Home / Sports / Pro cycling’s Cannondale-Drapac seeks fan support — and dollars — to keep team afloat

Pro cycling’s Cannondale-Drapac seeks fan support — and dollars — to keep team afloat

Cannondale Drapac, the bootstrapping Boulder-based UCI WorldTour cycling team that fielded the only Americans in this summer’s Tour de France, is asking fans to float the team’s future.

On Friday, a critical new sponsor for the team — owned by Slipstream Sports and anchored in an effort to elevate drug-free athletes — backed out of a sponsorship deal, leaving the 28-athlete team about $7 million shy of the $16 million it needs to compete on cycling’s international stage.

That made for a busy weekend for team manager Jonathan Vaughters. On Saturday, he told his athletes and employees they were free to sign with a new team for the 2018 season. By Sunday night, a reluctantly launched crowdfunding campaign had raised close to $1.5 million as thousands of fans of the scrappy Argyle Armada dug into their own pockets to keep the green-jerseyed cyclists — including Boulder’s Taylor Phinney, Golden phenom Alex Howes and Colombian superstar Rigoberto Uran — racing.

“That response has been humbling,” Vaughters said Monday. “I don’t feel super wonderful about using people’s hard-earned money to pay professional athletes. But my hope is that a global corporate partner sees this and says ‘Holy moly, this is impressive and we want our brand to be associated with a team that is this loved.”

Uran, who finished second in this year’s Tour de France and is racing right now in the Vuelta a Espana, told Vaughters he would wait two weeks before signing with another team. That gives Cannondale-Drapac less than 14 days to find a major sponsor willing to deliver around $7 million without a real clear return on that investment.

And that’s professional cycling right now. Without any way to really make money — and top athletes such as four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome earning several million a year — the sport relies on the benevolence of billionaires and corporations. Great Britain telecommunications giant Sky U.K. Limited has fielded a Tour de France winner in five of the last six years. Cannondale-Drapac — which raced as Garmin-Sharp from 2012-2014 — has four major sponsors and no support from a company in its home state of Colorado. Those sponsors, like bike-maker Cannondale, investment manager Drapac Capital, digital media company Oath and helmet-maker POC, remain as major backers.

When Team Sky earlier this month unveiled its new double-decker, expandable “race hub” trailer for athletes, Vaughters responded on Twitter with his hopes for a team car with “fairly good tread.”

“We are consistently taking on Sky with one-quarter of the resources. We are the best value in the sport of cycling by a long shot and it’s really frustrating that somebody doesn’t step in and it’s frustrating that right here in Colorado, Sky’s biggest competitor is Liberty Global and they don’t want to jump into athlete sponsorship,” said Vaughters, noting that his team’s financial need right now is roughly one year’s pay for a top rider on the Sky team. “We haven’t gotten any sponsorship support from Colorado and it’s really sad.”

Vaughters said his 60-employee team has been chasing leads with corporations even calling him to explore sponsorship after seeing the groundswell of support from fans. The crowdfunding approach is the latest example of cycling supporters exploring any and all options to keep their sport afloat in the U.S.

“The Tour de France had three American riders and they were all on our team,” Vaughters said. “If our team goes away, a big portion of the ability for American riders to develop into Tour de France riders goes away.”

Click over to slipstreamsports.typeform.com/to/TveqQM to see the crowdfunding campaign.

About Michel Cooper

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