By Greg Johnson in Sydney, Australia
Despite enjoying one of his most successful seasons to date in 2008, Australia's Hilton Clarke has been left without a squad for the 2009 cycling season. The rider is one of many professionals finding it difficult to secure a contract for next season, as the sport feels the impact of the ongoing global recession.
"I feel a little bit at of a loss of direction," said Clarke, who is currently in his homeland. "I've been racing in and out of America for the last seven years; I felt I was on one of the best teams in America with Toyota United. I came to the team with them looking for a criterium specialist."
Clarke's criterium skills proved valuable in 2008. His extensive list of victories in the criterium-dominated United States racing scene included success at Capital Hill Criterium, USA Crits Finals, Redlands Criterium, Wells Fargo Twilight Criterium and Beaufort Memorial Cycling classic to name but a few. The rider also took victory at the Tour of Elk Grove's stage two and Mt. Hood Cycling Classic's stage one.
Despite the former USPro Criterium Champion's successful season, Clarke has been left without a ride for 2009 following the disbandment of the Toyota-United outfit. It is just one of several teams from North America that have felt the financial pinch, with Canadian squad Symmetrics also shutting its doors while Jittery Joe's has been forced to reduce its programme.
But yet another factor weighed in his team search according to Clarke. "The big thing that riders are facing at the moment is the division in age between continental teams due to the UCI requirements," he said.
The 29 year-old believes rules requiring the majority of Continental teams' riders to be under 28 years of age is hurting the better established riders in the United States from securing an increasingly smaller number of spots. Continental squads are allowed no more than 16 riders on their roster under Union Cyclist Internationale (UCI) regulations.
"I used to think when I was younger, and I certainly think it now, it's probably discriminatory to older guys," he said. "I can understand it for Europe but with America there's so many good riders who don't have a spot because of it."
While time to find a squad for the new year is ticking down, Clarke is still hopeful of continuing his career in America. The Australian says he's grown to love the fast-paced criterium environment that makes up much of the US racing scene.
"I feel like I've built my career there," he said. "I don't want to feel like I'm one dimensional but I've been really successful in the criteriums and it's something I really enjoy doing."
Teams interested in Clarke can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.