine, there you go, have fun, here’s the keys to the room. And just be a completely open book. And that was difficult, it was hard for our guys in the Tour, the Tour of California. We did, we had journalists trampling all over us constantly.
End of the day, it showed not just our team, it showed the world that you know what? You can be competitive at the highest level, and no testing system is infallible, but if you’ve got people that have complete access to your team, that’s just one more way to show that you’re doing what you say you’re doing. I dunno, sometimes extreme times require extreme measures, and it was a little bit extreme to become an all access team, but end of the day, a lot of guys have a lot of good friendships with the people they met as a result. One of my good friends is one of the photographers from espn.com, the one who took all the photos of me in the tweed jacket. He’s one of my really good friends now. There was a lot of positive feeling to just opening it up.
schmalz It’s a telling statement that the reaction to your internal testing system was that people thought that it was a way you were going to dodge doping controls. The sport had gotten to a point that people thought that you were running this internal testing, that obviously meant that you were trying to get away with something. That’s how bad it had become.
JV Exactly, and that made me a little bit sad. And that’s how it made me come up with, "Ok, you guys wanna see the insides? Here’s the insides." Dirty chamois and all.
schmalz And the world is the better for it.
JV (Laughs) Well, I hope so! I think it’s one of those…I mean, we showed it can be done, but at the same time I really do think the whole cycling world has turned a corner, as far as anti doping becoming cool as opposed to not cool. But we gotta keep hacking away at it. I really feel the battle is won, but the war goes on. I really do feel we’re in a really good spot in cycling right now, as far as that goes. But it doesn’t mean we’re going to rest on our laurels.
schmalz Can we talk about your career a little bit?
schmalz You started out with Santa Clara?
JV (Laughs) Yep, yep.
schmalz And that was a Spanish team, right?
JV That was a Spanish team, yep.
schmalz And the owner was a very devout guy, and…
JV He was effectively a priest, yeah. I don’t quite understand, but he took an oath of celibacy and dedicated his life’s work to, um, to God, so he’s very devout Catholic. But he wouldn’t wear a collar around, he was actually a geologist, and I don’t know how he became interested in cycling, but…
schmalz What in God’s name was he doing owning a cycling team?
JV I don’t know, it’s funny, his name is Jose Luis Nunez, and I’d LOVE to get in touch with him but he’s not on Facebook, so… He actually had the belief that a cycling team with a moral and ethical foundation could go and compete and do it in a non doping way, which, for the mid 90’s, was an unpopular view.
schmalz And how did the team do?
JV We were…bad. Really really bad.
schmalz Was it because of what was going on with all the EPO that you guys were being creamed?
JV (Laughs) I don’t know why we were being creamed, I just know there were a lot of stories… I remember one day in the Tour of the Basque Country, we were getting dropped one by one out of the peloton. And finally our team director was, "Ok, this is ridiculous. We can’t be getting dropped one by one because none of you guys are going to make the time cut if you’re just out there by yourselves riding and no one else is dropped."
So he basically said ok, when the first guy is totally blown, the worst guy on the team, you gotta tell all the other guys and they have to get dropped, too.
And then we’ll just do a team time trial off the back. Of course, no one was particularly happy about this plan, but we did it, and we made the time cut every single day, all eight guys on the team off the back, team time trialing, and we’d catch the grupetto 5k from the finish. It was pretty pathetic.
schmalz You team time trialed to the time cut, eh?
JV Yeah, we team time trialed to the time cut. It was a really humbling experience, but whatever, it made me a better person.
schmalz Are you familiar with the term, I think David Walsh calls it ‘passive doping’?
JV (Laughs) Passive doping… Well, no, I’m not.
schmalz It’s a bad term for what it is. It makes it sound like you catch doping by being near it. What he really talks about is that if you’re a clean rider, and you’re trying to keep up with people who are taking EPO or things like that, you’re eventually going to do irreparable harm to your health, trying to keep up with these guys that are on something is going to burn you out.
