Drapac signs five-year deal as co-title sponsor of Cannondale Pro Cycling Team

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What was suspected for months, and hinted at with a statement in April, was made official just 48 hours before the start of the 2016 Tour de France — Australian-based Drapac Capital Partners is now a co-title sponsor of the U.S.-based Cannondale Pro Cycling Team managed by Slipstream Sports.

Effective June 30, the team will be known as the Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team, with Drapac’s signature red hue adorning the team’s signature green jerseys at the Tour. The sponsorship will last through the 2020 season.

To say that the Pro Continental team that owner Michael Drapac founded in 2004 is folding into the Cannondale-Drapac squad would be simplifying a more complicated arrangement, however.

While there will be no Pro Continental squad in 2017, some riders and staff will join the Cannondale WorldTour squad — among them Australian Brendan Canty, seventh at the Tour of Oman earlier this year, whom team manager Jonathan Vaughters described as “WorldTour capable.”

Other riders and staff will be moved into the Australian Continental team Drapac-Pat’s Veg, which in 2017 becomes a joint venture between Drapac and Slipstream Sports that will require its riders to either attend university courses or pursue professional-level certifications or apprenticeships. The team will be structured to provide favorable racing schedules that allow racers to attend classes or pursue professions.

“A rider like Brendan, who has a super high potential, he’ll be on the WorldTour team next year,” Vaughters said. “There will also be a number of riders [from the Drapac Pro Continental team] who won’t be WorldTour capable.”

Brendan Canty on the 2016 Tour of Oman podium after winning the best young rider classification.
Brendan Canty on the 2016 Tour of Oman podium after winning the best young rider classification.

Vaughters said that no riders from the existing Pro Continental team would be coming across to the WorldTour team based upon existing contracts, a situation he faced when Slipstream Sports assumed Cannondale sponsorship, and contracts, from the former Italian WorldTour team managed by Brixia Sport.

He added that the Australian Continental team riders would likely race on the Asian circuit — tours of Japan, Qinghai Lake, and Langkawi — as well as the Australian NRS calendar. “But then they’re going to have to travel to Europe,” Vaughters said. “They may do a big long road trip. I’m not saying six months in Europe, it could be six weeks in Europe, maybe during summer vacation, or taking a semester off. It could be more of a balancing act. Team management will have to be careful in scheduling races off-continent at appropriate times.”

While Drapac-Pat’s Veg is racing in Europe, the team will have access to the WorldTour team’s service course and facilities, Vaughters said. The Continental team will also race on Cannondale bikes, with the majority of sponsors trickling down from the WorldTour team to the Continental team.

Because Cannondale-Drapac and Drapac-Pat’s Veg will share the same management group, Vaughters said fans won’t see the two teams at any of the same races, such as the Herald Sun Tour, or tours of California or Utah. (UCI rule 2.2.001 states that “Riders belonging to teams with the same paying agent or main partner may not compete in the same race except in the case of an individual event.”)

And while Drapac and Cannondale are now major shareholders of Slipstream Sports, Vaughters said that Doug Ellis, the program’s owner since 2008, is still the team’s primary shareholder.

Together with Crossing the Line Sport, an organization designed to assist athlete transitions out of professional competition, the WorldTour team will offer workshops, individual counseling services, mentoring, and robust educational support to its riders. It is the first program of its kind at WorldTour level. Crossing the Line Founder Geroid Towney and Gayelene Clews, a psychologist who works with the firm, are former Olympic athletes. Drapac will oversee the wellness program internally as its executive vice president.

Drapac’s business efforts have garnered various sustainability awards — his company was the first property group to be a member of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. “I’ve always been interested in sustainability, particularly cultural sustainability,” Drapac said in a team statement.

“Sustainability is being aware, responsible, and accountable for the full costs of what we do, and trying to minimize the impact of those costs. So a sustainable initiative, in business, cycling, anything, really, is about making an intention to be aware, accountable, and responsible.

“And making an intention to minimize the impact of what we do. We want to win bike races, but not at the expense of broader values. Sustainability in this sense is about ‘what are the broader values in the cycling team?’ We need to look at that. We want to win the Tour de France. We want to win Paris-Roubaix. But we also have other metrics by which we measure our success.”

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Asked how the rule to take courses or pursue certifications would be enforced, Vaughters told CyclingTips it wouldn’t be a matter of enforcement. “We’re not going to hire guys where you say, ‘Here’s the thing, you have to go to university. It’s basically about hiring kids who want to do that anyway. The requirement is not to be in university, it could be a vocational school to be plumber, or a PhD student, it’s just that they have decided to give it a shot to be a pro, that they are not willing to give up education.

“Look at Sepp Kuss, he said in an interview on CyclingTips that he wants to do that, that he wants to finish school and have something to fall back on. We’re not having to force them, we’re just supporting them in that.”

Vaughters added that while Drapac’s philosophy of preparing riders for life after cycling was attractive, as is the stability of a five-year sponsor, what is most exciting is to work with someone he genuinely “likes as a person.”

“I’ve been lucky to do that with Doug Ellis for years, and now I have that with Michael Drapac,” Vaughters said. “Last February or March, when I first reached out to him about maybe partnering up, he told me to come down to visit his company, which is based out of Atlanta. I think he thought I was coming to say ‘I just graduated with an MBA and I want in to your real-estate business.’ And while what they do is really fascinating — they look at real-estate markets, evaluate them, decide when they will buy, when they will sell, it’s a capital-investments fund, really — that’s not why I wanted to visit with him.

“Michael thought I wanted to work with him, and he was open to that, and he almost tried to convince me to do that, when I actually wanted to convince him to invest into a WorldTour team. But here was someone who had enough faith in me that he would have invested in me outside of cycling. I’m proud to be able to represent a guy who had my back.”

Asked if the new sponsorship puts Slipstream Sports on the most stable ground it’s been on since the team jumped into the sport’s highest level in 2008, Vaughters said yes, but added that the team still does not have the budget of other WorldTour teams like Astana, Sky, or Katusha.

“It certainly puts us in a better position for long-term stability, without a doubt,” Vaughters said. “And it’s very nice to have that. However, we’re always looking for sponsorship. The reason for that is simply that we want to be — it’s my dream, it’s Doug Ellis’ dream, it’s Michael Drapac’s dream — to someday sign a Sky, $40 million a year sponsor, so that we could go out and really be competitive on the transfer market, and try to win the Tour de France.

“In one aspect, yes we are in a stable position. In another, we’re always searching for the deal that puts us back at the top of the WorldTour rankings. As much as I love this team, and I love playing the underdog, it sometimes wears on you when you are dealing with 30 to 40% of the budget of your major competitors. All these guys deserve better support from the team. It would be nice to go out and knock heads with other teams on an even playing field, rather than always playing the David vs. Goliath role.”

As for the team’s new Christmas-color motif, Vaughters could only laugh. “Cannondale is green. Drapac is red,” he said. “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

The Cannondale-Drapac team for the Tour de France is Matti Breschel, Lawson Craddock, Alex Howes, Kristijan Koren, Sebastian Langeveld, Ramunas Navardauskas, Pierre Rolland, Tom-Jelte Slagter, and Dylan Van Baarle.

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