Craig Lewis and Chris Butler have signed for Champion System team for 2012. The two riders will form the American contingent of the newly formed Pro Continental team.
The team will race primarily in Asia – where they’re to be registered – but will also compete in the US and Europe.
Lewis signs from HTC-Highroad, which folded this year. The experienced climber had a strong start to the season but crashed out of the Giro d’Italia with a broken femur. He told Cyclingnews at Interbike in September that he had secured a team for 2012.
"I was only going to [sign] if it felt right for me. I wasn't going to go to any random team," Lewis said. "This team showed me a lot of belief and a lot of respect. I will have a leadership role, and it will give me more freedom. What more can you ask for from a team?"
Team manager Ed Beamon confirmed to Cyclingnews that the squad is on track to gain a Professional Continental license, but that, even though it posted the bank guarantee early, as a first year team, they were subjected to extra scrutiny by the UCI when it came to licensing.
"The Champion System team is a first year program and as such there are a few questions that UCI has put forth to guarantee the stability of the team and protect the rights of the athletes and staff. I believe we are firmly on track for Professional Continental Status for 2012 and we have addressed all of UCI's questions," Beamon said. "As is the case with many of the World Tour and Professional Continental team candidates, we will meet with the licensing commission this month to be certain we fulfill all of the UCI requirements. I am confident they will find us in complete compliance."
Beamon has confirmed 13 of the planned 18 riders for the team, with Lewis and Butler the only two Americans on the squad. Butler joins after two years at BMC. Like Lewis, he too crashed out the Giro d’Italia, with a fractured pelvis.
The team's calendar will depend on invitations to some European races. Beamon said he will run a split schedule with some of the team racing Stateside or in Asia and others in Europe. He hopes to get into the Tour of Austria, where Butler had a high finish on stage 2 to the Kitzbüheler Horn this year, as well as the Scheldeprijs.
Having an Asian company as title sponsor, the squad will also have most of its performance goals in Asia - the Tour de Langkawi, Korea and Taiwan in the early season, and the Tour of Qinghai Lake, Tour of China, Hainan and a wildcard invitation to the Tour of Beijing are high on the list of ambitions.
"It's a formative year for us. We have to get the team established and create development opportunities for our Asian riders and to assess their capabilities," Beamon said.
Lewis will be taking a leadership role in the team for the American events, and while some teams were reluctant to sign a rider who had broken a femur, Beamon said Lewis was one of the first riders that came to mind.
"When I learned that HTC wasn't going to continue, he was the first rider I thought of for our team. He's already come back from one serious accident, and he's shown an amazing amount of mental toughness and determination. He deserves an opportunity to explore another dimension of his capabilities in a leadership role."
The two Americans should have ample opportunity to race on home soil in 2012, as the team targets invitations to the three major UCI events: Tour of California, Tour of Utah and USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado.
Champion System also plans to compete in the Tour of Elk Grove, Tour de Beauce and the Philadelphia International Championship in June. In between, the squad will hit some of the one-day criteriums to fill out its time in the USA.
"We will also hit some part of the National Criterium Calendar as a development platform for some of the newer riders - the Asian guys who don't have much international experience. It will offer an opportunity to challenge them in terms of speed and skill. I think a rider like Steven Wong, who was an accomplished BMX racer and took up the road this year, will make a brilliant criterium racer."
Champion System roster for 2012:
Clinton Avery (NZL)
Joris Boillat (SUI)
Chris Butler (USA)
Will Clarke (AUS)
Matthias Friedemann (GER)
Xu Gang (CHN)
Aaron Kemps (AUS)
Jaan Kirsipuu (EST)
Craig Lewis (USA)
Mart Ojavee (EST)
Jiao Pengda (CHN)
Steven Wong (HKG)
Kin San Wu (HKG)
Five more to be announced