JV Huh. Phew. Yeah. I don’t know. That’s uh…David certainly has a lot of theories, that’s for sure.
schmalz Well, I don’t know how much that one washes. I don’t know if it’s going to be doing permanent harm to you, but you’re definitely not going to stand a chance against someone’s who on an…extra medical program.
schmalz So, after Santa Clara you raced in the States again, right?
JV Yeah, I was on John Wordin’s team. Comptel.
schmalz And then you started winning again.
JV Yeah yeah yeah. That was…that was a fun year. I mean, after three years of living in a crappy apartment in Spain and just getting pounded into the dirt in every single race it was kinda nice to come back to the States and be competitive.
schmalz And then you caught the eye of Postal after that.
schmalz What year did you start at Postal?
schmalz And you were there ’til when?
JV ’99, just two years.
schmalz And you did the Tour one year with Postal, you crashed out, right?
JV (Laughs) Yeah, I crashed on the Passage du Gois, which was stage 2.
schmalz I don’t think we need to go…you’re kinda the Susan Lucci of the Tour, I guess.
JV Yeah, exactly.
schmalz You always go there and have terrible things happen to you. I don’t know if you wanna relive that whole thing, but you did crash out, and then after Postal you went to Credit Agricole.
JV Yep yep yep, 2000.
schmalz And that’s when you got your infamous wasp sting.
JV That was 2001.
schmalz You were going to try to ride the stage the next day, correct?
JV Yeah. That was a very complex situation, and a lot of people don’t quite understand it, so I will explain it. A lot of my anti doping angst for reform comes from that whole incident.
So, basically, I got stung by a wasp. Obviously I had an allergic reaction to it, it was sealing my eyes closed, so I couldn’t see. That was the major issue as far as riding, was that I couldn’t see. So initially I thought the swelling would come down, it didn’t. Go to the hospital, they said you need a cortisone injection, our team doctor was like, "Oh no no no no no, can’t do that can’t do that."
At that point in time I said "That’s ridiculous. We have these health booklets, if you need cortisone for asthma, if you need cortisone for a knee injury, you just take it. This is obviously a medical condition, this isn’t just me wanting to take cortisone, so why don’t we just do it and write in the booklet ‘Face swelled shut needed cortisone.’"
At the time, the anti doping regulations had not taken into account the possibility of an allergic reaction, so there was only an exemption for asthma or knee injury, joint inflammation. So that night, I’m basically fighting with Roger (Legeay) and the team doctor. To me, it was just a ridiculous injustice. "Let’s just write in my health booklet knee injury, and somehow it made my face swell up and we don’t know why, and we’ll just take the cortisone and it’ll be gone". And they just wouldn’t let me do it, "We’re not going to do that".
It upset me to no end that I wasn’t going to be able to race and finish the Tour de France, this was just a couple of days from the end. I wasn’t going to be able to finish the Tour de France because of a stupid thing that was overlooked in the rules.
So I went to the stage the next day and said, "Ok, fine. I’m going to get this rule changed." And the way I was going to get this rule changed, I’m going to show up and everyone’s going to look at my face, I look like the Elephant Man, and there’s going to be a million photographers… Sometimes the media is a good medium to impart change in the world. It’s going to be such an embarrassing story for WADA and the UCI that they’re going to have to revisit this rule and change it, and that’s exactly what happened.
But the thing that…two things came out of that. One, had it not been for Roger Legeay and our team doctor at the time, had it been left up to me, had it been left up to my 27 year old competitive athlete mind, I just wanted to finish, man, just gimme the shit, lemme finish. But it was the management, in a more logical, been around the block a few more times, bigger picture oriented, it was them that shut it down and said no. To this day I really thank Roger for that, because basically he save me from blatantly lying to the world.
And maybe no one would’ve known about it, right? What’s the difference? Knee injury, you just write down knee injury and you can take cortisone and it’s great and the wasp sting goes away and voila! But end of the day, from a big picture point of view, that’s just how it starts. "There’s this little loophole, let’s just go ahead and do it." And that’s really it. If you’re willing to take that little loophole, what about the next one and the next one and the next one and on and on and on? And then you’ve taken so many loopholes that you’re winning everything and the guy next to you is like, "Well, I should do this too". It seems like such a stupid little thing, but it’s just like dominos. One guy decides to be untruthful on his health booklet, and all of a sudden all that spirals downward.
