Cannondale-Drapac attempt to fight back in Vuelta after sponsorship blow

Cannondale-Drapac have put on a brave face to what riders and staff called a huge blow after it was officially announced on Saturday that the team's future is on hold.

Ahead of stage 9 of the Vuelta a Espana, the riders and team staff did their business as usual, holding the standard team meeting but there was no avoiding the issue of what will happen to the team in 2018 and beyond.

It was widely pointed out that this is not just a question for the team's riders, but also for the management, which Cyclingnews was told has around 100 full-time employees, from riders to staff.

Michael Woods revealed to a small group of reporters at the team bus that he knew that the team's future was in jeopardy on Friday and that it had affected his performance, but that he was determined to battle on and try and secure a good result.

"It's a total bummer but it's not over yet. Jonathan Vaughters and the Slipstream Sports management are still working on getting sponsors," Woods, the team's best placed GC rider, said.

"So it's not a done deal at all. I found out the news on Friday and it resulted in a bit of a sleepless night and even me making some pretty bad tactical decisions yesterday. I got excited and wanted a result so bad for the team that I got anxious on the climb and attacked a bit too early with [Alberto] Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and then blew up.

"So obviously I'll have to be cooler today. [But even] with the team morale down, we're still rallying around each other though, still want to represent our sponsors well, and we're still excited to race."

Woods agreed that even though the main focus in such situations by the media tends to be on the riders, there are plenty of staff who will be very concerned about their futures as well.

"Totally. And that's one of the reasons why I wasn't sleeping so good two nights ago. You think of all the great staff we have, great people who work with Slipstream Sports. That's 100 people who are on the staff. So everyone's worried and at least as riders we've got agents, but some of those staff don't.

"But as I said, it's not over yet, we still have months until the team's a done deal, so there's still many opportunities for the team to live on."

One of the problems when looking for sponsors at this point in the season is that the riders who are the biggest draws on the team like Rigoberto Uran and Pierre Rolland are precisely those whom other teams are most interested in signing and who are likeliest to be picked up the quickest should it be folding. As Woods said, the quicker a solution is found the better.

As for Woods himself, he said "that's a good question. I wanted to stay in this team, I love racing with this team, the guys in the team and the sponsors are great, I have great conversations with JV and this is where I started WorldTour, well before other teams were thinking about me. And they give me so many opportunities to lead, here for example, not many other squads would give a guy with such limited experience that at World Tour level."

"So for me it's a huge blow, because I love this team. But I'm talking to other squads as well. There are a couple of teams who are interested that I really like and respect and would love to have the opportunity to ride for them. My big goal is to stay in the WorldTour and hopefully with this team, but if not then with another."

He agreed too that it was a big blow to US cycling in general, where "it's a burgeoning sport in America and I think it's a market that's really important to the UCI and cycling in general."

"It's a big blow for North American cycling, and I liked racing for this team, because it's as close as to being a home team as I can get. It's special for [US] fans as well, with a lot more access with us, too because it's an American team."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.