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What can we learn from Cannondale-Drapac's financial woes?

Joe Robinson
29 Aug 2017

As Cannondale-Drapac's future becomes unknown, we look at the importance of money in cycling

Step back and take in how much of a crazy summer for sport this has been. The weekend just gone saw thousands, if not millions around the world watched MMA specialist Connor McGregor fight his first ever boxing match against arguably the greatest boxer of all time, Floyd Mayweather. 

McGregor will take home a reported $100 million from this fight with Mayweather expected to take home double that.

Move across to the football world and we saw the record transfer fee smashed with Paris Saint-Germain buying Brazilian Neymar from Spanish rivals Barcelona. That transfer topped out at around £200 million. 

You may read this and ask why should I care? That has been the avenue of many sports for many years. Money talks. 

On Saturday evening, Slipstream Sports - the company behind WorldTour stalwarts Cannondale-Drapac - released an official statement announcing its inability to secure its financial security for next season and therefore its WorldTour license.

The statement went on to read that all riders and staff will be released from any existing contracts in 2018 with these agreements to be honoured if the team can secure sponsorship for next year.

Team director Jonathan Vaughters took to twitter last night asking for anybody who could possible help to email him. The magic number Slipstream need to hit to secure their future is $7 million. 

Ride argyle

The Ride Argyle motto of Slipstream Sports has been a constant fixture of WorldTour cycling for the past decade taking the guise of many names such as Slipstream, Garmin-Sharp and Cannondale Pro cycling in its tenure. 

Never have the American based team been able to boast an abundance of riches. It has always been doing the best with what it got.

This was a team created by Vaughters to have a distinctive spine centring around anti-doping and developing a cleaner sport. In a sport with such a speckled past, this was always going to be difficult but Vaughters and his men in argyle have been a bright light.

In their reign in the highest echelons, Slipstream Sports have also provided the top results the sport can offer. Despite this small budget, riders such as Dan Martin, Ryder Hesjedal and Bradley Wiggins have all been part of the roster. 

A quick look at the team's palmares and Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro d'Italia all stand tall. 

However, the uncertainty of their future has been an ever-present for the past few seasons. With team bike providers Cannondale being a constant for the past few seasons, it has been a constant struggle to secure a secondary sponsor to front the needed money. 

Vaughters has been vocal about the difficulties of managing the team on the limited budget. The American's social media read as a constant reminder of the team's financial woes. 

When Rigoberto Uran took second at this year's Tour de France, rumours immediately linked the Colombian with a move to Astana and UAE Team Emirates. His sudden rise in stock, for many, meant that he would soon be out of budget for Slipstream Sports. 

Despite this, a three-year contract extension followed. Uran announced that he would give the team two weeks to find a sponsor. 

This is an admirable announcement from Uran. A move to another team would be easy, but there is a clear want for the team to continue. It will not be long until fellow marquee names like Pierre Rolland, Taylor Phinney and Michael Woods start to survey the market.

If Vaughters cannot stump up this extra $7million, Slipstream Sports will cease to exist in the pro peloton next year and that should act as cause for concern.

Money talks

Teams coming and going in cycling are part and parcel of our sport. The memories of Tinkoff and IAM Cycling, WorldTour teams from last season who are no more, are almost forgotten. 

Yet these departures felt different to the potential dissolution of Cannondale. Tinkoff disappeared due to the waning interest of team owner Oleg Tinkoff and IAM's WorldTour residency could be described as a flash in the pan. 

Cannondale's potential departure comes at a changing time in our sport, a time in which money is becoming king. 

Team Sky have an annual budget of £25 million with reports suggesting that UAE Team Emirates will be functioning off of a similar figure as of next season. Additionally, new boys Bahrain-Merida will also have the luxury of a big kitty next year. 

To put this into perspective, Vaughters told Velonews, 'We need $16M to have a good team. We are $7M short.' That will be half of the supposed budget of UAE Team Emirates.

The financial woes of Cannondale come at a time when Team Sky gave another display of their financial might. Unveiled at this year's Vuelta a Espana was Team Sky's 'race hub'. 

A double-storey lorry, in essence, created to provide a hub for team staff as well, and mostly notably, an area for post-race hospitality, media and fan interaction. Designed to make life easier for staff and riders, it is clear this hub did not come cheap. 

It is here where the gap in cycling's financial hierarchy is clear to see. This race hub is probably not necessary. 

Whilst designing a space for team staff to come together and have as a base makes sense, the need for a hub for media, hospitality and fans is unnecessary. After all, part of the fun as a fan is getting a bidon from a grumpy mechanic in a cheap hotel carpark. 

For many, Team Sky's decision to unveil this new 'race hub' looks like a show of financial strength. A sign to the rest of the WorldTour that they have the money to continue their domination for year's to come, so either catch up or fall behind. 

The British WorldTour team are right to push for the modernisation and development of cycling. Many of its practices remain behind the time, and Sky have been instrumental in bringing it into the 21st century.

Yet, the money spent by Team Sky on this hub, which at a guess would be in the millions, could have been put to a different use. Say, a true youth development squad or even a women's WorldTour side. 

It's here that we see the issue of professional cycling. Whilst some teams can afford inessential luxuries others are struggling to offer their staff a stable future. 

You may say that this is part of professional sport, and I would have to agree in some regard. A caveat of enjoying professional sport is that these teams and individuals make money for their sponsors. 

However, whilst some teams fall by the wayside with insufficient funds as others make the sport richer and more expensive, it because a jarring watch. 

Where do we go from here?

When something like this happens, it is difficult to write impartial journalism. 

The big name riders in the team will not struggle to find contracts for next season. Rigoberto Uran, Pierre Rolland, Michael Woods and the like will be riding in the WorldTour next year whether in argyle or not. 

However, it is the small army of backroom staff that make a team tick that give me cause for concern. From the team chef to the mechanics and even the bus drivers. Simply joining another team will not be that easy. 

I hope that Jonathan Vaughters finds the financial backing needed to keep Cannondale-Drapac in the WorldTour. As I write, Vaughters and the team have turned to many avenues, including crowdfunding, to hit the $7million goal. 

Whether Cannondale-Drapac cease to exist next year or not, the issue of sustainability needs to be addressed in professional cycling. 

Sponsorship is hard to find, just ask Patrick Lefevere and his incredibly successful Quick-Step Floors team who were at risk of folding this season. 

If we are not careful, the financial woes being experienced by Cannondale-Drapac will be felt by other WorldTour teams leaving the wealthy few to monopolise the market. 

Securing the future of professional teams, their riders and their staff needs to be addressed to prevent this happening again. If it is not discussed, then we risk going down the same avenue as many other financially-driven sports. 

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