Slipstream Sports' UCI Continental development team, Chipotle, which served as a feeder program for the Garmin-Sharp ProTour team, has released all its riders from their 2013 contracts after failing to secure a title sponsor for next season, according to several people formerly connected with the program.
Chipotle Mexican Grills previously confirmed that it would not be back as a title sponsor for the team, which rode last year as Chipotle-First Solar, saying it was dialing back its sponsorships for all sports. But the development program's fate had remained up in the air.
Representatives from Slipstream could not be reached for comment, but the sources Cyclingnews spoke with indicated they had been told back in August that although Slipstream would try and find a replacement sponsor, riders who had signed on with the Continental team for 2013 were released from their commitments and advised to look elsewhere for next season.
"I have a contract with Chipotle for next season, and I know that won't be fulfilled," said a 2012 team rider who asked not to be identified for this article. "First Solar and Chipotle are no longer going to sponsor the team, and from what I know that is truly the end of it."
The rider said Slipstream sent an email to team members on the same day it found out Chipotle would not renew its sponsorship, and he provided Cyclingnews with the text of that message.
"Unfortunately, Slipstream found out this morning that Chipotle is not going to re-up for 2013," the team stated in the email. "This is something that was not forecast and has taken us by surprise. We are pursuing new sponsors and are 100 percent committed to securing one. However, at this point in time, there is no guarantee that we will be a Continental team in 2013. In your best interest, you are released to find another team for 2013. I know you want it bad enough to do everything to become a Grand Tour rider. May I suggest working with a qualified UCI agent to help you find a team. If Slipstream does secure a new sponsor, and you have a 2013 contract, it will be honored."
The rider Cyclingnews spoke with said he has received no new sponsorship news since the original email, and he added that Slipstream has been active in helping him find a new team.
"I'm not bitter or upset or anything with it," he said. "I'm being taken care of really well."
Chipotle sponsored the UCI Continental program for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The Chipotle-First Solar development team boasted 15 riders this year, basing itself in France and racing a mostly European calendar. Robert Bush won the team's second consecutive US under-23 road race national championship in June.
Slipstream's development program is the offspring of the original 5280 and TIAA-CREF squads that grew into the current Garmin-Sharp Pro Tour team incarnation. Slipstream continued its development program under the Holowesko Partners title sponsorship through the 2010 season before Chipotle took over. The team had become a staple of the North American Continental peloton until heading to Europe in 2012, and it has been a dominant force in the US U23 ranks since its inception.
"When I started this team as TIAA-CREF in 2005," Slipstream manager Jonathan Vaughters told Cyclingnews in 2010, "my dream was to foster an environment where young riders could flourish and to show the world that ethical sporting was not only possible but a reality."
The most recent development team riders who have gone on to the ProTour team include Peter Stetina, Alex Howes, Jacob Rathe and brothers Michel and Raymond Kreder. Steele Von Hoff and Lachlan Morton will move up from this year's development team to Garmin-Sharp next year. Danny Summerhill, who came up through the Slipstream development program, recently announced he will ride next year with UnitedHealthcare.
Chipotle's involvement with Slipstream dates back to 2006, when the restaurant chain signed on as presenting sponsor of the ambitious TIAA-CREF p/b Chipotle UCI Continental team. That squad morphed into the Slipstream-Chipotle Pro Continental team in 2007. Garmin took over as title sponsor about halfway thorough the 2008 season, and the team moved up to the ProTour level in 2009. Transitions Optical moved into the ProTour team's presenting-sponsor role in 2010, while Chipotle stayed on as a minor sponsor until stepping into the U23 team's title spot in 2011.
Chipotle Mexican Grills' stock has been falling steadily this year after a three-year run that saw its value increase nearly tenfold, according to a recent report by the Associated Press. Chipotle shares have lost more than 20 percent of their value since the beginning of the year because investors are worried that years of accelerated growth are over. Although Chipotle continues to report increased revenue and and net income, the growth was slower than last year and the company’s results missed Wall Street expectations, according to the Associated Press report.