By Mark Zalewski
As one of the major promoters of pro cycling races in the U.S., Threshold Sports has had a less than ideal week. The San Francisco City Council has accused Threshold of owing the city money from the San Francisco GP and the USPRO Championships, previously organised by Threshold, has moved from Philadelphia to a new venue after 21 years. Combine this with reports that prize money for the 2005 Philadelphia series had not been paid and rumors that the major sponsor for the past two decades, Wachovia, had decided not to renew as title sponsor, and it would be easy to foresee a grim future for the race and organization. However, Threshold's President and CEO David Chauner tells Cyclingnews that, as in show business, the race will go on!
"Our situation was this," Chauner explains. "Clearly the format needed to change to an all-American event. We created the event over 21 years, and its recognition all over the world as a major one-day race, and for the city of Philadelphia, is great. When faced with the decision to turn it into an all U.S. race, it was not a choice for us. We need to keep it a major international race. And having the first American over the line as champion was confusing anyways. So we feel the race will be much more better just going back to an international category."
For the past few months, speculation was rife about a change to an American-only format. Chauner says a bid was submitted to USA Cycling that included the option of an all-US championship within the current Phily week format. However, the response from USA Cycling CEO Gerard Bisceglia was not a warm one for Threshold. "We had thought about doing [a U.S. only race] in Lancaster, but Gerard said we wouldn't get the permit for more than one year. And that was not acceptable, so we pulled our bid. We did not have a firm sponsors -- we have many in the wings we are talking to, but none that could be announced. We felt that Gerard was being too heavy handed about the whole bid process. Our goal is to continue to grow the Pro Cycling Tour, and that is our choice."
With all that has happened, particularly in recent days regarding financial matters with the San Francisco race, it is possible to deduce that money is also the problem surround the Philadelphia races. Reports that prize money had not been paid for this year's race circulated a few months ago, but Chauner assures that the process for that just took longer than usual. "Prize money checks are going out today. For 21 years we have paid all of our bills and all of our prize money. The fact that it's later than normal is unfortunate, but not for the lack of the ability to pay. Many other countries don't pay until the fourth quarter, so it's normal."
As for next year's Philly week, Chauner is quick to quell the rumors that without Wachovia, the race will not happen. "Plans are going along very well. We haven't announced it yet, but everyone seems to know that Wachovia is not coming back. We've had meetings with the mayor and governor, and the community does not want to lose the race. We are currently talking to potential sponsors, but I will emphasize that the race will happen and that we have the financial underpinnings for that." He also announced that the schedule will change for 2006. "We will have Lancaster on Sunday June 4, Philly on the following Sunday and a potential for another race in Pennsylvania somewhere in the middle."
In regards to the possible negative effect of not having the stars and stripes jersey on the line to draw European-based American pros, Chauner concedes this might be a problem, "but we are going to extend invitations to more teams around the world. We are looking at more national teams from around the world as well. I think there will still be many American pros on European teams that will want to come here."
Chauner also looks on the positive side of the USPRO decision, with the possibility of boosting other races around the same time, including his race in San Francisco. "I think its great it will be in Greenville, and I'm sure the Medalist guys will do a great job. And being right before San Francisco, it's a potential win-win situation for everyone."
"The talk about losing our luster without the USPRO is not true," says Chauner. "It's been indicated form the beginning and that is how they wanted to go, and I don't think it's worth it for us to do that. We want to keep events in the calendar year after year. Any race that we do can be better than an all U.S. championship. We are by no means done."