Fierce competition expected for 2011 Amgen Tour of California places

20 ProTeam squads battling for 8 places

With the 2011 Amgen Tour of California announcing their stage host cities this morning, attention has already turned to the battle for team places in next year’s race. With sixteen spots available and half of that allocation dedicated to Pro Contintental and domestic teams, up to 20 ProTour squads will vie for the eight remaining places.

“We’re starting to think hard now about the teams we want in the race,” Andrew Messick told Cyclingnews.

One factor that could affect Messick’s invitation list is the transfer market. With a number of riders still on the market, teams still without sponsors and defending champion Michael Rogers only confirming to the press that he will leave HTC-Columbia at the end of year, Messick is currently surveying the market.

“We’re watching very carefully with what happens with respective rider transfers and where athletes are going and what teams are going to be ProTour and Continental levels. We’re thinking hard about who we want to give the opportunity to in our race,” he said.

With Garmin-Cervelo and Radioshack already confirmed as ProTour and BMC and HTC-Highroad bidding to join them, Messick will presumably fill four of the eight slots with American teams, meaning that the likes of Ag2r, Katusha, Lampre ISD, Omega Pharma-Lotto, Quickstep, Rabobank, Saxo Bank, the Schleck Project, Pegasus and Sky could face a race just to make the start in South Lake Tahoe on May 15.

“It’s going to be hard this year, harder than last year,” Messick said.

“There are a lot of teams that have had success in the race before and obviously we want to do everything we can to bring teams and riders that have been with us before,” Messick added.

But what does Messick have to offer that teams will find hard to resist? According to the American, the world’s top athletes can be enticed by the notion that California provides the best preparation for those riding the Tour de France.

“We did have a lot of success last year in that regard. Nine stages in the Tour de France were won by guys that did our race and we had three guys in the top ten. We certainly demonstrated that you can be successful here in May and then repeat that in July.”

“We think we’re a great alternative to the Giro for people that want to have a great July.”

The elephant in the room

Messick’s selection may not come down to just sporting results and marketing value. The race aims to project a strong anti-doping stance, with rules within its organisation that allows it to bar riders under investigation for doping offenses.

“There are two sides to it. We believe in having a clean race and we do an awful amount of work from an anti-doping perspective. Our anti-doping programme implemented with the UCI and USADA is among the most forward thinking and aggressive in the world. We expect to continue that. Our unilateral drug testing programme demonstrates our commitment to having a clean race and we embrace and welcome teams and riders that share that philosophy.”

However with Tour winner Alberto Contador under investigation and Lance Armstrong currently facing a federal investigation that could potentially go further, selection for the race could become even more problematic.

“For example, someone like David Millar who was caught, served his infraction and we feel that he is to get on with his sporting life. So I think we have to be balanced and mindful to not be judge and jury on people that have made mistakes or who are looking to get on with their cycling careers.

“We’ve had a rule for three years now that as an invitational race, if there’s an open investigation and we’re notified by WADA, the UCI, USADA or USA Cycling that rider is subject to an active doping investigation then he is not eligible to compete. That’s something we’ve had in place for multiple years and we’re not contemplating changing.”

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