By Sue George
The US road scene could see and increase in the number of professional teams next year, thanks to the expansion of the sport in the US and a growth in the American calendar. The UCI road commission has agreed to increase the number of US Continental teams it will license for 2007 to 20.
Sean Petty, USA Cycling's Chief Operating Officer, cited several reasons for the increase. "The size of the US and the recent growth in the American cycling calendar motivated the UCI to grant an exception. The American Tour showed a 45% increase in [UCI-sanctioned] events. There were 13 new events from Canada to South America, but the majority of the increase was due to more UCI races in North America, especially in the US."
The American racing scene may not yet be ready to support fully the increase in the allowed number of teams. "I'm not sure we'll have 20 teams," said Petty. "It's likely we could have 18 or so, making a total of 21 domestic teams chasing the US Pro Tour Calendar."
The other three teams to which Petty refers are the US Pro Continental teams of Health Net, Navigators Insurance, and TIAA-Cref. Pro Continental teams differ from Continental teams in that they require a greater financial commitment in the form of higher salary requirements and more rigorous health monitoring of the riders.
In addition to the Continental and Pro Continental teams, cycling fans can also expect to see the ProTour Discovery Channel team at many US ProTour events.