By Gregor Brown in Milan
Slipstream/Chipotle Team Manager Jonathan Vaughters has been making the rounds this winter in Europe to represent his emerging USA-based team. The former-professional cyclist was in Paris for the unveiling of the 2008 Tour de France in October and returned to Europe – after the presentation of his team – for the launch of next year's Giro d'Italia. His Professional Continental Team has no guarantees of being invited to either Grand Tour, but given its signings over the last months there is a good chance the team could ride one, if not both, races.
"I think there is a good chance of us being invited to the Giro, but you would have to ask [Race Director Angelo] Zomegnan," said the 34 year-old to Cyclingnews Saturday night in Milano, after the unveiling of the Corsa Rosa.
His team will be among other second-tier teams, like Tinkoff, Selle Italia, Barloworld and LPR, as it bids for a wildcard invitation to the three-week race. "I think on an overall level we are stronger than most of the second division teams out there, but I am not so familiar with all the French and Italian teams."
Vaughters secured the signatures of David Millar, Magnus Backstedt, David Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde in the past months. Millar and Zabriskie have both worn the maillot jaune of the Tour de France thanks to stage wins on the opening day, Backstedt is a stage winner and Vande Velde is a proven Tour domestique. Vaughters confirmed that the riders under contract bode well for an invitation to the French race. "I think our chances are still better for the Tour de France given the riders we have; they have bigger results in France than in Italy," he continued, while eyeing the Giro parcours on the stage of Teatro degli Arcimboldi.
The number of time trials in the Giro will suit Slipstream if it is to race. "The race has a team time trial this year; it has a lot of time trialling kilometres. Zomegnan knows we have Zabriskie who has won time trials in the past, and he knows our team could do well in the team time trial." Zabriskie shocked many when he won the Firenze time trial stage in 2005 and rode in superb support for team leader, Ivan Basso.
"I think we could win that [opening] day really, and probably take the jersey as a result. That would be more than most teams could do in the race. We would bring a team to win the time trial, and maybe a stage or two."
Overall Vaughters believes that, like the Tour, the Giro scaled back the difficulty of the 2008 parcours. "The course has a lot of medium mountain stages, and attacking stages," he continued. "There are definitely some hard mountain stages, but they are not pilling them on. There are less transfers and a lot of time trialling, those are the two points of note."