US Tour de France team boss reveals revised strategy after losing highest-placed American — and why psychologically you have to pretend abandoned riders 'don't exist anymore'

GRUBER IMAGESSimon Clarke of the EF Education First team races in a breakaway at the Tour de France on Sunday.

SAINT-FLOUR, France – The US-based Tour de France team EF Education First is down a rider after losing top-placed American Tejay van Garderen to a crash on Friday’s stage seven. Now, with a dozen stages left till Paris, team boss Jonathan Vaughters has to revise his goals and figure out how to deliver results so the team doesn’t go home empty-handed.

It’s no easy task to win a stage or to get on the final podium. The Tour is the sport’s biggest race, and everyone wants to win. Unlike many other races on the pro calendar, no rider uses the Tour to prep for another race. This is the big show.

Vaughters sat down with Business Insider on Sunday night to talk about his team’s plan for the rest of the race, and he shed light on what happens after a team loses a rider.

Daniel McMahon: What’s the plan for the rest of the Tour de France now that Tejay is gone?

Jonathan Vaughters: Obviously we’ve had to do a major pivot. Without having stated it, my vision for the team coming into the race was a stage win, which is still on the cards, who knows when or how or whatever, but we’ll keep trying. And I felt a top-five place for Rigo was also possible, and very much I think it still is.

Read more: Inside the decision that led the best-placed American to stop racing in the Tour de France

But the one I really thought we could knock out of the park was the team general classification, because we have three strong climbers: Rigo, Woods, and Tejay. Because it’s always on your third guy across the line each day – that’s your time, first, second, third guy is cumulative. It can be three different guys, but it’s always the first three guys.

So the combination of our team being pretty good at getting in breakaways and three good climbers, I was, like, “I bet you we can win the team GC.” And that would be a big deal, right? But that’s not on the table. That’s gone.

Jonathan Vaughters on Trump, small business abroadMatthew BeaudinJonathan Vaughters.

So pivot from that, and now with Rigo what I’d say he’s very much on track to finish fifth or sixth. My hope is that in the last week of the race that his relative freshness compared to everyone else – not having raced in as many days – and the fact that he’s always really good in the third week of races – like, no matter what, he always comes up in the third week – that in that third week that he will really do something spectacular that will get him all the way to the podium. I think that could happen.

As far as stage win, Bettiol and Woods are our two best shots. Where and how, we’ll see. That’s the lay of the land. So a realistic expectation is we’ll contend for stages and Rigo fifth or sixth. The reach goal is Rigo’s on the podium and we win a stage.

McMahon: What was it like on the team after Tejay crashed out?

Vaughters: I don’t think the mood changed dramatically. It was just like, “Oh s—, bummer.” And like I said, that team-GC thing, we just kind of had to throw it out the window because you can’t do that without a third strong guy in the mountains. As far as the other guys, there wasn’t really a big adjustment at all. Unfortunately, it’s one less soldier out there.

Read more: We just got up close with the Tour de France leader’s bike, Julian Alaphilippe’s Specialised S-Works Tarmac Disc

Bike riders are a bit like fighter pilots. When somebody crashes, like a fighter pilot, they just kind of pretend that person doesn’t exist. It’s very psychological. When somebody crashes out of a race, you’re just kind of like, “OK, I just didn’t see that.” You say, “Oh, I’m really sorry. I’ll see you at the next race.” But as soon as you go to dinner and they go to the airport, they don’t exist anymore.

You have to have that attitude, because if you start thinking about, “What if I crashed next?” or “Oh, my gosh, he looked really hurt,” and you start letting that stuff build up in your head, you’re going to be horrible the next day.

McMahon: You tweeted that you drove Tejay to the airport. Care to share some of what you talked about?

Vaughters: We mainly talked about his build-up for Vuelta [Tour of Spain]. I had a really good conversation with him actually. I was surprised at how he took it. I don’t want to say he took it well, but he was very much like, “OK, that happened. There’s nothing I can do about it. It was my fault. I’m not blaming anyone else, but now I need to move on to the next thing.”

He was more interested in hearing my thoughts on how to build up for the Vuelta and what he could do training-wise because he’s known to be on the indoor trainer quite a bit, and where he should train for what. He was interested in just putting it behind him and refocusing. He wasn’t dwelling at all, which is really good.

McMahon: Did he pitch you to be leader at the Vuelta?

Vaughters: No, not at all. He and I discussed it more in terms of that he would go as an experienced guy, almost like the road captain, and that it would be used as a build-up for the world time-trial championships.

McMahon: Outside the team, what are you seeing with the other GC hopefuls?

Vaughters: The guy I’m really looking at is Thibaut Pinot. Alaphilippe, I still think that that’s not going to work in the third week. Geraint Thomas looks super strong, surprisingly strong. I’d say that Thibaut Pinot and Geraint Thomas are the two key guys. The question is if Thibaut Pinot actually got into the yellow jersey – which you never know, he could – does he have a team that could remotely defend that or would it just get chewed to pieces? I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that.

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