Cannondale-Drapac riders awed by fan support

TOMARES, Spain (VN) — Cannondale-Drapac riders say they are awed and inspired by the outpouring of fan support as the team’s future hangs in the balance.

A crowd-funding effort opened Wednesday has already seen nearly 3,000 fans put their money where their passions are. Racers are impressed.

“That is an indication of how meaningful that the team is to fans,” said Michael Woods. “Fans are so loyal to this team. It’s amazing that people are giving money.”

Through Friday afternoon, less than 48 hours after the effort started, some 2,800 backers have agreed to donate more than $350,000. There is a $2 million matching grant, so ownership is hoping to raise up to $4 million via the crowdfunding effort.

“It’s become a bit of a game for us,” said Cannondale-Drapac’s Toms Skujins. “Before massage, I checked how much people had funded, and after massage, and it was $20,000 during massage. We are so thankful.”

Management is scrambling to fill a $7 million hole in the team budget after a sponsor deal fell through last week. There’s hope the unconventional crowdfunding push could help keep the team afloat.

“People feel so strongly about this team. It’s money out of their own pocket,” said Joe Dombrowski. “There are a few different ways to look at it. One way, maybe it seems a bit desperate. But it’s not so different than when I go to buy a ticket to watch a football game. If revenue could be generated in different ways, that would be a good thing. The sponsorship model is a bit tenuous.”

Cannondale-Drapac management is working behind the scenes to pull the team back from the financial abyss. Last week, team management notified riders that they free are to seek other contracts.

Since then, team manager Jonathan Vaughters has been working frantically to patch something together in time to keep the team financially viable for the approaching 2018 season. Overnight, a letter was sent out to team staffers and riders that good news could be coming.

In the meantime, riders are nervously watching from the sidelines.

Nearly all Cannondale-Drapac riders say their hope is that the organization remains solvent, and that they can race next year with the U.S.-registered team. Rigoberto Urán, who recently signed a three-year contract extension with the team, told CyclingNews he would wait for Vaughters.

Riders are already quietly testing the waters to see if they can arrange back-up deals if the late-hour push falls short. Woods confirmed to VeloNews on Thursday his agent is contacting teams.

“I am looking for teams now. Obviously, I would like to stay here,” said Dombrowski, who has a contract for next season. “If things come together in a timely fashion, I would like to stay here. But I also cannot afford to wait.

“Many of the teams are full now. You have to be proactive,” he continued. “Hopefully, we have some good news from the team in the next week or so. That would aid in keeping a lot of riders here. Everyone is in the same boat. We cannot afford to wait weeks, and get a ‘no’ here, and then later you get a ‘no’ everywhere else.”

For riders in the Vuelta a España, the team is trying to stay focused on racing while at the same time secure their professional futures. On Friday, Cannondale-Drapac helped set up a bunch finish, with Tom Van Asbroeck sprinting to fifth.

“It’s not the easiest news to take when you’re maybe out of a job next year,” Skujins said. “We are still here to race our bikes and still here to put on a show. Sure, it’s on the back of our minds. For a lot of us, it’s the first grand tour, and that’s what most important right now.”

Skujins, 26, is among four grand tour rookies making their respective grand tour debuts at the Vuelta. Skujins also said there is some gallows humor spreading around the team bus.

“We are talking about which farm we are going to work on, or which school we are going back to,” he laughed, before turning serious. “I still want to race my bike. Even if it comes down that I do not have a WorldTour contract next year, there are some interesting Pro-Conti projects out there. I know a lot of teams are full, so the choice might be limited, but it’s not like I ever had a lot of choice anyway.”

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