By Laura Weislo
The number of professional teams has made a sharp decline in the United States compared to last year according to the USA Cycling. Two days after USA Cycling's deadline for UCI team applications, USA Cycling technical director Shawn Farrell revealed that only 12 applications for men's continental UCI licenses, and one for the Professional Continental level had been received by the November 5 deadline.
With the Garmin-Chipotle squad moving up to the ProTour level and only BMC seeking a Pro Continental license, this leaves two fewer continental teams than last year. The Rock Racing team was rumoured to have considered moving up to the Pro Continental level, but Farrell confirmed that they had decided to stay as a Continental team.
Continental teams, the equivalent of the former division III, cannot participate in ProTour races, and can only race the "Historic" (European Classics and major races like Paris-Nice) calendar if they are registered in the country of the race. They are allowed to enter international races of all other categories except Nations Cup events.
With the loss of the Rite Aid, Jittery Joe's, Toshiba and the Toyota United teams this year, the number of US professional teams is down to sixteen for 2009 from 18 in the past two years. The decline on the women' side is even more severe, with zero teams on the UCI registration list for 2009 - down from two in 2008 and four in 2007.
Cyclingnews spoke with the manager of the DLP Racing team from North Carolina, Jonathan Kane, who explained some of the difficulties with fielding a professional team in the United States. While the UCI's limit of 15 continental registered teams per country isn't an issue this year, high fees, tight deadlines and piles of paperwork can be a daunting task for all but the most organized manager.
"The deadline for applications were much earlier this year, and we were only informed of them in the beginning of September, so there was a lot of scrambling going on," Kane said.
USA Cycling's procedures required teams to file preliminary paperwork informing the organisation of the intent to register as a professional team by September 30th in order to meet the UCI's October 31 deadline for the teams list. A November 5th deadline was given for all applications to be submitted to USA Cycling. From there, applications are put through an external auditor at the expense of the applicants.
"For a team of the minimum eight riders, without salaries, the total cost just for the team licenses is about $17,600," Kane said. The list of fees include a bank guarantee, a 6,750 Swiss Franc registration fee to the UCI, $750 fee for the auditor, and $4,000 fee to USA Cycling.
Another issue for the domestic teams is the UCI's rule which requires a majority of riders to be under the age of 28. "It's really difficult to find good young riders in the US," Kane said. His team was interested in signing three riders who were then scooped up by Lance Armstrong's new Trek-sponsored developmental team.
Kane has completed his application and his roster for the coming season, but said it was a challenge to meet the demands of USA Cycling and the UCI while staying within his budget.
He could have hired a number of older riders if he'd had the space and budget, given the current market. "There are a lot of good riders 28 and over who don't have teams this year, but a lot of them were making $50-60,000 a year. Teams like ours and Kenda [a new US pro team -ed] don't have the resources to hire those riders," Kane said.