The news for Cannondale-Drapac may not be all good these days, but the riders at the Tour of Alberta didn't appear to be slowed down by the uncertainty over their future, taking three victories in four days and placing Alex Howes and Tom-Jelte Slagter in third an fourth overall.
The team came into Alberta with high expectations as the only WorldTour squad in the 2.1 Canadian race, only to fall short on the opening day when Rally Cycling's Evan Huffman – the eventual general classification winner – and Sepp Kuss finished first and second on the mountain-top finish at Marmot Basin. Slagter was third after attacking with 2km to go and sweeping up all the day-long breakaway riders except the Rally duo.
"We're the only WorldTour team here, and after the spanking we got the first day from the Rally boys, I guess we kind of had to show up the last three days," said Howes, who won stage 3 and finished third overall.
After the disappointment on stage 1, Cannondale bounced back with a vengeance, with Wouter Wippert winning the stage 2 sprint in Spruce Grove, and then Howes and Wippert finishing first and second the following day in Edmonton. Wippert capped off the final day with another sprint victory to close out the long weekend.
"I wish we could have made a better race on GC, but we really have to take our hats off to Sepp and Evan and the whole Rally team," Howes said. "They rode great, but I think we can be pretty happy with three stage wins. Wouter was next level."
Wippert took the win on stage 2 with perfect positioning in the finale, where the course bent slightly to the left at the finish and provided him with an inside line that proved to be the difference. Wippert beat John Murphy (Holowesko-Citadel) and H&R Block's Ryan MacAnally to the line for his first win since he took out two stages at the 2015 Tour of Korea.
"We had a little bit more pressure than all the other teams here," Wippert said. "You come in and they just expect you to win. It's always way harder than when you show up and you try to win.
"I think we rode really impressive as a team, and we always did what we had to do," Wippert said. "To have it work out three days in a row, that only happens if everyone on the team is committed. That's not easy to get. I think we can all be very happy with it. That it happened here in Alberta is perfect timing for us."
That perfect timing comes as the team announced it is struggling to find sponsorship for next season. Slipstream Sports, which owns the team, announced it has released all the riders from their 2018 contracts so that they can look for new teams while General Manager Jonathan Vaughters tries to secure the funding. Winning races and gaining the publicity that comes with the victories certainly can't hurt.
"It only helps," Howes said. "There's definitely been quite a bit of stress around the whole thing internally, but we try and leave that in the bus in the parking lot when we get on our bikes.
"We knew going into this that the best thing to do for the team was to get results, and the best way to get results is to ride well as a team," Howes said. "If anything, I think it really brought us together. We executed lead outs for Wouter better than we have all year, and yesterday we could have won and been 12th, but Wouter was heads up enough to get one-two. I guess we're good under pressure."
Wippert, Howes and many of the Cannondale riders in Alberta will now turn their focus to the WorldTour races in Quebec and Montreal next weekend, hoping to add some more results to their already-excellent Canadian adventure.
"It was a lot of travel to get here and it will be along travel back," Wippert said, "but it is definitely worth it."
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