Victor Hugo Pena remains optimistic that his Rock Racing cycling team will continue with Continental status after being denied a Professional Continental license by the International Cycling Union (UCI) earlier this year. The Colombian outlined Rock Racing's registration possibilities along with what riders have confirmed commitments to the squad despite its turbulent start to the season.
"After the UCI told us we were denied, Michael [Ball] told me not to worry," Pena told Cyclingnews. "He said that he was really disappointed but the team was still going on.
"The main reason we don't have a license yet is because we were always thinking about being Pro Continental and we were very focused on that so we didn't have a plan B," Pena continued. "For us, it was a big surprise that the UCI denied us. We don't know why but I'm sure they have a good justification. The only thing is that now we have to be focused on getting the team a Continental license like last year."
According to the USA Cycling website, the deadline for submitting a team application for Continental licensing was October 31, 2009 and after that date no other candidates would be accepted for the 2010 season. All completed UCI documents and contracts were to be submitted no later than November 5, 2009.
Pena noted that Rock Racing owner, Michael Ball is currently pursuing the options of registering his team in Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Spain.
"Michael wants to keep us together as a team and that was more or less the reason he has to move the team's location now that we will not be Pro Continental," Pena said. "He was thinking to move to Venezuela, Colombia, Spain or Mexico. Mexico was good because it is close and it would have been easier to find another sponsor there."
Furthermore, beginning in January USA Cycling and the USPRO Board of Trustees implemented a 'majority rule' whereby all teams registered as a UCI Continental Team must have the majority of its riders as US citizens and the majority of the riders must be have a racing age of under 28. These rules are already in effect in European countries. Non-European countries were given the option of having a phasing period to introduce the new rules last year and implement them in 2010.
"We are planning to register the team in Mexico," Pena said. "We are having a problem with all the rules about average age and nationality. We don't have Mexican riders yet but we are working on the roster. The main riders are [Francisco] Mancebo, [Oscar] Sevilla, Floyd [Landis], [Glen] Chadwick and me. We are all over 30 so we need young riders and Mexican riders or all Americans if Michael wants to keep us registered in the US."
Ball has been searching for an additional financial sponsor to co-support the team since the summer of last year. He acknowledged the team's financial distress due to the economic downturn and cited a lack of sponsorship interest when it had to cut back its amateur counter-part and release top end riders like Chris Baldwin, Michael Creed and Cesar Grajales.
"He is looking for a sponsor to try to make the team bigger in 2011," Pena said. "If he doesn't find a sponsor for the team this year, the team will still happen at a Continental level."
Landis' position with Rock Racing up in the air
Pena noted that Floyd Landis had a contract with the Rock Racing team under the condition that it was Professional Continental in 2010. The UCI's decision to deny the team the upgraded license that it requested meant that Landis' position on the team was unknown.
Landis recently competed in the Tour of Bahamas wearing the Rock Racing jersey held last week from January 23-24. The two-day stage race kicked off with an individual time trial where Landis recorded the fastest lap time.
"I know he had a contract in case the team was Pro Continental," Pena said. "I asked Michael [Ball] about Floyd because he is my friend and we were teammates on Phonak so for me it would be really nice to work with him again. I know his condition and his talent. Floyd wants to come back to big cycling. I think in the end, I hope, that Floyd will be with us."
Pena outlined a tentative race schedule to include the Vuelta a Mexico Telmex and the Tour of California, should it receive an invitation. The team won two of the most difficult stage races on the National Racing Calendar (NRC) in 2009 including the Cascade Cycling Classic and Tour of Utah along with a stage win at the Tour of California.
"We know that it is difficult and that there are a lot of rules about where the team is registered and where a team can race," Pena said. "But, we will like to focus on some stage races in the US again like Cascade and Utah. That is one of the reasons we are so disappointed, with no Pro Continental license we have to look at other races and we don't really know yet what exactly we are going to do."
Pena recently competed in the Tour de San Luis alongside long-time friend and former teammate Santiago Botero with the Colombian National Team. The seven-day stage race was held in San Luis, Argentina and concluded on Sunday, January 23.
"I was training to start the season early in Spain if we were Pro Continental but that didn't happen," Pena said. "I'm happy to be racing [with the Colombian National Team] because it is really hard to sit at home and think about the UCI that doesn't like Rock Racing. I feel like they just don't like us. Now, we have to pull our energy together to try to be Continental and do good races and show that we are cyclists. We have to work, we have families and we have to do something to keep our families living."
When asked what he will do should the team not receive a Continental license, Pena said, "I don't know, I will have to try to get on a Colombian team."