By Andrew Hood
Doug Ellis was on the way to the Verona train station when he hitched a ride with a pair of journalists. We couldn’t help but pull out the tape recorder when we drove the chairman of Slipstream Sports on his way to catch a train after the start of Saturday’s 14th stage. Here are excerpts of the in-transit interview:
VeloNews: How important was it to win the opening team time trial?
Doug Ellis: Jonathan (Vaughters) said from the beginning that the team time trial would be a discipline that we could be competitive in with a combination of U.S. and British riders. If you look at the way we rode in Georgia and here, in each case we finished with the minimum amount of riders. In some cases, that’s interpreted as a weakness, but it was really a team-pursuit style in that it was really calculated on how long would be able to burn each rider before they faded off and then leave the knife at the end. Both times it worked just as planned. It was exciting to see. You weigh the risks carefully, because you don’t want to have the bad luck to have one of the final riders get a puncture in the last kilometer.
VN: The pink jersey must have been a great reward for the team in its first year at the highest level.
DE: It was huge for the team. It was also important to us and to our sponsors that any of the five who could go across the line would be a U.S. rider. Even though it’s an international program, we’re an American team, plus with the 20th anniversary of (Andy) Hampsten, it was important to have a U.S. rider first across the line and Christian was perfect. That was real exciting and I have the jersey here in my backpack. All the guys have signed it, but I still have to track down Zabriskie.
VN: How is Zabriskie doing?
DE: The worry is about his being able to ride the Tour. We haven’t received the verdict yet from the doctor. We’re still hopeful. David is the kind of rider, even if he hasn’t a huge training run into the Tour, even if he’s had to do a little bit of prep, he can still do a fine Tour. He can train through it and become more competitive. And it could be ideal for the Olympics, which is on his radar.
VN: How important was it for the team to be competitive at this Giro as part of the team’s message of clean racing?
DE: It’s been such a great year to get these invitations. For some people who weren’t familiar with our program, they were uncertain if we deserved to be in these races or that we’d be somehow off the back. It’s important for us to come with a team and be competitive. We might have won (stage 5) if David (Millar) hadn’t broken his chain. The win was in his legs. Our competitiveness is there. That’s very satisfying to dispel the notion that somehow we don’t deserve to be here. That ‘clean team’ message, that’s still part of our message, but I want to back away from that a little bit. That’s a valuable message for our sponsors and to the race organizers, but no one wants to watch a bunch of clean guys finish last. So we’re focusing on being competitive and doing as well as we can.
VN: Have the recent successes helped in the search for a sponsor?
DE: The environment is still very challenging. After California and then what happened in the Giro, the tone of the conversation has really improved. We’re reaching a point in the season whether it’s going to happen or not for next year. We’re feeling more optimistic than ever that we can bring in some real sponsorship dollars. We’re not sure if we can reach a point that we can meet our full budget for next year in a pure sponsorship model, but I think we’re going to close the gap substantially.