I’ve been asked to share my thoughts on the Amgen Tour of California gaining entry to the WorldTour calendar in 2017. As a Californian, and a WorldTour rider on a US-registered team, this race is annually the highlight of my race season, more so than the Tour de France.
There are two sides to Cali gaining WorldTour status: A win for American fans and US cycling in general, yet a loss for domestic teams and development growth. I realize, 100 per cent, that I am on the “happy” side of this decision and that it’s a blow for others.
The USA needs a WorldTour race. Period. We are too strong of a cycling nation not to have a premier-level event. We owe it to the status of American cycling on the global scene, and to American fans, who deserve to see the biggest stars at home. There are two paths to getting a WT race in a country: Create one like Gran Prix Quebec and Montreal has in Canada, or upgrade the status of a well-run premier event. The Amgen Tour of California fits the bill as America’s longest-standing preeminent race with the highest profile. Additionally, WT races have a higher tourism potential due to a larger global following; California is that 'postcard' state. A lot of European pros like coming to the US and ask their directors to put Cali on their schedules.
I think the reason Cali has remained 2.HC-level and hasn’t already upgraded to WT, is that so many domestic teams rely on participation to sustain their sponsorship. This is the counter argument, which has been good financially both for the race and the domestic teams. A lot of Continental teams rely on getting invitations to races like California, Utah and Colorado to hold onto sponsorships (due to marketing potential). The Tour of California’s upgrade to WorldTour could potentially jeopardise those Continental teams and their sponsorships, and that is unfortunate.
I feel for those teams and a thought should also be spared for development riders, who could gain a pro contract by impressing against the “big fish” in these bigger races. But this process is only a short-term view of riders thriving in a cutthroat system by impressing on their own. The long-term solution is enhancing our sport through bigger events; more attention will naturally lead to more money in the domestic scene and healthier teams as the sport grows. Maybe in the interim, it’s up to smaller races like the Cascade Classic and Redlands to step up in status? To bridge the gap between WorldTour and Continental-level by inviting more Pro Continental teams?
The bottom line is the US needs a WorldTour event! For US racing to grow, there either needs to be a business model that entertains the public more, or we need to make the sport bigger and higher-profile. Having a WorldTour event on the calendar brings in more star-power riders and the best teams in the world. That will help elevate the status of racing in the US, we will see more fans, more funding, and more growth.