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Pegasus Sports CEO Chris White was clearly pleased after announcing the signing of sprinter Robbie McEwen for 2011, but the Queenslander isn’t getting too carried away with the news, remaining focused on the application process for a ProTour licence. McEwen is the biggest signing announced to date for White’s ambitious step to take his Continental team, known as Fly V Australia, to the sport’s top ProTour level for next season.
“He's someone who I've been chasing, or seeking support from, for some time, so it's great to get one of Australia's best, if not the best, current Australian cyclist running around the peloton,” White told Cyclingnews. “I've had him abreast of what I've been doing pretty much all year. We've had a long-term focus on the ProTour and being relevant to the guys that matter. Robbie is just down the road, so to speak, so we've been in touch for a little while.”
White said there was no tipping point in courting McEwen, but instead a process over time.
“It's interesting. It's a series of little steps…of moments in time. The continuum brings the fabric together that gets us to that critical point. It was just a whole lot of little milestones, I feel,” said White.
“I think probably the major step, at least in our recent history, is around the ProTour application itself. Making the application for 2011; making it real; making an end date to the game - that's probably the tipping point if you look back on it.”
McEwen has a long term relationship with Belgian bike manufacturer Ridley, which will also part ways with the Katusha squad after Focus was announced as the team’s 2011 bike sponsor. White wouldn’t comment when asked if the company would follow McEwen to the Australian squad, which currently rides bikes supplied by DeRosa.
“I can't comment at this stage,” he said.
McEwen is one of three confirmed signings for the 2011 squad, with fellow Australian Trent Lowe and Canadian time triallist Svein Tuft already announced. White wouldn’t be drawn to comment on what other riders – including those already riding for Fly V Australia in 2010 – will be a part of next year’s squad.
“I'm just holding back in terms of my releases of what riders have been signed,” said White. “There are more, but that will be provided over coming weeks.”
Pegasus won’t know until early to mid November about its status for 2011. While White believes the team has a strong chance of securing a much sought-after ProTour licence he says the squad is committed to Europe regardless.
“In three weeks time we've got to lodge our application with the UCI. So we're nose to the grind stone in terms of bringing all the paperwork and requirements that is the UCI ProTour registration together right now,” he said. “So October 1 is application [due date], October is audit month if you like – they'll spend a lot of time looking at every application to make sure it meets the criteria – and then November 1 the first 15 teams are announced.
“It's an interesting process in that there's no killer blow here, it's a reasonably long and drawn out process,” he added. “It could be mid-November before the final three spots are known. It'll be a good couple of months. It's a four month process from when we attended the workshop in Geneva in late June, so it's not something that's happened in a hurry.
“We're fully committed to being in Europe full time as a Professional Continental team if we don't get the ProTour licence, with a view that in the short term we would get the ProTour licence in 2012,” he said. “We're confident that we're going to put a really good submission in for 2011 and that we have a really strong chance to stake a claim to a 2011 ProTour licence.”
The application process is just one aspect of White’s plans for 2011. With his teams based in Australia and the United States of America for the past two seasons he also needs to form the infrastructure required to operate a professional team in Europe over the coming months.
White confirmed that Belgium is a likely location for the team’s European base, but the plans are not yet confirmed. “Some work has been undertaken and I've got a couple of options in terms of the way forward,” he said. “There's a couple of different ways to navigate that particular infrastructure build, but whichever way we choose I'm really confident we'll have the infrastructure in place before the end of December this year.
“There's a really strong ProTour cycling presence in terms of service course location in Belgium,” he added. “There are a lot of skills in Belgium, whether they're mechanics or directors and it's very central to the race and Europe. It looks probable but it's not a completely done deal, it's probable that we'll have a location there.”
While there’s a whole new set of challenges ahead for Pegasus Sport, White is looking forward to operating in the heart of international cycling. “We're going from driving six or seven days across the US to get from place to place to being not much more than a day's drive to anywhere,” he said. “The logistics operation we've had has been immense in terms of operating in the US, so we're looking forward to it being a little bit easier.”