Years later I took that to heart, he was right. And that’s the way things should be. It should be the responsibility of management to keep the athletes in line. Of course the athletes are going to finish the Tour. They don’t wanna get their ass kicked. It’s the guys in MY position that needs to keep things in line, ’cause we all made stupid decisions when we were 22, 23 years old. Of course, you’re an adult at that point in time, but if you were held on an international stage, if every single decision you made at 22, 23 years old were let known to the entire public and your mother and grandmother and everyone else, you’d probably not be super proud of that, ’cause some of those decisions were probably bad, and that’s normal.
When you’re my age, when you’re 40, I’m not 40 yet, but when you’ve had a little bit more experience, when you still make those dumb decisions, or you cover up for somebody else’s, encourage poor decision making, that’s actually to me, that’s actually malice. That’s a decision that someone’s making not out of inexperience, they’re making for gain. If we have a doping issue on the team, it’s not me that’s going to the athlete like "You fucking bastard what the hell were you doing?" To me, that would be a massive failure on my part, that I didn’t figure out, didn’t see, that I was unable to keep the rider from, that I was unable to prevent them from making that decision.
Going back to the stage where I started. This was the final straw, really in a lot of ways ended my career, ’cause I was just so saddened by it. I went to the start, a couple guys were like "What the hell happened to you?"
"I got a wasp sting."
"Wouldn’t cortisone take that down?"
"Yeah, but you know WADA regulations, blah blah blah…"
And then one guy said to me, "That’s ridiculous. You just gotta take the injection, take the cortisone, and worry about the test later." And at that point, that’s just…pffft…that just really upset me. Here I was, the dumb fricking idiot, out there, not wanting to call it an injury, not wanting to lie about the situation, and I’m getting made fun of. And who wants to be in that environment? Who wants to…I know that none of the guys on my team right now…they would actually see that for what it is right now, because the environment right now in professional cycling has changed. They wouldn’t be made fun of nowadays. And that’s great. And I wish I could be racing in this generation. Well I guess I could, if I decided to make a comeback, but I’m not going to do that.
schmalz I think part of the reason, and I’m guessing, playing armchair psychologist here, I think part of the reason why you started this team is that younger racers don’t have to go through or be faced with some of the decisions that riders of your generation or you yourself had to face.
JV I’d say that’s an accurate, (laughs), that’s an accurate armchair psychologist.
schmalz We have to talk about your years with Postal, because there’s rumors flying all over the place about the years with Postal, about Postal now with Lance’s comeback. Because now it’s dredged up all these questions again. Were you ever involved in any sort of doping while you were with US Postal?
JV You know, that’s…ah…that’s a question that Paul Kimmage asked me in his interview. Um, and basically I just sat there in my living room and just said, "You know, Paul, sorry, but I’m just not going to answer that question." And you can take whatever you want from that, but that’s not saying no comment, it’s saying what I’ve said is out there, everyone’s free to read Paul’s interview with me, everyone’s free to read what I’m saying right now. But it’s just not a question that I’m gonna answer.
schmalz Sure. You’ve got David Millar on the team, who’s come into a renaissance, he’s kind of I guess what you’d call a born again doper, but that would mean he’s back to it, but… After his redemption, it did light a fire under him, give him a purpose. If you had done anything, and you were to do the same thing that David did, wouldn’t that have the same effect?
JV I don’t quite…
schmalz Is your silence on the issue of your own past out of fear of consequences or is it for another purpose?
JV I just don’t want the attention to be on me, I want it to be on the team. These guys have won races clean, and they deserve the spotlight.
schmalz Here’s another tough one. Can you recommend a really good box wine?
JV (Laughs) Yeah. My friend was telling me that during the Tour de France they do the Tour de Franzia, I’m sure you’re familiar with Franzia box wine…
schmalz I’ve come across it.
