Two days before a Nevada City Classic that his team is officially unable to take part in, John Lelangue has told Cyclingnews that he is hopeful a compromise can be worked out between his BMC Racing squad and the UCI for the rest of the season.
A previously dormant rule preventing Pro Continental teams from riding national level races was suddenly enforced towards the end of April, due to the planned participation of the Astana team in the Tour of the Gila. The UCI eventually allowed three riders - Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner and Lance Armstrong - to participate, while BMC fielded Florian Stalder, Scott Nydam and Chad Beyer. However all were all required to wear "neutral" jerseys and compete under a different team title.
Last month, the same UCI code 2.1.009 Fuji Servetto and BMC from riding the Air Force Cycling Classic's Clarendon Cup. "I have to be honest, the UCI is now enforcing a rule that they hadn't done before," said the event's technical director Robert Laybourn.
On Sunday, Leipheimer, Horner and Armstrong will race in Nevada under the same stipulations as before. BMC can also field up to three riders, but would again have to drop all reference to the team.
"We are trying to find a solution with the UCI," Lelangue told Cyclingnews on Friday afternoon. "We have a different situation to Astana as we are a US-based pro continental team with nine US riders.
"In the upcoming months we have planned races that are part of the [US] calendar, such as the Cascade Classic, Elk Grove, Pittsburg and the Tour of Utah. These are necessary for a Pro Continental team such as us. If you look at the North American calendar, we are doing all the North American UCI races, but this calendar is really weak at the moment.
"The only UCI races [in the US] are the Tour of California, the US Air Force Cycling Classic, Philly, Missouri and the US national championships [and also the Univest GP - ed.]. That is too weak to have a full calendar for the US-based riders."
BMC fields riders in European races, with some of the squad taking part in the recent Dauphiné Libéré. However, Lelangue points out that UCI rules prevent a non-European Pro Continental team from riding 1.2 and 2.2 there. This limits the amount of events overseas that it can do, and puts further pressure on the team's ability to guarantee regular competition for all its riders.
"The UCI is saying that a Pro Continental teams cannot take part [in NE events] but I have been trying to explain the situation to Pat McQuaid and Philippe Chevalier," he said. "I think that they understood the situation. We are not like a ProTour team, we have no guarantees to compete in all those races in Europe and we also don't have a double calendar in Europe. Normally we have one calendar in Europe and one in the US."
As Lelangue explains, the combination of a weak US UCI calendar and this regulation means that things are very difficult for a team in BMC's position. It has made considerable financial commitments to get a Pro Continental licence plus wildcard status, and doesn't want to revert back to a lesser licence.
"For us it is really important to be Pro Continental and to have Wildcard status is because our five-year vision is to do more and more of the those big races in Europe - ProTour races, Hors Categorie races and first Category races. If you look at our calendar this year compared to last year, it has already improved a lot, and next year it will improve more. Our vision is to be competing on a high level, maybe next year on the Classics level in Europe, and also to get a victory in 2011. So therefore we never think that we will go back to a Continental team in the future, as that would block us for the wildcard status."
In the short term, Lelangue is appealing for the UCI to let the team compete in the next four races in its US programme, namely Pittsburgh, the Cascade Classic, the Tour of Utah and the Tour of Elk Grove. Without that, he said that BMC Racing has a large gap between the Tour de Beauce and the Tour of Missouri. Longer term, he recognises that if the situation persists, there is no incentive for more teams to take out such a licence.
"I can imagine that if US teams don't have the possibility to ride all those domestic races, they would not be happy to look for Pro Continental licences in future," he said. "This is something that I explained to Pat McQuaid, and I think he understands this situation. Therefore we have to find a solution that is different for the US calendar than the European calendar."