So will Team Slipstream go to the Tour de France? They’ve been invited to the Giro d’Italia, Taylor Phinney just won Gold in the pursuit at a World Cup race, and Julian Dean has repeated as the National Champion in the road race.
With all due respect though, so what? Not that they aren’t good enough to go—that’s not it. No, the fact is, while those things are nice, they aren’t exactly bona fides. No, if you want to go to the Tour de France, you need wins in the spring, preferably in ASO-owned events. It’s a simple and fair formula: If you want to kiss the girl, buy her flowers.
It doesn’t hurt that Magnus Backstedt has won Paris-Roubaix, or that David Millar and David Zabriskie both won time trials at the Tour and wore the maillot jaune. Each of those is great but, well, what have they done lately? And by that, the question is, what, exactly, did they accomplish last season? It’s quite a demand.
Don’t worry: the question is irrelevant. Unless the team utterly tanks this spring and gets dropped en masse from each and ever race they enter, Slipstream will be at the Tour come July. Here’s why:
Even if by a miracle of psychosis most folks believed that the athletes caught up in the recent drug scandals were all completely innocent of all the accusations, a belief comparable to thinking that evolution was just a cute idea, the fact is any reasonable person must conclude that the mere specter of doping has clouded our opinion of sport. Name a sport—other than curling—that hasn’t had some whiff of the illicit. If you have come up with one, you are a better person than I.
Put simply, the Tour de France has been injured by athletes accused of doping to win the largest annual sporting event in the world. Let’s try not to be surprised.
Supposing you were the director of the Tour. What would you do?
The way I do the math tells me that I would seek out any and every team that has garnered publicity for running a clean program. If media attention can be considered a reliable yard stick, CSC, High Road and Slipstream are running the most noisily clean programs in the sport. It is notable that WADA’s Anne Gripper, in speaking with the members of Slipstream at the team’s intro in Boulder recently, actually wished the team good luck. Given the extraordinarily adversarial relationship of WADA to most athletes—and vice versa—Gripper’s attitude toward Slipstream is refreshing, and largely attributable to the program’s transparency; Vaughters is the world’s first NASCAR crew chief inviting officials to look under the hood of his car … every other week.
Slipstream needs an invitation to the Tour de France because Vaughters made a wildcard invitation one of the team’s biggest goals of the season. He could just as easily have said he wanted to win the Eneco Tour. His choice. However, the Tour de France can’t survive another five years like the last two. Even three more years of embarrassing revelations about the yellow jersey—whether true or not—will see even the event’s most die-hard sponsors flee. The Tour de France needs Team Slipsteam to help restore its prestige, even as Vaughters’ young unit looks to confirm its legitimacy.