By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
Sponsorship for professional cycling in the U.S. is always a challenge every year, and even more so for women's professional cycling. It seems that at this time of year there is doubt for many teams as to whether funding and other support will be around next year. However, for Mike Tamayo and his Victory Brewing team, Christmas came early this year. His top five NRC team will be joining forces with the young Diet Cheerwine team for 2006 with the goal of finishing on top next year.
The new team, which will still be called Victory Brewing, will include riders from Diet Cheerwine - but most importantly a significant increase in funding. This will allow Tamayo to bring on board more riders to help launch his team to the top spot. "I think we'll have an honest shot," says Tamayo. "I've never said we would be the top team in North America because we have never had a rider who can compete against a Christine Thorburn or Kristin Armstrong. We've always held our own in the criterium or a stage of a race, but never really in the GC. But our goal for next year is to be the top NRC team. And with changes for next year it seems that there will be more parity among the teams. It's very healthy. "
The Diet Cheerwine team is not going away either, remaining as a developmental team for the riders who cannot commit full-time, and to help feed talent into the Victory Brewing team. "We'll have the Diet Cheerwine team as a developmental team - and then the Victory Brewing team will be the professional team. We've hired a few different riders and we are able to spend more on them, which will obviously boost our team. And we are taking a few from the Diet Cheerwine team onto the Victory Brewing team."
The new riders include Laura Yoisten and Leah Hobsen from the current Diet Cheerwine team and Chrissy Ruiter from the Ford-Basis team. Additionally, Tamayo has a deal in the works with an international-caliber rider currently racing for a European team and is racing at the World Championships this week, which will really solidify the GC spot for the team.