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Slipstream’s Tour hopes not helped by Paris-Nice

After a solid debut to the 2008 season, Slipstream-Chipotle can’t catch a break in Paris-Nice. Bad news keeps piling up just as the team was looking to impress ASO bosses this week and earn a ticket to the Tour de France. While optimistic it will earn an invite to July’s big dance, team insiders are hoping that Tour brass will consider the team’s strong anti-doping message and consistent early season results rather than how it’s stumbling through the season’s first major stage race.

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By Andrew Hood

Slipstream's Tyler Farrar can't get a break at Paris-Nice.

Slipstream’s Tyler Farrar can’t get a break at Paris-Nice.

Photo: Graham Watson

After a solid debut to the 2008 season, Slipstream-Chipotle can’t catch a break in Paris-Nice.

Bad news keeps piling up just as the team was looking to impress ASO bosses this week and earn a ticket to the Tour de France.

While optimistic it will earn an invite to July’s big dance, team insiders are hoping that Tour brass will consider the team’s strong anti-doping message and consistent early season results rather than how it’s stumbling through the season’s first major stage race.

“We’ve had a great start of the season and I don’t think one race is going to affect whether we make it into the Tour or not,” Slipstream-Chipotle manager Jonathan Vaughters told VeloNews. “We had three great days and three crap days. ASO has been around bike racing long enough to realize that these kinds of things can happen.”

Instead of making a strong run for the podium and winning stages as the team quietly hoped for when Paris-Nice started Sunday, the team has been cursed with a rash of crashes and illnesses.

Troubles started when Tyler Farrar fell hard on a wet corner in the opening prologue when it looked like he had a winning ride in his legs.

That seemed to set the tone as cold, wind and rain swept through central France early in the week to leave the team tattered and torn.

Team captain David Millar survived two spills in rain and cold in the first two stages only to be zapped by the flu. Millar, who targeted Paris-Nice as one of his top goals of the year and was making noises about finishing on the podium, did not start Friday.

Climbing sensation Trent Lowe appeared to be on track for a breakthrough performance but crashed into a traffic pole Wednesday, torpedoing the team’s GC hopes.

Through five stages, Lowe is the team’s best-placed rider in GC at 19th at 9:27 back.

The team’s rough-and-tumble ride through Paris-Nice prompted Vaughters to post an honest account of the struggles entitled, “Embrace failure and celebrate the rarity of victory” on the team’s Web page.

Vaughters cautioned that the team cannot be expected to perform like super heroes day-in, day-out when it’s pursuing a strict line against doping. The stark reality is that clean racing isn’t always pretty racing.

“I wrote that because these expectations get built up, but people have to realize that if we’re going to do this the right way, we’re going to have some good days and we’re going to have some bad days,” Vaughters said. “We’re just going to have to wade through it. That’s bike racing. We’re human. We can’t be supermen every day. We will be back to fight another day.”

The team’s Tour hopes aren’t hinged just on Paris-Nice, of course, and some consider the team a sure bet come July.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme told VeloNews in an interview earlier this year that the team’s strong anti-doping message coupled with its solid lineup gives the squad just the kind of profile the Tour is looking for as it sorts through invitations for the 2008 edition.

“We look on with interest at their project,” Prudhomme said. “Their philosophy of how they run their team is in line with ours, on the same path that is the future of cycling. They have quality riders. We look positively on what they are building.”

Prudhomme said Tour invitations would not be decided for at least another two weeks, giving the team another opportunity to shine in the ASO-sponsored race at Criterium International later this month.

Earlier this week, Vaughters was sounding cautiously optimistic about the team’s chances of securing a Tour bid.

“We know that we have some of the most talented guys in the peloton. I know we’re surprising some people, but looking at it objectively from a talent and training perspective, I think we’re right on track,” he said. “I don’t want to jinx anything about being too optimistic. I would rather us get an invitation by merit more than anything else.”

Farrar, who hit the deck again Thursday and then dropped out of the race Saturday, said the team hasn’t given up on trying to take something positive out the 66th Paris-Nice.

Although no Slipstream-Chipotle riders were present in Friday’s winning breakaway, two stages remain before the peloton hits Nice.

“We’ve had a lot of bad luck this week. When it gets rough like this, with guys crashing and getting sick, it would be real easy to get frustrated, but everyone is keeping their heads up and keeping a positive attitude,” Farrar said after Friday’s stage.

“We hope that we’ve put up enough good performances in the early part of the season to show that we deserve a spot in the Tour. We’ve been pretty much on it since the beginning of the season and we’ve gotten something out of every race we’ve been to.”