Felt’s French connection

Team Garmin-Chipotle will mount up on Felt bikes for the Tour de France Saturday
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
-A +A
Jim Felt’s longtime dream is tugging at him on one arm. His commitment to building the fastest bikes in the world is yanking on the other. Sometime over the next two weeks, Felt will hop on a plane and head to France, where his Felt Bicycles will make their debut with Team Garmin-Chipotle in the Tour de France, beginning Saturday. Meanwhile the Auburn bike builder is busy fine-tuning Felt machines that will be ridden in the Olympics next month in China. It’s exciting, nerve-racking and hectic for Felt, who began his company as a one-man operation more than 18 years ago. “Since I’ve been building bicycles, you set your goals, you dream and it was always having a team in the Tour de France,” Felt said. “I could never imagine it, but here my dream’s coming true. It’s a huge thing for me. We’re new guys on the block, so I think we’re going to have some good moments and some educational moments, but I think we’re prepared.” Felt partnered with Slipstream Sports two years ago, signing on to back what was then a youth development team. Slipstream has quickly evolved into Team Garmin-Chipotle and is making a splash in the sport for many reasons — including Felt’s innovative designs. Team Garmin-Chipotle’s Tour de France team will ride Felt ARs, F1s and Z1s on the road. In time trials, Felt will unveil the DA. “The DA will probably get the most exposure,” Felt said of the sleek, new, 16.92-pound bike. The exposure that comes with the world’s most prestigious bike race is not lost on Felt. But his company pays the team a handsome sum for the right to furnish their cycles. “They’ve got 10 other bike companies that are probably wanting to give them stuff,” Felt said. “One thing that the big companies can’t deliver is the personal attention that we give them. We have the ability to fill the pipeline with equipment that no other team has as far as the technology goes.” Felt would love to be in Brest, France on Saturday for the opening stage of the Tour, but he’s wrapped up in his latest project – designing bikes for a pair of U.S. Olympians. David Zabriskie and Christian Vandevelde will ride Felt bikes on the road and the track next month in China. In the meantime, the Garmin-Chipotle squad is the only U.S.-based team at the Tour de France. The team features four of the five American riders in the Tour this year, including Vandevelde, who has come on strong after riding in the shadow of former teammate Lance Armstrong in the past. Team manager Jonathan Vaughters has drawn attention all over the world for his effort to put together a team free of drug users and dopers. Vaughters and the team’s organizers have gone over the top to make sure Garmin-Chipotle is the cleanest team in the sport. “I’ve talked to a lot of teams on the peloton out there, but Slipstream is the only one that’s started this drug-free racing and testing program,” Felt said. “That was something I wanted to get behind because the sport’s gotten a tarnished name for guys doping and using steroids and things.” David Millar is one of Garmin-Chipotle’s star riders this year. The English time-trial specialist is one of just five riders with Tour de France experience, but his expectations are still high for the team. “My individual goal is to win a stage – from then on we’ll see,” Millar told VeloNews earlier this week. “The Tour de France is no different than any other race really, it’s just bigger and there’s more coverage. (The younger riders) will learn the style of racing very quickly. I have faith in their abilities.” Just two years ago, Millar was busted for doping and served a one-year suspension. Since then he’s become a model for Slipsteam’s commitment to cleaning up the sport. “(Millar’s) interest was to come and be an advocate for clean racing,” Felt said. “There are a lot of big names that have come over to (Garmin-Chipotle) because of clean racing. They don’t feel the peer pressure of having to dope to succeed.” Instead the pressure is passed on to Felt, who aims to give the team an extra speed boost with his sleek bike designs. He spends countless hours testing in wind tunnels and brainstorming ways to make his bikes faster. The results have already been historic for the team this year. Slipstream won the Tour of California team race earlier this year and won the first stage at the Giro d’Italia in May. “We’re making a lot of progress,” Felt said. “I think people will be surprised at the Tour.”