Hincapie Racing eyeing move to the next level

Toms Skujins' three-day run in the yellow jersey this week at the Tour of California focused a bright spotlight on Hincapie Racing, the 23-year-old Latvian's US Continental team.

The South Carolina-based squad that is sponsored by Hincapie Sportswear is having arguably its best season since its inception several years ago as a development program for BMC's WorldTour squad.

Joey Rosskopf, who currently rides for BMC, got the ball rolling last year at the Tour of Utah with several impressive stage finishes. Robin Carpenter backed that up by winning a rain-soaked stage at the USA Pro Challenge, and the now-independent team showed off its strength earlier this year with a team time trial national championship.

Now Director Thomas Craven says Hincapie Racing is eyeing a step up to the next level, with a possible move to the WorldTour ranks as the ultimate goal.

"I'd like to be able to move up maybe in the next two years or so, you know, put that goal out there," Craven told Cyclingnews after the stage 6 time trial in Santa Clarita on Saturday. "Be able to go Pro Continental and establish ourselves in Europe with a European base and see where we go from there."

Although the goal has been established, Craven said the team is in no rush to make a jump, preferring instead to go at a sustainable pace that we'll see the team stick around for a long time. The first step, of course, is coming up with sponsors that can increase the team's budget.

"To go from our level to the Pro Continental level is a couple of million dollars more -- with the bigger staff, bigger riders the whereabouts stuff, all that," he said.

"That's the only way we would do it. We won't do it poorly. We're not going to try and stretch ourselves or do anything that we can't do. There's no way we would jump into it without having that behind us first."

Jumping from a domestic Conitnental team to the Pro Continental level is a big jump, Craven said, and the next jump is even bigger, so don't look for it to happen overnight.

"I don't think I could stomach that," he said. "I mean this is stressful enough just doing these races."

Neverthelss, the goal has been laid out and the team is moving in that direction. Team owners George Hincapie and Rich Hincapie are obviously well connected in the cycling world, and they have started conversations with potential sponsors about the team's future.

"The powers that be with Rich and George and the connections that they have, they're talking to people right now that could make that happen, so we'll see," Craven said.

The team would need to bolster its roster, possibly bringing in some more experienced riders to compete at the next level, but Craven currently has a stable of young talent that he would no doubt like to bring along on the journey.

"We'll lose guys every year," he said. "But they can always come back."

Rosskopf is one of those former Hincapie riders now competing at the highest level with BMC, and the 25-year-old finished an impressive fourth place Saturday during the time trial in Santa Clarita. Some of the staff around the team bus on Saturday were joking that Rosskopf could be back with the team in the future.

"We actually called him as a top three for today," Craven said if his former rider. "It's good to see that. He's an alumni, and he's somebody that has a great connection with the team and is family. We love seeing success for past riders."

Considering the way Skujins had ridden so far tis week – winning stage three with a daring 50km solo breakaway and then defeding yellow through two stages – he's another rider that Craven may soon be referring to as an alumnus of the team.

"It was good to see, and I think it was breath of fresh air on the US scene," Craven said of Skujins' performance.

"It put a good light on our team and the way we ride. It shows the European guys that this isn't a race where they can come and have a holiday or anything like that. We're going to go as hard as they go all the time as well."

The team has exceeded all expectations at the race this week, and despite ceding yellow to Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) during stage 6, Skujns is still second overall. With two stages remaining in California, Craven said, the team isn't finished lobbing bombs just yet.

"We've got some more weapons to throw out there. We have some other guys who are pretty good, too."

Watch our latest video interview with George Hincapie about how proud he is of his team at the Tour of California. To subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel please click here

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