JV What they do is the actually tie the box of Franzia wine onto the bike of various cyclists, where it’s a house to house thing, where you ride to one house and half the box of Franzia has to be gone, and then the next house the other half of the box of Franzia has to be consumed. Anyway, sounds pretty interesting. Potentially more interesting than the actual Tour de France.
schmalz Sounds like a recipe for emptying your stomach.
JV (Laughs) Right.
schmalz You have always been a training and a physiology…and I don’t want to cast aspersions, but…NERD, and you’ve always been into the training aspect of things. I remember reading an article, I think you’d been writing for Cycle Sport for a long time…back when you were with Credit Agricole, I remember you used to have a program where you would come home from a training ride and you’d take a nap at a certain time of day because that would help you to replenish your hormonal levels. You were always experimenting with things.
schmalz And it seems like that’s carried on at Slipstream with you and Allen Lim. In this month’s Cycle Sport you were talking about body acidity, I’ve heard you mention this more than once. Is this the lactic acid that we know, or is this a different acidity?
JV Well…trying to think what article…
schmalz You were talking about altering what Tom Danielson would eat.
JV Oh, right, yeah! That’s actually talking about lactic acid, yeah. So basically with Tom…when you burn sugars, you produce lactic acid. That simple. When you burn fat as fuel you don’t produce any lactic acid. That doesn’t mean, "Well, shit, let’s eat buckets of Crisco for the bike race and we won’t produce any lactic acid and we’ll win every single race." That’s actually inaccurate. That won’t work, though feel free to try it and let me know how it goes.
schmalz Please tell me that’s ok, Jon, ’cause I do want to do that.
JV Just remember, you can’t eat anything other than the Crisco for it to work properly.
JV So, there is some truth to it, in that if you can up the percentage of fat you’re burning, especially for middle intensity -for low intensity you’re going to be burning fat no matter what -then as you go higher and higher in intensity, once you get to the middle intensities you start to burn more and more sugar. Well, if you can reduce the percentage of sugar a little bit and increase the percentage of fat, you will reduce the amount of lactic acid you’re producing, and additionally, you won’t be consuming as much of your glycogen stores, which you can save for later on in the race when you have to go really hard.
So, lactic acid is not bad, you do need to sugars as fuel in the most intense moments of the race, but I what I was finding with Tom, was that he was pretty much using sugars as fuel even at 200 watts. So he was a great rider for two hours, maybe three hours, because he could do one climb, Mt. Washington hill climb, Mt. Evans, whatever, all those records that he has, he can do one climb incredibly well, but then two or three or four climbs like you have in big bike races, he was crap by the third climb because he was essentially burning all the sugars to go fast on the first climb, and then was very acidic, had used all his energy reserves, and was extremely acidic, get to the next climb, you’re still fairly acidic, you’ve used most of your glycogen stores…ooooh that one’s…
By the time you get to the third one you’re crap, and what everyone was saying with Tom, "Oh, he’s a head case. He’s great in training but he can’t race well. He’s only good in smaller races." And all of that is essentially untrue. He just never addressed the fact that he has a massive engine, but it was just burning gas like it was going out of style. What I did with Tom was totally change the way he ate over the winter.
We’re actually going back to more carbohydrates as he races more often now, but during the winter, in a lot of ways, I did do something pretty similar to the Crisco only diet with him, and had him train that way. And he absolutely hated it, but what it did was it forced his metabolism to switch over to a more fat based metabolism. When we were doing tests in Silver City New Mexico you could see by his expired gases in his VO2Max test he was actually burning more fat at a much higher intensity than he ever had before. And it’s already starting to show in his race results. He’s riding better than he has in a few years. We’ll see when we get to the grand tours how effective it is in the endgame. I think it’ll be good.
schmalz So Crisco is the answer?
JV Yeah, in a lot of ways. Yeah. He was doing more olive oil and avocados and things like that, b-but Crisco might work.
schmalz So basically it’s a ground up approach to food that you eat. You do altitude training also, and Allen Lim seems to be very concerned with recovery and specifically he likes to ice things a lot, doesn’t he?
