Coming into this year, the Amgen Tour of California (ATOC) was always in the back of my mind as a race where I really wanted to shine. I knew there was never a guarantee that Champion System would be invited, but you can’t let thoughts like that get in the way of your goals. After reading the list of teams that would be invited to ATOC this year, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one left scratching my head. Are we at Champion System disappointed? You bet. However, there is not much we can do about it other than to go out and prove that we deserved to be there in the first place.
Having a look at the format for selecting the teams draws a slightly clearer picture. For starters, eight of the sixteen teams come from the WorldTour. But even then, as we saw with Sky, you are not sure of a spot. Sky doesn’t seem to have too much of an interest in the U.S. market so it’s hard to say if they even wanted to attend. Still, I’m sure they would have been happy to send a team. Then there are four Professional Continental Teams and four Continental Teams rounding out the roster. It’s safe to say that there are twenty-plus teams fighting for these eight spots.
Going a little bit further, you have the obvious invites. UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, Bissell Pro Cycling and Team Optum Presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies. These teams have been included, in one form or another, for the last several editions. They are all based in the U.S. and focused on a full racing program here in the States. Now there are five spots left open, three Pro Continental and two Continental, and this is where things get tricky.
Who do you invite and whom do you leave home? The list to choose from is endless and ever growing. There are teams from all over the world throwing their name in the hat and it all comes down to what AEG, the organization that runs the event, and Amgen, the sponsor, want. A race with the stature of ATOC needs just one thing, exposure in key markets.
For instance, they need the European teams to gain the media attention in Europe. I’m sure this is why they wanted to have GreenEdge on board to have more exposure in Australia. With Champion System coming from China, I thought we had a lot to offer. The race isn’t even covered in China, but clearly that is not a key market for AEG or Amgen. At the end of the day it’s their race, so it’s hard to blame them for any choice they make.
I know one thing; I wouldn’t want to be in the boardroom at AEG sorting through these options. I’m sure they don’t want to break any hearts, but with so many teams out there planning on spending the month of May in California, it’s bound to happen. Other than the media exposure there are the connections that certain sponsors have to California and the U.S. Felt Bikes were certainly instrumental in bringing in Project 1t4i. Team Exergy is based in California and must have somehow gained the edge over the other local favorite, Jelly Belly. Steve Bauer’s Spidertech team deserves a nod as they have a strong roster, having won the KOM last year with Pat McCarty, and have been building up their presence for years now.
The one wildcard to me is Colombia-Coldeportes. I’m not sure what their team has to gain from racing in California, but they definitely have a solid squad. In my opinion, the most deserving invite goes to the Bontrager Livestrong Team. I wish that all races were required to invite at least one development team. My first big race on the National Team was the 2004 Tour de Georgia, and I will never forget the emotions I had when I found out that we’d be in the race. Those are the experiences that build young riders into seasoned pros.
So that’s it; all sixteen slots are full. Left out in the cold are Jelly Belly, Team Type 1, Competitive Cyclist, Champion System and the list goes on… I’ve always been a big advocate for having less teams and riders in races for safety reasons, and I’m not going to go and say they should just invite more teams. AEG and Amgen have built a powerhouse of a race and I couldn’t be happier for them and for the excitement they bring to the sport. Disappointment is around every corner, and it’s how you deal with it that defines you. I can say that we at Champion System are taking this in our stride and are even more motivated to make our mark here in the U.S. to help showcase the sport in new parts of the world.
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In his eighth professional season, American Craig Lewis is transitioning from four years in a support role at Highroad to more of a leadership position with the new Professional Continental squad Champion System. Riding for an Asian team will take Lewis to exotic places in the far reaches of the globe and back home again, and he will describe his adventures for our readers throughout the season.