Although professional cycling is facing some challenging times internationally, professional cycling in the United States has enjoyed unprecedented growth, says USA Cycling. According to American cycling's governing body, the future is so bright, their sights are set on hosting a UCI ProTour race in the very near future.
Steve Johnson, chief executive officer of USA Cycling, shared his thoughts on the organisation's goals and vision for professional men's cycling.
"[UCI President] Pat McQuaid and the UCI have made clear their intention to truly globalize professional cycling and expand the highest level of the sport beyond its traditional Western European borders," said Johnson. "This forward-looking vision and direction from the UCI is exactly what is required for professional cycling to reach new markets and grow in stature and popularity worldwide. We are very supportive of the vision for the sport expressed by Mr. McQuaid and believe that the U.S. is perfectly positioned and prepared to be a player in the expansion of the ProTour outside of its present structure."
"Frankly, I think the continued expansion of professional cycling into the global marketplace will benefit the entire sport. By way of example, the sport of cycling clearly benefited from the tremendous awareness that Lance Armstrong created as he captured the entire world's imagination by winning seven Tours de France. It's hard to ignore the obvious synergy between the increased world-wide interest in the Tour de France and Lance's remarkable story."
"Domestically, this newfound awareness for the sport has translated into more bike racers, new sponsors and the creation of new world-class events, including the Tour de Georgia and the Amgen Tour of California. Ultimately, all of this activity feeds back to support the continued growth of the sport and create opportunities for more professional riders"
One important aspect of the UCI's plans to globalise the sport of cycling was the creation of Continental calendars in 2005. Since that time, USA cycling has worked to grow the number of UCI pro men's road events, adding six new races for 2007 alone.
"Ultimately, our healthy calendar of top-level international events attracts ProTour teams and the best riders in the world, creating a showcase for the highest level of professional racing in the U.S. and providing the opportunity for our athletes to compete against the world's best on American soil."
The steady increase in the number of UCI races and continuing growth in the number and sophistication of domestic professional teams was the impetus for the creation of the inaugural "USA Cycling Professional Tour," which is a separate ranking to recognize the UCI trade teams in the domestic UCI race calendar.
"In my mind, one of the most exciting developments with the new events in the U.S. is that, in many cases, important people at the state level are seeing the opportunity to promote tourism through the production of a world class bike race," said Johnson. "The state of Georgia was one of the first to really get behind their race and push the state-supported model. Subsequently, the states of California, Missouri and Utah have seen the benefits of cycling and all have made major commitments to support bike racing. Lately, we have heard from several other states very interested in promoting major stage races. We believe the partnership of the states in cycling events is very important for the growth of the sport and will create a much more sustainable model in the long-run."
"All levels of the competition pyramid for road cycling are very strong in the U.S., from our 2,500 sanctioned grassroots events, to our National Racing Calendar events, to the UCI America Tour events," said Johnson. "The next logical step for the U.S. is to host a ProTour event. As a country, I think we have proven we can provide a racing experience worthy of ProTour consideration. More importantly, as one of the five original founding countries in the UCI, we are very excited by the potential for professional bike racing to continue to develop in the U.S. and the rest of the world; and I strongly support Pat McQuaid as he works to develop his vision of a global sport.