News feature, November 19, 2007
Jonathan Vaughters is looking to the 2008 Tour de France with a dramatically transformed team. Cyclingnews' James Huang grabs a front row seat at the historic Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colorado for the official team presentation.
Jonathan Vaughters presented his 2008 Team Slipstream/Chipotle professional cycling team in the historic Boulder Theater in downtown Boulder, CO, amidst a frenetically positive atmosphere that belied the ominous cloud currently hovering over the sport. In addition to a mass infusion of star-studded talent both fresh and well-seasoned, the Director Sportif has also gained a new title sponsor for the team for 2008, the sports management firm H3O. The reinvigorated squad will now be officially known as Team Slipstream/Chipotle presented by H3O.
With the Discovery Channel team folding supposedly due in part to sponsorship difficulties, the addition of a major backer to Team Slipstream/Chipotle should not be taken lightly. That fact certainly wasn't lost on Vaughters, who was clearly appreciative of the unwavering support of the team's numerous supporters. "Cycling is always, and especially recently, a challenging environment to find sponsorship," he said. "All of this is only possible because of people who share the dream of having their name on a bicycle jersey. There's no way that this team has so many sponsors, so many supporters, so many people that just want to give us twenty bucks to put our sticker outside their mailbox… what makes us different is that we aren't just completely dependent on one big company. We're really a family of sponsors. You guys make this happen in a way that doesn't happen on any other team because each and every one is important to this team going forward."
While many current sponsors maintain a tenuous association with the sport, Slipstream's newest sponsor is refreshingly excited about what lies ahead. "As a new company, focused on the long-term representation of athletes, and the investment in sports properties in general, it's only fitting for us to choose to sponsor this fresh new face in American cycling," said H3O managing partner Scott Hirshom. "Like many sponsors in the sport, we've witnessed cycling go through a very tough period. Now, more than ever, we believe that cycling represents tremendous value to corporate sponsors. Especially with teams like Slipstream and others leading the way, the potential from our side has never been better. The qualities that attracted us to cycling from the beginning, the discipline, teamwork, preparation, and ability to work hard to achieve great results, are the same qualities that mark a successful company and the same qualities that drive the members of this team today… [I] feel very optimistic that this team will continue to show the strong character and represent the highest values to their sponsors, to their teams, and to the sport of cycling."
Full steam ahead
Vaughters continues to stress that one of the team's primary goals is to secure an invitation to the 2008 Tour de France, with the longer term goal of becoming a full-fledged ProTour team in 2009. Yet in spite of those determined aspirations, the decidedly progressive philosophy of the team pointedly does not emphasize race victories as the be-all-end-all path to glory. According to Vaughters, such an attitude only fosters an 'ends justifies the means' ethos that can only serve to bolster the old-school culture of doping that the team has strived to eliminate. In addition to what is possibly the most proactively aggressive internal controls program in the sport, it is this mindset that Vaughters hopes will further discourage team riders from resorting to unsportsmanlike conduct to achieve performance.
"If we really want to keep doping off of this team, off of the stage, out of cycling, we have to win within the context of humanity. It's simply saying that some days are great, some days are not. The wins will come to this team, but when no one expects it. And when everyone thinks we'll be there, we may fail. To agree to not dope, to agree to never let that enter the context the team is to agree to fail sometimes. To agree to let your fans down sometimes is to agree to the fallibility of the human body… but to abide by humanity is also to go beyond anyone's dreams on the occasion, to celebrate the joy, the rarity, and the preciousness of winning when it does occur, and to celebrate with honesty. You have a choice in cycling: you can choose to turn a blind eye and cheer for glory at all costs… or you can choose to choose to cheer humanity and celebrate the rarity of victory and perfection."
Coincidentally, those ideals have been in place since the team was founded just a few years ago, and while unconventional, have been undeniably effective. According to primary team owner Doug Ellis, "I had this idea, a dream really, to create a new kind of cycling team: one that was mostly American, both with the athletes and also the culture of the team, but a team that could really hold its own in the European peloton. We're at the point now where we feel like we've broken down some of the stereotypes and we're really proud of the team that we've fielded."
One for all, and all for one
That team now includes one of the most deeply talented rosters in the sport, with roughly half of last year's team continuing on for 2008 and experienced new additions that include David Millar, David Zabriskie, Magnus Backstedt, Tom Danielson, and Christian Vande Velde. During both the team presentation and in post-presentation interviews, riders both new and old were clearly happy to be on board with Slipstream, and were notably in favor of the team philosophy.
"The way this team has integrated after only a couple of days, even just a couple of hours, has been phenomenal to see. It's been beyond what I was hoping for," said Backstedt. "The way that we've been able to pick up and integrate, everyone's having a good time and really feel like we're a really tightly knitted group of riders. I didn't expect this when I came here. I expected it to be a little more work. Especially some of the younger American riders maybe get a bit starstruck when they see guys like Zabriskie and those guys turning up, but it's just been a really cool and relaxed atmosphere. I think it's a very good formula for a strong racing team. The presentation was the coolest presentation I've ever done, and actually, normally it's something that you have to do, but this time I really enjoyed it. It was so cool. We got to be ourselves and express our personalities a bit. It just shows how the last couple of days have gone and how this team is. It's absolutely awesome."
Vaughters hopes that the experiences of these riders will serve the team well as it makes its way through next year's season and beyond, and the first fruits of those labors may come this spring as Backstedt makes no illusions as to his own goal for the upcoming season: "It's always the Paris-Roubaix. Paris-Roubaix is, to me, the greatest one-day bike race in the world. I'm going to do my absolute utmost to teach these guys everything that I know about that race so that we come away with a new cobblestone."
Millar is similarly ambitious: "The most important victory for me would be Paris-Nice [next year], because that would guarantee us a Tour de France ride and we could go there and we could introduce the world to Slipstream properly."
After Wednesday night's presentation, the team can now consider itself formally introduced and can set about to the task at hand. As Vaughters suggested, the victories on the road will come, but the most important win will have more to do with the public's continued faith in the sport. That victory will be the most difficult for Slipstream to achieve, but the reward will be sweet indeed.
The 2008 Team Slipstream/Chipotle presented by H3O team will include: Magnus Backstedt, Blake Caldwell, Steven Cozza, Tom Danielson, Julian Dean, Jason Donald, Timmy Duggan, Huub Duyn, Lucas Euser, Tyler Farrar, Michael Friedman, Will Frischkorn, Ryder Hesjedal, Christophe Laurent, Trent Lowe, Pat McCarty, Maartijn Maaskant, Dan Martin, David Millar, Danny Pate, Kilian Patour, Thomas Peterson, Chris Sutton, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie