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Slipstream ready for Tour challenge

Slipstream ready for Tour challenge
By Reuters

21/03/2008 at 15:44Updated

Newcomers Slipstream have said they will challenge at the Tour de France after being invited to cycling's greatest stage race.

Slipstream, a ProContinental team, will hit the French roads with two other second-division teams that have already competed in the Tour and 17 ProTour teams.

However, team owner Doug Ellis was undaunted by the task awaiting his riders.

"There are a lot of experienced riders in the team, with two having worn the yellow jersey, David Millar and David Zabriskie," Ellis said.

"I think [Tour organisers] ASO saw there was experience in our team. They are also interested in getting access to the US cycling audience, and we have so many US riders in the team."

Led by Zabriskie, the only American rider to have won at least one stage in each of the three big 'tours' - including the Vuelta a Espana and Giro d'Italia - the team has 14 Americans on its 25-strong roster.

This gives ASO an opportunity to lure back the American audience three years after seven-times winner Lance Armstrong retired.

Ellis promised that his team, under the guidance of former professional rider and founder Jonathan Vaughters, would stand out during the Tour.

"We're not only going for publicity. We are going for the yellow jersey, to take it and try to hold on to it," Ellis said.

"It's a new year in cycling. We want to bring innovating tactics into the race. We have competitive riders so there are chances for us to wear the yellow jersey and take stage wins.

"The only regret we have is that there will be no prologue and no team time trial."

Zabriskie won the prologue of the 2005 Tour with the CSC team and Millar took the race's short-distance opening time trial five years earlier for Cofidis.

Ellis believes, however, that his team were not picked by ASO only on business grounds.

"It's not only a business perspective," he said. "Our strong anti-doping stance played a role. We're sending a strong message to young athletes."

Slipstream was founded in 2004 by Vaughters as a development team for young American riders with $50,000 of his own money.

The first team sponsor was TIAA-CREF, a financial services company, but in 2006 Ellis teamed up with Vaughters to give a new financial dimension to the outfit, which is now backed by 30 sponsors.

Slipstream riders are tested every two weeks by an independent body, the Agency for Cycling Ethics.

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