Handset maker HTC and GPS giant Garmin have found themselves in the middle of an ugly war. This time the fight it isn't in courts over patents or trademarks—instead the battle is on the roads of the Tour de France.
HTC and Garmin are both the title sponsors of two American based squads, but any hope of the two teams working together evaporated last Saturday. HTC's George Hincapie, notable for being Lance Armstrong's lieutenant during each of his seven Tour crowns, was able to join a 13-man breakaway and cross the finish line with the race lead—barring any odd developments in the chasing pack he would end the day atop the podium in yellow. Unfortunately for George, not only were the developments strange, but they were also dirty and unsportsmanlike. With nothing to gain, Garmin-Slipstream charged to the front and promptly set a quick pace for the pack; when the main field of riders crossed the line, Hincapie had lost out on the yellow jersey by a mere five seconds.
We can only guess what Garmin-Slipstream's motivations were, but the general consensus is that the team's leaders—owner Doug Ellis and team director Jonathan Vaughters (not the riders)—simply didn't want a fellow American to have the opportunity to wear yellow. The end result was that one of the nicest and most hard working guys in all of cycling was robbed. This is unfortunate for Garmin, they can't really be held responsible for the actions of a cycling team they sponsor—but there are ramifications to putting a company badge on something, cycling fans will think twice before buying a Garmin product. For all we know, it might have been those jerks from Chipotle (one of Garmin-Slipstream's main sponsors); if they can't make a decent burrito for under a thousand calories, how are they going to manage a cycling team?
Quotes from Lance and former USPS/Discovery and current Team Astana Director Johan Bruyneel:
Armstrong: "It's a shame for George. He deserved it… I'm really upset about the confusion, but more importantly, I'm upset for George."
Bruyneel: "Obviously it was clear [Garmin-Chipotle] didn't want to see him in the jersey. If you start to race like that, to go against the success of other people, ultimately it comes back, and I think that is what is going to happen… It's a battle of not wanting somebody else to be in the spotlight. I didn't like that. I didn't like what I saw. I know George has a lot of friends on Garmin. I don't know if they wanted to do what they did." [Velo News and ESPN]