BRIANÇON, France (VN)—For much of 2017, Cannondale-Drapac team owner Jonathan Vaughters has undertaken a very public hunt for cash.
In May, Vaughters penned a column for Businessinsider.com about why pro cycling presents, “the best sponsorship deal in sports … That brands are missing out on.” He then made a public appeal for sponsorship dollars in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, telling columnist Jason Gay that he was open to bringing on an equity partner — not just a cash sponsor — if the arrangement was right.
The hunt continued through this Tour de France. On the Tour’s second rest day, Vaughters told reporters that he was “super-optimistic” that he would land a new sponsor sometime during the race.
Could a podium finish at this year’s Tour de France for Rigoberto Urán close the deal? Vaughters hopes so. Cannondale-Drapac operates on about $15 million each year, compared Team Sky with approximately $40 million.
“Yeah, I hope somebody picks up the newspaper and realizes here is this team with $40 million and here is this team with a quarter of that, and they’re almost doing just as well as the team with $40 million,” Vaugthers said. “Maybe they’ll go: ‘I’ll give them some coins out of my back pocket.'”
Cannondale and Urán took one step closer to a podium finish in Paris during Thursday’s stage 18, which finished with the ascent of the hulking Col du Izoard climb. French team Ag2r La Mondiale set a crushing tempo up the lower slopes of the climb to set up French star Romain Bardet. Urán battled to stay with Bardet and Sky’s Chris Froome and Mikel Landa as the four traded attacks to the line.
After Landa launched a major attack, which was reeled in by Bardet, Froome was next to go. Urán put in his biggest surge of the day to bring back the two-time defending champion.
Urán lacked the acceleration to stay with Bardet and Froome in the waning meters, ceding two seconds to the duo, which dropped him to third place. (He had been tied for second after stage 17.) He now sits 29 seconds behind Froome and just six seconds behind Bardet.
A talented time trialist, Urán could leapfrog Bardet during Saturday’s stage 20 individual time trial in Marseille.
“The important thing was to stay at the front and not lose time,” Urán said. “We suffered on the Izoard, it was really tough, but it was good for me.”
The ascent of the Izoard marked the second consecutive stage in which Urán did not attack. Rather, he used his efforts to mark Bardet, Froome, and Landa. During Wednesday’s stage 17, Urán followed moves by Bardet and Landa and then earned 17 bonus seconds in the sprint for second place. Bardet was critical of Urán’s tactics, telling reporters that “[Urán] is just happy to follow and take bonus seconds on the line.”
Charly Wegelius, Cannondale’s sports director, said Urán was going for the win on Thursday, rather than defending his spot on the podium.
“When you have a mountaintop finish three days from the finish line, you’re going to go for it,” Wegelius said.
A podium finish would stand alongside the best results for Vaughters’s Slipstream organization, which previously had Garmin as its title sponsor. Since Slipstream entered the WorldTour in 2009 the team has won Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, as well as the Giro d’Italia. Its best GC finish at the Tour came that year, when Bradley Wiggins finished fourth. He was later bumped to third when Lance Armstrong was disqualified three years later.
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Since then the team has struggled at the Tour, failing to place anyone inside the top-five in general classification. In 2015 and 2016, the team left the Tour nearly empty-handed. It won zero stages and had no riders inside the top 10.
Twice a podium finisher at the Giro, Urán joined the squad in 2016. He had a number of close calls, finishing third at Il Lombardia and then seventh at the Tour. In early 2016, the team said that Urán would take a step back from grand tours in 2017. He would instead focus on the Ardennes classics.
Vaughters said that plan changed once Tour de France organizer ASO revealed the 2017 route. The route featured few days in the mountains, and a limited number of time trial kilometers.
At the finish line of Thursday’s stage, Vaughters said he did not regret the decision.
“[A podium] would be a beautiful thing, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “We’re a racing team so we gotta race for the win. If it doesn’t work out we gotta be happy.”