By Laura Weislo
With the ASO's announcement Thursday that Team Slipstream has earned an invitation to the Tour de France, team manager Jonathan Vaughters can now carry out the squad's original plan for the 2008 season, which was always centred around racing the Tour. "We planned from the beginning to do the Tour, but you can't expect anything in cycling," Vaughters told Cyclingnews. "Sometimes you do poorly in the races where you planned to do well, and well in the races where you'd least expect. It's funny, we got an invitation to the Tour, but not to Gent-Wevelgem! So you just never know what's going to happen."
Still, the 34-year-old Vaughters, who was last in the event in 2002 as a rider, had planned the squad's racing schedule with the Tour in mind. "We've always had the idea that our main guys would do the Giro and then rest – not race at all or very little – and then do the Tour. Had we not gotten into the Tour, then we would've had to adjust that considerably," Vaughters explained. "It may seem kind of old school, but we're going to race the Giro – and we won't be fiddling around there, we're really going to race – and then we're going to take a break and do some altitude training in Switzerland and then do the Tour with little or no racing in between."
Getting an invitation to the Tour was the result of a strong campaign to build the team's image as one with strong ethics and a sound anti-doping policy, creating one of the world's top teams, and also selling the ASO on the team's philosophy. "Last year, David [Millar] and I went up to Paris when he was deciding whether or not to sign for the team, and sat down with [ASO president Patrice] Clerc and [general director] Gilbert Ysern. We told them our team's concept, and we got a fairly positive reception. It's been generally positive since then."
"But we also established that we are one of the best teams out there," Vaughters insisted that the team earned its spot in the world's biggest race with its results as well as its philosophy. "If you objectively ranked how we did in California, Qatar, Tirreno – although Paris-Nice wasn't so great – we're certainly one of the top 15 teams in the world."
Vaughters plans to wait until the Tour draws closer to announce the long list of riders for the Tour, but indicated that David Millar and David Zabriskie are obvious choices, as are Magnus Backstedt and Julian Dean. But one rider who he wants to see on the team is American Danny Pate. "I'm determined to put Pate on the whether he wants to go or not – if I have to drag him kicking and screaming."
There is little time for celebrations as the team prepares for this weekend's Milano-Sanremo. Vaughters has his hands full with organising logistics for the upcoming Classics, but is looking forward to trying out the view from the team car in the Tour. "It'll be something new for me – I hope I like it. I know it's going to be hard. It's going to be a challenge, getting the team there prepared and organised."
Vaughters expects that preparing the team for the Tour will be an enormous task. "Logistics are the bane of every cycling team – for any big race, but even more specifically for the Tour," Vaughters said. "You've got to deal with multiple riders, multiple vehicles, etc., plus we have a lot of sponsors and prospective sponsors wanting to come watch us race at the Tour de France. But we'll get it all taken care of."
Until then, he won't have time to break open the bubbly just yet. "It's time to get crackin' – I'm flying to Milan for Milano-Sanremo, and we're working on big logistics. Maybe we'll have time to celebrate next week, but it might just be me drinking a bottle of champagne by myself!"