The other day an interviewer asked me to put on my fan cap and tell his readers who my favorite team riders were. I mentioned Ramunas Navardauskas–the 23-year old Lithuanian national champ who held the 2012 Giro d’Italia GC lead for two days after Garmin-Barracuda won the May 9 team time trial.
I first met Ramunas at the team’s winter training camp in Girona, Spain. At the time, the then 23-year old gave me the impression of a wide-eyed innocent awestruck at the fact that he was even in a room with the likes of Dave Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde and world champion Thor Hushovd. And with reason. It was January, 2011, Ramunas’ first week on a ProTour squad.
Vaughters had just pulled Navardauskas up from the French amateur team Vélo Club La Pomme Marseille.
In chapter 5 of Argyle Armada, Vaughters explains that Navardauskas is one of the most promising talents he’s ever encountered.
After catching wind of the rider from Lithuania–a West Virgina-sized country between Finland, Poland and the Baltic Sea that’s more known for its basketball players than cyclists–Vaughters ran Navardauskas through a battery of physiological performance tests and found that he was putting out “6 watts per kilogram–better than the guys we were sending to the Tour” in 2010.
If Navardauskas was so talented, why hadn’t other ProTour teams already nabbed him?
“He won too much,” Vaughters explained with signature frankness. “The Frenchies all thought he was doping.”
Vaughters quietly monitored Navardauskas’ performances throughout 2010. On more than one occasion, within hours of him turning in a winning performance, Vaughters sent Ramunas a plane ticket to the Slipstream headquarters in Girona.
There, within hours of his race, the team’s doctors conducted blood and urine tests as well as power output examinations. What they found confirmed Vaughters’ sense that the Lithuanian was simply an extraordinary athlete. And an honest one, too. “The objective data pointed to a completely clean rider that was just super talented and super strong,” Vaughters recalls.
In mid June, Vaughters sent Navardauskas a message that he was not expecting: he was on the Tour de France team.
“It was a big surprise to be in the top ten,” Ramunas told me at last year’s Tour. “When Jonathan sent me the email that I am top-ten on the list, I thought, I will be the guy who, if something happens to these other nine guys, then maybe on the last day I will come to the Tour.”
Today, less than a year after his first Tour de France, Ramunas has two Giro maglia rosa leader’s jerseys for his wall. For a rider who started cycling as a kid when a friend got a bike and said, “Maybe you should try,” to Giro race leader, Ramunas Navardauskas’ story proves that in some cases, nice guys do finish first.
In the book, writer-photographer Mark Johnson was embedded with the team for an entire season. The book includes incisive text about the business of cycling and what it’s like to ride for an elite cycling team. Order the book from your local bookstore, bike shop, or from these retailers:
- Order an autographed copy from Mark Johnson’s website Ironstring.com.
- Argyle Armada at Amazon.com
- Argyle Armada at BarnesandNoble.com
- Argyle Armada at VeloGear.com
- Argyle Armada from Slipstream Sports and Team Garmin-Barracuda
- Argyle Armada at Chapters/Indigo
- Argyle Armada from your local independent bookseller