Despite a strong Tour de France performance last month, the U.S.-licensed Cannondale-Drapac cycling team will fold at the end of this season unless it can secure a new title sponsor or significant additional financial backing in the next two weeks.
Riders and staff were informed of the team's precarious position in an email Saturday from Jonathan Vaughters and Doug Ellis, who are CEO and chairman of the board, respectively, of Slipstream Sports LLC, which owns and manages Cannondale-Drapac.
In an unusual step, Vaughters made a plea through his Twitter account for anyone to contact him that "has a lead on some financial support for our team."
Vaughters told ESPN on Saturday that he is still hopeful that a sponsor or a consortium of backers will emerge in time to save the organization but felt obliged to release riders and staff from their 2018 contracts if they wish to pursue other options.
None of the team's current partners or sponsors has withdrawn its 2018 commitments, including Oath, a digital content partner that announced a 2018 contract with the team during last month's Tour de France.
Cannondale-Drapac's Colombian superstar Rigoberto Uran finished second at the 2017 Tour -- the organization's best-ever finish -- and two American riders, Taylor Phinney and Nate Brown, wore the King of the Mountains jersey early in the race. Uran just came to terms with the team on a three-year contract extension 10 days ago.
However, results don't necessarily guarantee financial stability in cycling's chaotic marketplace, where there is no salary cap. Cannondale-Drapac operates with roughly half the budget of powerhouses such as Team Sky or BMC.
Vaughters said Slipstream has secured only $9 million of the approximately $16 million its ownership estimates is necessary to field a competitive team and meet the financial guarantees required by the UCI, cycling's international governing body.
He said he would have preferred to keep the team's situation under wraps. But as news leaked into the public realm, Vaughters elected to make the announcement into an "unabashed appeal," calling a potential title sponsorship "an incredible bargain." He said he has already heard from one prospective patron and did not rule out the possibility that the team could make up the gap through multiple sources.
"This is far from the first time this sort of event has happened to this team, but this time it went an inch further, and I needed to tell everybody to take care of themselves," said Vaughters, who founded Slipstream as a junior developmental team in 2003 at the conclusion of his own pro career.
He declined to name the entity that opted out of sponsoring the team, saying only that he and Ellis were "disappointed and surprised." The email to riders and staff described the reversal as "shocking" and "a last-minute board of directors decision."
"We are surprised and saddened to write you this note," the email from Vaughters and Ellis began. "Our team's chances of securing a UCI license for 2018 are now very uncertain.
"This situation may resolve in our favor in the next days and we may find new financial backing. However, since we cannot guarantee you that, as of today, we need to be forthright and let all of you look for your best options. Slipstream Sports will continue to fight to continue in 2018, but it's time to let all of you know our future is not guaranteed."
"We are still working to keep this team alive because we believe in its ethos and because we believe in all of you," the email continued. "We have several opportunities that may come through. In the past, other teams have found support quite late in the season. However, we're simply not comfortable exposing all of you to the uncertainties of Slipstream's future any longer.
"We are unspeakably sorry to deliver this message. We hope we can ride together in 2018 and beyond. Thank you for your dedication to the team and your sacrifices over the years to keep us on the road."
Vaughters molded Slipstream into a team that entered cycling's top tier in 2008, bolstered by a significant financial investment by Ellis and the signings of several prominent veterans including Americans Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie and Great Britain's David Millar. Garmin was the team's title sponsor from 2009 to 2014, a stretch that saw Johan Vansummeren of Belgium win the 2011 Paris-Roubaix classic and Ryder Hesjedal become Canada's first Giro d'Italia champion. Cannondale took over the lead sponsorship in 2015.
Slipstream took a forceful public stance against doping from its inception. Vaughters, Vande Velde and Zabriskie later provided key testimony, including details of their own past performance-enhancing drug use, in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's case against Lance Armstrong.