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Beginning in 2017, Slipstream Sports, the management company of the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team, will partner with Drapac Capital Partners, sponsor of the Australian Pro Continental squad, to create a development squad that emphasizes competition as well as higher education.
The team will be a UCI Continental registered squad, based in Australia, competing in Europe for part of the season, Slipstream Sports announced Saturday in a press release.
Team management will require riders to enroll in university courses or apprenticeship programs during the off-season — a mandatory requirement — but will build a racing schedule conducive to education curriculum, the press release stated. The intention is to develop bike racers into well-rounded individuals.
“I’ve seen too many great people dedicate their lives to cycling and they’ve totally ignored everything else,” said Michael Drapac, founder and sponsor of the Drapac team. “And then something happens, a crash or they aren’t able to move up in the ranks, something. And they have enormous difficulty recovering as human beings. We seek to prevent that. We seek to prevent athletes being used as disposable assets.”
The first team that Slipstream CEO Jonathan Vaughters managed and financially backed after retiring from racing was 5280-Subaru, a Colorad-based junior development team, in 2003. American Peter Stetina, now with Trek-Segafredo, rode for that team as a 16-year-old; Cannondale’s Alex Howes was also an early recruit and has been a longtime rider for Vaughters’ Slipstream Sports program.
“Michael and I have been friends for over five years,” Vaughters said. “We share a lot of the same philosophies and visions, and we’ve worked together on other projects. I’ve been helping him scout potential investments for his real estate company in the Western U.S., for example. I look forward to working with him and creating a unique development team for riders who want to divide their time between studies and moving their way up to the WorldTour.”
Since its inception in 2004, the Drapac program has sought to encourage holistic approaches to athlete development, including an emphasis on transition plans for riders during their careers, rather than at its conclusion.
Drapac’s Australian-founded business expanded into the U.S. in 2010, with founder and CEO Michael Drapac has investing considerable time and energy in expanding the business’s U.S. interests.
In alignment with this push, Drapac Pro Cycling obtained a Pro Continental license in 2014 and has focused on getting starts in big American races, including the Amgen Tour of California, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, and USA Pro Challenge.
Dutch sprinter Wouter Wippert moved to Cannondale in 2016 after two years as Drapac’s most successful rider. Cannondale team manager Charly Wegelius and Drapac director sportif Tom Southam are old friends, having raced together, including for Great Britain at the World Championships. Southam also co-wrote Wegelius’ book, “Domestique.”
Drapac is currently aligned with Australian club-level team Pat’s Veg Racing, which includes Michael Drapac’s sons Damion and Patrick. The team is comprised of full-time students.
“Cycling has been, and continues to be, a sport that uses up and quickly discards riders without looking out for their futures beyond results and immediate salaries,” Drapac said. “We’re going to keep working to make it a more sustainable business and sport from both athletic and intellectual perspectives.”
Vaughters acknowledged that this approach may be exacting, both mentally and physically, but added that he doesn’t see it as a hindrance to performance.
“Do I think that you can successfully identify talent that can succeed in the WorldTour when riders are dividing their time between studies and racing and training? Yes, I do,” he said. “In fact, I’ve seen many examples where highly intelligent riders perform better when they have one physical and one intellectual focus. It balances them out. It can lead to better performance. A great example of an up-and-comer in the United States who I think is doing this pretty well is Sepp Kuss — he won the mountaintop finish at Redlands, and he’s a university student.”
Kuss, 22, is enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder currently, studying advertising. He told CyclingTips that he may or may not turn professional, depending on his career opportunities after graduation.
“This team will race in Europe, basically tailored around when these kids are on break,” Vaughters said. “When they’re not on break, they’ll be doing local races around where they’re going to university and training.”
Other examples the team pointed to are Cannondale Pro Cycling’s Mike Woods, a neo-pro at 29 years old after finishing a degree at the University of Michigan and switching to cycling due to a foot injury that derailed his elite-level running career, and American Larry Warbasse, who graduated from the University of Michigan and rides for IAM Cycling.
More information about the partnership will be released in late June, just prior to the start of the Tour de France, Slipstream Sports said in its press release.
CyclingTips editors Matt de Neef and Neal Rogers contributed to this report.