JV (Laughs) Allen is all about keeping core temperature down. It seems like it works, you know? It seems like we’ve had really good luck with it, so I don’t see any reason to stop it. Allen’s one of those guys, I just let him, "Ok, Allen, come up with 50 ideas."
And then he’ll come with the 50, and Allen will want to do all 50 of them. And I’m like "Ok, Allen, give me the ten best", then "Allen, now we gotta actually execute three of them". This is where it gets difficult for Allen. Allen just wants to study his 50 ideas and keep studying and I actually want to make it work. Where Allen and I have become a pretty good team is where I say "Allen, these ideas are all great and they’re awesome and I love the fact that you haven’t slept for four months coming up with ideas and reading books and doing stuff like that, but now we gotta boil it down to what we can actually apply on the road as a team, and we can apply well."
And that’s always the more difficult part for Allen, but I just keeping pushing him on that, and he’s become more and more successful at boiling it down to "This is Allen’s idea for the year". Ice. Next year it’s this. His mind gives us a competitive advantage, there’s no doubt about that.
schmalz But he definitely works in a scientific method, he does test things…
JV Yep yep yep. Allen’s incredibly bright, his brain gives us a competitive advantage. Couldn’t be happier. I’ve known Allen forever, it’s so funny, I’ve known him since he was undergrad or grad. Funny guy.
schmalz Here’s a shameless sponsor plug for you. When I was watching Christian’s win at Paris Nice, I was watching the cycling.tv coverage, and Magnus was commentating. He was describing how when he was doing a descent, he would use the Garmin 705 to know when the corners were coming up. Does the Garmin do that?
JV Yes, you can, I mean, I don’t know if you wanna look at it at 100k an hour, staring down, but you can actually see what’s coming ahead of you on the course. It’s pretty neat.
It’s more when it’s a windy day, and you want to know when the road turns left, and all of a sudden you hit a crosswind. That’s where we think the Garmin’s really helped our guys out.
schmalz And can you get the sweet tones of the Garmin lady voice telling you when to turn right?
JV (Laughs) The ones on the bike don’t, but that’s a good idea…
schmalz And after the stage is done you can find an Applebee’s.
JV (Laughs) Y-yeah…Applebee’s…
schmalz That’s sweet, you can get Tom Danielson some Crisco time.
JV Exactly. I’m sure there’s plenty of Crisco at Applebee’s.
schmalz Now that you’re the director sportif, who do you enjoying director sportif-ing against? Is there a certain other guy out there that you like to match wits with?
JV I always quite frankly think it’s fun when we go head to head with Johan. I mean, Johan’s a smart guy, he’s a very intelligent tactician, and he’s sort of regarded as the best in the world. We haven’t quite pulled it off yet, but we’d like to beat the best in the world. California, where it was basically us against Astana, I think those are the most fun races. It’s intelligent competition.
schmalz Do have each other’s phone numbers? Can you call each other during the race?
JV We don’t talk so much, really.
schmalz So you can’t prank call him during the race, give him wrong directions?
JV That’s a good idea, but, I dunno. I don’t have his phone number. Maybe you can get it for me.
schmalz And obviously you’re not wearing a diaper like Dave Zabriskie suggests?
JV (Laughs) ‘Cause you don’t have to stop and pee while you’re directing?
schmalz Yeah, he said that while you were driving the car you were wearing adult diapers.
JV Oh, oh. T-that’s…I’ve never…that’s just rumor.
schmalz That’s why you were getting your pants adjusted.
JV No, I can actually deny those rumors.
schmalz Alright, we got one thing taken care of. Now you’re going to be, you’re the head of the AIGCP, which if I understand correctly, you’re the liaison for the teams and the UCI?
JV Well, it’s a team association, it’s a trade union, basically. The teams say, "We want more prize money and better hotels…", and it’s my responsibility to talk to the head of the UCI, Pat McQuaid, the head of ASO, and try to negotiate better conditions for the teams. That’s what it is.
schmalz Is a lot of it just bitching about hotels?
