EF Education First has been confirmed as the new title sponsor of the Cannondale-Drapac team for the 2018 season and beyond.
Team manager Jonathan Vaughters announced the name of the sponsor on Saturday afternoon, confirming the new sponsorship saves the team from closure. The company stepped in after a potential sponsor backed out, leaving the team $7million short and its future in doubt.
EF Education First is a Swedish firm with offices and schools in more than 50 countries. It offers language training, educational travel, academic degree programs, and cultural exchange.
The team will be known as EF Education First - Drapac powered by Cannondale.
As part of its campaign to raise money or find a sponsor, Slipstream announced a crowdfunding project. The Fairly Group, a consulting group belonging to the family of former pro cyclist Caleb Fairly, said that it would match donations up to a total of two million dollars. As of midday Saturday, the fund had raised $539,040.
The action seems to have been responsible for convincing the new sponsor to come on board. On Friday afternoon the team tweeted, "Our new naming partner was energized by the #SaveArgyle movement. We ride on because of YOU. We are grateful, humbled and so, so excited."
"When EF learned about the #SaveArgyle campaign from a colleague, they decided to dig a little deeper," Vaughters explained.
"They weren't very familiar with the world of professional cycling, but all the details they unearthed impressed them. They discovered clear overlap between our story and mission and their own, and things have unfolded from there."
"I'm incredibly happy and also exhausted," said Vaughters.
"These last two weeks, I've put in more hours working than I ever have and fewer hours sleeping – that's telephone calls, meetings, flying here and there. I've been holed up in a hotel all week in New York. I'm exhausted but I'm also so happy and so proud."
"I'm proud of how the organization held it together through all this – the riders, staff, sponsors, fans," Vaughters added. "Every single minute I've worked on this was so worthwhile."
Riders under contract
Vaughters announced Oath, a digital media company, as a new sponsor during the Tour de France, and in the weeks that followed, the team announced multiple new contracts extending through 2018 and beyond. However two weeks ago, the team announced that the expected new name sponsor had backed out of the deal. The team told Cyclingnews that it needed $7 million.
The riders and staff were informed that they were free to look for new teams for 2018. "All Slipstream Sports staff have been released from any and all contractual obligations for 2018. All 2018 contracts will be honored if our future is secured. On Friday the team was informed that a new sponsor had been found and that "if you have a contract with Slipstreamsports for 2018, we are enforcing your contract."
This presented possible legal problems for the team, as several riders with contracts for the coming year. It had previously been announced that Dylan Van Baarle had re-signed for two more years. However, his agent told Cyclingnews that the agreement was only verbal and that not contract had actually been signed. The agent said that he would contact the team again, however, it is expected that Van Baarle will leave.
Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Uran was amongst those who signed a new contract with Cannondale-Drapac in August. After the news broke, he said that he would look for a new team, but would wait for (coincidentally) two weeks, in order to give Slipstream time to find a new sponsor. Despite rumours that he had reached a tentative agreement with another team, his manager has confirmed to Cyclingnews that he will remain with Slipstream for the duration of his new three-year contract. He is expected to remain team leader for the Tour de France after his second place this year.
Sep Vanmarcke, the team's leader in the Spring Classics, had said that he could not afford to wait until a new sponsor was found. However, his agent too has confirmed to Cyclingnews that he will remain with the team.
Several talented riders had already annuonced they would leave the team before the sponsorship problems, these include Alberto Bettiol (to BMC), Kristijan Koren (Bahrain-Merida), Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe), Davide Villella (Astana), Tom-Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data), while Andrew Talansky announced his retirement last week.
"We didn't lose any more riders than most teams lose in a normal transfer season. While I'm not in a position to comment on the full make-up of our squad for 2018, I'm excited to share plenty of contract news in the coming weeks," Vaughters said.
"Uran's deal three-year deal stands – as does his goal to win the Tour while in argyle."
The US-registered team has gone through a variety of name sponsors since Slipstream (the management company) took it over in 2007. A major change came in 2011, when the Cervelo Test Team folded and merged with Vaughters’ team, bringing in seven new riders. For the 2015 season, it merged with the Cannondale team, with numerous Slipstream riders being released or not renewed, against their expectations.
In 2018 the team begins a new chapter, with the official name of EF Education First - Drapac powered by Cannondale.