US Continental team Holowesko-Citadel p/b Hincapie Sportswear has applied for Pro Continental status for 2018, following on the heels of similar announcements from fellow Continental teams Axeon Hagens Berman and Rally Cycling.
Team director Thomas Craven announced at the Tour of Alberta last week that the funding is in place to make the move, and the team will learn in November if the UCI has approved the application.
"I don't know all the details," Craven told Cyclingnews. "I always say that I just work here. But we've got a couple other sponsors and there are some commitments out there. Things are happening.
"There's a certain timeline that you have to apply, and Rich [Hincapie] and George [Hincapie] are confident enough in what we've got so far that we're going to make the monetary piece. It's just a matter of the details that have to be worked out with the UCI: the name of the team, current sponsors versus new sponsors and things like that, and the roster. So at this point, it's really just keeping everyone on the team and adding a few more guys."
The South Carolina-based team jumped into the Continental ranks in 2012 as the BMC-Hincapie Sportswear development team, a feeder program for the BMC Racing WorldTour squad. The program dropped the BMC moniker in 2013 when BMC created its own dedicated development team. Craven's squad raced as the Hincapie Sportswear Development Team in 2013 and 2014, then changed the name to Hincapie Sportswear in 2015, followed by Holowesko-Citadel in 2016.
Since 2012, the team has won stages at the Tour of the Gila, Redlands Bicycle Classic, Joe Martin Stage Race, Cascade Cycling Classic, Tour of China, Paris-Arras Tour, Fleche du Sud, Tour de Beauce, Tour of Alberta, USA Pro Challenge, Tour of Utah, Colorado Classic and the Amgen Tour of California, among others. Holowesko riders have also won the overall at Redlands, Joe Martin, Cascade, Tour de Beauce and Tour of Alberta.
The team maxed out at 15 riders in 2014, but has stuck with a 12-rider roster for the past several seasons. The move to Pro Continental status requires a minimum of 16 riders, so the team will be in the market for a few new signings.
"This opens up the opportunity for the Tour of California, the only race this year where we didn't win a stage or the overall, or even get invited to," Craven said. "And also we want to start broadening the adventures of this team by going to Europe, going to some of those early season races in Australia, and doing what Rich and George set out to do, which is to get to the WorldTour. This is a step toward that. You can't just jump into it."
The move to Pro Continental status means the program will be eligible for more and bigger races through wildcard invitations. It will also mean having a chance to get into the Tour of California as the race transitions into full WorldTour status in which Continental squads would be squeezed out.
"That's the whole reason," Craven said. "Opening that up really opens the door to the rest of the world, being aligned with the way the rest of the world does it.
"It means a bump up for riders and staff," he said. "There's a lot of money involved in moving up. The guys on the team should be rewarded and the staff. That means more staff and more riders and the ship's rolling on down the road.”
The riders will also be rewarded with more opportunities. Holowesko's John Murphy, who featured in a breakaway at Paris-Roubaix in 2015 while riding for Pro Continental team UnitedHealthcare, is looking forward to the jump.
"We're all totally pumped to see the team succeed and stepping up," Murphy told Cyclingnews. "We expect to see a busier schedule, which I think will help all of us in the long run, whether it's starting earlier in the season or just getting to a higher level of races, like Tour of California, would be huge for any American rider or any American team. So for us it's a big deal. We'll get to showcase our talents and go adventure around and win bigger races.
"With a wildcard, we can get into just about anything," Murphy said. "So it just depends on how we go and how we perform."