By Andrew Hood
Jonathan Vaughters says the future of Slipstream-Chipotle is secure for the 2008-09 seasons. While Vaughters and Slipstream Sports chairman Doug Ellis currently shop for a title sponsor, the team has guaranteed funding to continue with their ambitious goal of pushing the U.S. squad into the Tour de France and the ProTour league within two years. “We have cash in hand to continue through 2008-09 no matter what,” Vaughters said. “Whether we find a big sponsor or not, we’re around next year and the next.” Unlike most cycling teams, which require a major title sponsor to pony up a large portion of the operating budget that can push north of $10 million per year, Vaughters has been able to round up funding from secondary sponsors and private backers to underwrite the team’s $8.5 million budget for the 2008 season. That means Slipstream-Chipotle will be able to race for two years with or without a high-profile title sponsor brandished across the team’s jerseys.
“This isn’t to say we don’t want a title sponsor, we do,” said Vaughters. “The longevity of this team will depend on a title sponsor stepping up. However, we can manage to do this for the next few years without if we have to.” Since starting the team in 2004, Vaughters has steadily built the Slipstream-Chipotle team into a legitimate contender competing both in the United States and Europe. This year, his band of hard-working U.S. pros has already earned important invitations to such events as the Volta a Catalunya, a ProTour race in Spain, and Criterium International, a two-day French race run by Tour de France organizers ASO. Vaughters – a four-time Tour de France participant who retired in 2002 – said the team will be signing some big-name riders for the coming season with an eye on earning a wild-card berth in the 2008 Tour. For 2008, 15 of the current Slipstream-Chipotle roster will remain and 11 new riders will come on board. “These are riders with unique personalities and riders I believe capable of winning clean at the highest level,” Vaughters said. “Nonetheless, they will be subject to the extreme scrutiny of our anti-doping program. All have agreed that anti-doping and blood test results will be available to the public in 2008.” It’s Vaughters’ insistence on clean racing that’s catching the eye of potential sponsors and Tour organizers.
“We didn’t know that all these scandals would erupt this year, I just insisted on starting this program last fall with the hope that we’d generate so much goodwill that we would get other teams to join us,” Vaughters said. This year, some $300,000 of the team’s operating budget has been spent on the groundbreaking anti-doping program in association with the Agency for Cycling Ethics in California.
All 23 Slipstream-Chipotle riders are subject to unannounced blood and urine tests that complement sanctioned UCI and WADA anti-doping controls. The program tracks markers in an athlete’s blood and urine that could reveal manipulation from difficult to detect substances or methods such as blood doping.
So far in 2007, some 583 urine and blood tests have been conducted without any significant abnormalities.
“It seems crazy to some to spend so much on testing such a young team so much, but we wanted to set a precedent in this team and let it be known that this will be our ethos and identity, no matter what the race results. This team started clean as a U-23 and junior squad and it’s going to stay that way as a professional team,” Vaughters continued. “If we can’t be competitive that way, I will do something else with my life. That simple.” Vaughters said he believes the sport is now cleaner than most people realize.
“From what I saw at Volta a Catalunya, the racing is quickly cleaning up,” he said. “We had the youngest rider (Tom Peterson) in the race fighting for a top-20 in the six-hour mountain stage. That wouldn’t have been the case if there were much doping taking place in the peloton.”
Will the sponsor hunt be as successful? Vaughters is optimistic.
“I don’t know, but when I go to pitch our brand, I know that what I’m selling is real. There is nothing false about what we do. I’m going to guess there will be a sponsor out there that would like to be a part of truly changing things,” Vaughters said. “No matter what happens with sponsors, you’re going to see a little argyle on the Champs-Élysées next year.”