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Bike racing fans are all over the Elk Grove course.
North America heavy on high-level events
The UCI published its 2012 Americas Tour calendar, with upgrades to Colorado's USA Pro Cycling Challenge to 2.HC and the Tour of Elk Grove in Chicago, Illinois to 2.1. Both races are coming into their second year as UCI classified events, and together they form part of a six-race professional calendar in the US that makes up with quality what it lacks in quantity.
In its first year, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge attracted the entire podium from the Tour de France this year, and it was a resounding success with spectators. The increase in rank for Colorado will mean only small changes to the already high-quality field, but Elk Grove organiser Steven Hansen hopes that the upgrade to 2.1 and a place on the calendar just ahead of 2.1-ranked Tour of Utah will attract the WorldTour teams to his race.
"We applied last year for 2.1 status in our first year as a UCI race, but we started as 2.2," Hansen told Cyclingnews. "We worked hard to do a good job for the UCI knowing we'd apply for 2.1 in 2012.
"We're hoping that, with Utah the week after our race, the WorldTour teams will stop in Chicago and use our race as a warm-up."
Part of the audition for 2.1 status involved bringing the Geox-TMC squad over for this year's race, and Hansen said the team's presence got his organisation ready for working with the European teams. He is now working with the Tour of Utah to recruit the big name teams.
"We are working together so that both of our races can benefit from the highest level of teams."
Supported by the Village of Elk Grove and the Alexian Brothers Medical Center, situated in the village, Hansen said there is no plan to change the three-day format which takes place entirely in the tiny community. The stages will be similar to this year, with an opening time trial on August 7, a circuit race on the 15.6km route and the final stage on a shorter circuit of approximately 10km.
The change in status will shut out the many amateur teams which have historically targeted the race. UCI rules allow for regional amateur teams in 2.2 races, but not in 2.1.
"It was the decision of all parties involved [to upgrade]," Hansen said. "The goal was to move toward the top pro teams and we realize we'd have to give up on having the amateur teams."
US lacking lower-level pro races
The 26-race Americas Tour calendar includes only eight races in North America - the six US races (Tour of California, Utah, Colorado, Elk Grove, Philadelphia, Univest) and the 2.2-ranked Tour de Beauce and the class 2-ranked Ville Saguenay nations cup. Of the US races, only the 1.2-ranked Univest Grand Prix for the men and the Liberty Classic, the sole women's UCI race in the USA, remain open to amateurs.
In contrast, nearly all of the South American races are x.2-ranked, with the exception of the 2.1 Tour de San Luis.
Micah Rice, USA Cycling's Managing Director of National Events, acknowledged that the top-heavy UCI calendar will impact the amateur and the Continental teams, which will have fewer opportunities to secure invitations to the nation's biggest events.
Rice said USA Cycling is working with the UCI to "lower the barriers" to entry into the UCI calendar for the US race promoters. "We would love to see more x.2 races, which would go automatically into our National Racing Calendar," Rice said. "2012 will be a sort of transition year. It's a huge jump to go from the NRC to a UCI 2.2 or 1.2 race, but we're trying to lower the barriers for 2013."
USA Cycling will be announcing its NRC and National Criterium Calendar in the coming week, and Rice is pleased with the quality of the racing in the country.
"We want to see bigger, better races," Rice said. "The combination of the highly ranked UCI races with the NRC and NCC make for a very robust domestic calendar."