CUMBRE DEL SOL, Spain (VN) — Slipstream Sports has taken many names and colors over the years, but it’s always reflected its quirky Colorado roots and deep passion for racing.
Team founder Jonathan Vaughters came into the peloton with a groundbreaking idea: to race clean in a time of a peloton trying to turn the page on its darkest days.
Teams were often cobbled together on a shoestring, at least compared to the peloton’s super-teams. But Vaughters’ “merry pranksters” pulled off some impressive results, including monuments, grand tour stage victories, and the 2012 Giro d’Italia with Ryder Hesjedal.
Just weeks ago, the team was flying high, coming off its best-ever Tour de France, capped by a stage win and second place with Rigoberto Urán. New sponsors appeared to be lined up, and the team even announced a three-year contract extension with Urán.
Just as fast, the team is on the brink of collapse. A late-hour departure of a promised sponsor has left the team with a $7 million hole in its budget. Vaughters confirmed the news Saturday. The team has about two weeks to try to keep things together and may seek crowdfunding to save the team.
Vaughters has walked the tightrope before. Can he pull it one more time?
Here’s a look at the highs and lows of America’s “clean team”:
2003 — With his pro racing career winding down, Vaughters launches a junior team backed by a Denver, Colorado magazine 5280 and Subaru. In 2005, Vaughters meets investor Doug Ellis, and the pair form the Slipstream Sports management company. Their vision: to create an elite-level professional team, and race without resorting to the use of illicit banned substances.
2007 — Still hunting for a title sponsor, Ellis and Vaughters launch Team Slipstream featuring 23 riders. Among the initial lineup included current pros Alex Howes, Daniel Martin, and Peter Stetina. The team began its first races in Europe, and picks up the moniker, the “Clean Team” due to its anti-doping posture.
2008 — Garmin joins as title sponsor, and Vaughters expands dramatically, signing such riders as Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, David Millar, Julian Dean, Tyler Farrar and Ryder Hesjedal. Though a few of those riders were linked to doping cases, Vaughters wanted to give riders a second chance if they avowed to a strict, anti-doping code. The team won eight races, including the Tour of Missouri with Vande Velde and the Giro d’Italia team time trial and pink jersey. Vande Velde took pink, but was left behind and was forced to take a taxi back to the team hotel while wearing the maglia rosa. Vande Velde would also finish fourth overall in the team’s first Tour de France.
2009-10 — Future Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins joins the team before breaking his contract to join Team Sky the following season. The following year in 2010, Farrar wins the team’s first grand tour stages, winning two sprints at the Giro and two sprints at the Vuelta a España.
2011 — Slipstream merges with Cervélo in what was an unhappy fusion for some riders and staff. Despite some behind-the-scenes tension, the team enjoys perhaps its best season ever. Johan Vansummeren won Paris-Roubaix, Millar won a Giro stage, Dan Martin won a Vuelta stage, and Farrar won one stage and Thor Hushovd won two stages at the Tour.
2012 — Several of the former Cervélo riders leave the team, but Garmin delivers its biggest coup yet. Hesjedal becomes the first Canadian to win a grand tour when he fends off Joaquim Rodríguez by 16 seconds to claim the Giro. News breaks that several former U.S. Postal Service riders have agreed to cooperate with USADA, including Vande Velde, Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and Vaughters. Their testimony helps USADA build its case against Lance Armstrong and others. All three riders received a reduced six-month ban from USADA.
2015 — The team completes its second merger with Cannondale (formerly Liquigas), with several riders from the Italian outfit joining the revamped squad. In August, Danielson tests positive for testosterone, and is later given a reduced, four-year ban. The case puts pressure on Vaughters, who once claimed he would shut down his team if one of his riders tested positive in a doping control.
2016 — The team’s third merger happens as Australian-backed Drapac joins mid-season, helping to shore up the team’s finances. Despite more than a few close calls, the team does not win a WorldTour-level race all season.
2017 — American Taylor Phinney and former rider Sep Vanmarcke bolster the team’s classics program, and Sebastian Langeveld rides to third at Paris-Roubaix. Pierre Rolland wins a stage at the Giro, and Rigoberto Urán wins a stage and finishes second at the Tour de France, just 54 seconds behind Chris Froome, the smallest margin in Froome’s four yellow jerseys. Weeks later, the team announces Urán has signed a three-year contract extension. A week after Urán’s new contract is announced, Vaughters confirms the team is facing a $7 million budget shortfall, and the team could collapse.