The United States of America will see at least one new Professional Continental team next year as UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis takes the steps needed to secure its upgrade with the International Cycling Union (UCI). Momentum Sports Group LLC director and team owner Thierry Attias told Cyclingnews that the upgrade from its current Continental status to Professional Continental will provide a suitable transition toward its long-term goal of becoming ProTour.
“They [UCI] won’t officially contact us until November 15 but we have applied for everything, we’ve given them all the paperwork and we think that everything will be perfectly well in order to meet the UCI requirements,” said Attias. “It is completely our intention and we are in the process of registering for the Professional Continental license.
“The registration process of becoming Pro Continental is almost identical to the ProTour,” he added. “In our case, we are hoping to eventually ease our way into that step. We want to take it slowly and intelligently and we are not going to make that jump all at once.”
Upgrading to a Professional Continental license will allow the team to hire stronger and well-seasoned professionals to its roster. The squad is widely rumored to be in discussions with ProTour RadioShack rider Jason McCartney.
“These riders have a certain skill set and we hope that they help our ability to reach our goals,” Attias said. “They bring experience that some of our other riders don’t have on an international level. They bring proven results, ability to race internationally with success, and they round out our roster. We think these are the right athletes. We also think they will fit in really well as people and have the right characteristics to be an asset to the organisation.”
Other new recruits confirmed to have signed with UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis include Kelly Benefit Strategies’ Scott Zwizanski and Team Type 1’s Davide Frattini and Chris Jones. Riders confirmed to return next year include Rory Sutherland, Karl Menzies, Brad White, Adrian Hegyvary, Jonny Clarke, Hilton Clarke, Max Jenkins, Jake Keough and Morgan Schmitt. Additional riders will be announced in the near future.
The team will consist of 22 riders, the minimum number required by the UCI for a Professional Continental team. Sixteen of those riders will be dedicated to competing in high-level stage races in Europe, Asia and the US. The remaining six to eight riders will continue racing solely inside the US at important National Racing Calendar (NRC) races and criteriums.
“We really want to have a global program so we will have an impact in Europe, Asia and in the US,” Attias said. “The world is becoming a smaller place and good bike racing takes place everywhere. The Tour of California and the tour in Colorado [Quiznos Pro Challenge] are great and they are great for us but we want to cast ourselves as an organisation as the best in the world, not just as the best in this country.
“It is important for us and our sponsors and athletes,” he added. “Being the best guy in America is one thing but being the best guy in the world in a whole other thing. We are going to ease our way into that level. We are not saying that we are going to achieve X, Y or Z in year one but we are going to continue our philosophy of racing to win.”
Sutherland proved his readiness to compete against cycling’s best at this year’s Amgen Tour of California, where he placed second on the event’s queen stage six atop Big Bear Lake. He finished the eight-day race in seventh place overall, less than two minutes behind race winner Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia).
“We are building the team to take over to Europe in order to be competitive and in the best form possible for events like the Tour of California and the Quiznos Pro Challenge next year,” said team directeur Mike Tamayo.
The squad is investigating the impact of UCI code 2.1.009 will have, which prohibits ProTour and Professional Continental teams from competing in national level events, where only UCI Continental teams of the country, regional and club teams, national teams and mixed teams may participate. Discussions between USA Cycling and the UCI resulted in a resolution whereby such teams could start three riders wearing nondescript clothing. The code and its temporary solution are still enforced in the US.
“We are aware of the code that could affect us as a Pro Continental team racing domestically,” Tamayo said. “We are currently working with USA Cycling and waiting to hear back from the UCI in order to work around the rule. We have a couple of scenarios and are currently unsure how it is going to play out but we are confident that we will have a strong presence domestically as well as internationally with our big focus targeting Tour of California and the Quiznos Pro Challenge.”
Momentum Sports Group has experience operating a Professional Continental level team, with its previously owned and now disbanded HealthNet-Maxxis squad a Division 2 outfit in 2006 and 2007. “Our goals there were a little bit different from they are here,” Attias said. “Our goals there were to develop a program that would allow us to hire the best athletes we had in the country irrelevant of age restrictions. Now, we want to test our athletes and that is important. You have to give your athletes an opportunity to race against other top-notch talents in the world.”
UnitedHealthcare signed on as a title sponsor for 2010 season replacing the team’s 2009 sponsor Ouch Sports Medical Centre. UnitedHealth Group will continue to sponsor the squad while additional sponsors will be announced in the near future.
“They have extended and increased their commitment,” Attias said. “Our partners are stepping up to a level that reflects a Pro Continental team to have an international presence. However, we are actively looking for a new bike partner.”
Other North American Continental teams that have expressed an interest in upgrading to a Professional Continental license next year include Team Type 1 and SpiderTech-Planet Energy.