JV Yeah…the biggest thing has been this equipment rule, with the 3:1 aspect ration on handlebars. It’s been driving a lot of attention and the teams are wanting me to speak to the UCI about that. Other issues, the biological passport continues to be something that…the payment timelines…a lot of teams are looking for good terms on payment timelines. The UCI makes a little more information available with the passport. They sent something to all the teams, all the teams have been tested 50 times or whatever.
At the end of the day the teams want to know what they’re paying for. I’ve been talking to the UCI quite a bit about that, and that’s a matter of communication. The UCI’s not just going to automatically know what the teams’ perspective on handlebars, the passport, the whereabouts systems, and a whole host of issues. It’s interesting, ’cause you were saying earlier about some of the other teams would potentially begrudge us because of our anti doping stance, at the election of the presidency of the AIGCP, I don’t remember the exact numbers, but of the 28 teams that are members of the AIGCP, I think I received 25 out of 28 votes. So, they must not hate us all that much.
schmalz Sounds like you’re spreading the love there. If you were to play virtual Johan, who would you pick? How would you decide between Alberto Contador or Lance Armstrong?
JV I’d pick Alberto. Alberto’s just an incredible athlete. He’s, ok, he did kinda screw up Paris Nice a little bit, but he has won every major grand tour as well, so he doesn’t just screw up every time. He’s an explosive climber, now he’s an incredible time trialist. If you look at his position, it’s unbelievably aerodynamic. I think Alberto Contador’s the best stage racer in the world right now. I just think the guy’s pretty badass.
schmalz Were you surprised by his win in the prologue?
Yeah, for sure.
schmalz He’s improving his time trialing, but that’s a short specialist kind of win. Where did that come from?
JV Well, it was a little bit longer than most prologues are, 11 1/2 minutes… Look at the picture of him. He’s really done some good work in the wind tunnel as far as getting his aerodynamics down. So he’s looking really slick in the wind. A time trial that length, it’s power to drag ratio, and as a little 130 pound guy that’s really got his aerodynamics down, his drag’s probably pretty low, and if you’ve seen the way he goes uphill, his power’s pretty high. So, typically larger guys do have an advantage, as a general rule of thumb, they’ll have a better power to drag ration than smaller guys. But Alberto’s just got his position so dialed, and he’s producing so much power, he’s able to pull it off.
Had the prologue been 6, 7, more typical prologue distance, I think Brad (Wiggins) would’ve won. But 11 minutes, that’s just into the changeover from pure anaerobic to aerobic/anaerobic power that he was able to pull it off.
schmalz I think he had something to prove, too.
JV He’s riding like a man possessed, that’s for sure.
schmalz I think he’s riding like a man that wants to lead the team in the Tour de France.
JV (Laughs) I-I-I…Alberto’s…he’s an immensely talented athlete.
schmalz If I were running the TV coverage of every time trial, there would be a figure skating type crying room where they’d go and watch the scores, but you’d have the guys in the top three watching the guys after them coming in, so you could get their reactions as they get beat.
JV (Laughs) I tell ya man, Brad’s reaction was kinda sad. We pretty much thought we had it won. "Who’s left? Contador’s the only one left. Contador’s not gonna beat Brad."
schmalz He had to be a little ticked at that.
JV Yeah, he was a little ticked.
schmalz Well, thanks for sharing your time with us, Jonathan.
JV No problem, no problem at all.
schmalz And if you want to send us a picture of the pants we’ll post it on the website, of course.
JV Oh…yeah. Ok…I’ll do that.
Actually, if I can I’ll send you a picture of the suit I just got that does have elbow patches on it.
schmalz You have more than one with elbow patches! You can’t just have one!
JV I don’t…oh wait…I do have two. I’ve got one sport coat, a corduroy sport coat, and now I’ve got a navy blue suit. Both have elbow patches. I have two. Two.
schmalz Were you born in the olden days? It’s almost like you’re channeling Teddy Roosevelt.
JV (Laughs) I don’t know, man. My mom was a professor and my dad was a pipe smoking attorney, so I grew up in this house where…I didn’t actually know that there were TV channels other than PBS until I was twenty.
schmalz That’s funny. Thanks for your time, Jonathan, appreciate it.
JV Thank you.