North American Continental teams evaluate professional upgrade

The UnitedHealthcare train in full flight.

The UnitedHealthcare train in full flight. (Image credit: John Wilke)

Continental teams interested in upgrading to the Professional Continental and ProTour were invited to attend a workshop at the International Cycling Union (UCI) offices two weeks ago in Geneva, Switzerland. Teams that regularly compete in North America which sent a representative to the meeting included Canada's SpiderTech p/b Planet Energy, Australia's Fly V Australia and the US-based Team Type 1 and UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis.

"The main purpose of the meetings was to present all ProTour teams, Continental Pro teams and Continental teams wishing to upgrade with the new registration process," said SpiderTech Directeur Sportif Steve Bauer.

There are four criteria that the UCI will evaluate before being considered for a Professional Continental license: Financial, Administrative, Ethical and Sporting. The later only applies to those requesting ProTour status whereby the number of points will rank each team.

"Our team will obviously be very conscious of these areas but most importantly in the next two months, our financial situation will be the priority in order to make the jump," Bauer said. "Minimum roster with minimum salaries and insurance, bank guarantee, additional riders, a broader reaching program that includes Europe, additional staff and infrastructure. It all costs more dollars."

The UCI outlined six deadlines for those teams requesting to upgrade. An optional letter to the UCI indicating that a team is interested in becoming professional is due by the end of July. A model of the bank guarantee and a model of the rider and staff contracts are due on August 1. The period to sign riders will be between August 1 and October 20, whereby the points of each rider will decide the team ranking. All teams must send an official request for inscription for either ProTour or Professional Continental by August 15. Payment of the registration fee is due on September 1. All documents including the original bank guarantee, sponsor contracts, rider and staff contracts and budget compensation are due on October 1.

"The timing and the process for Continental Pro and ProTour teams will be identical with only a few important differences in registration fee and bank guarantee amounts," Bauer said. "The UCI presented the new process and deadlines. However new rules, if any, which dictate participation were not on the agenda."

The US-based BMC Racing Team joined the Professional Continental ranks in 2008. Since then, the team earned wild card status that allowed it to receive invitations to some of the top races around the world.

This year, it is one of 20 Professional Continental teams but that number could increase next year by the addition of other traditionally North American-focused outfits that have recently expanded to compete internationally.

Furthermore, Bauer speculated that the recent interest for North American Continental teams to upgrade is, in part, because of AEG Sports expressed interest in rising its UCI 2.HC Amgen Tour of California to a ProTour event whereby only ProTour teams and invited Professional Continental teams would be eligible to participate.

"We met with representatives from Team Type 1 and UnitedHealthcare," Bauer said. "It is a logical progression for a growing professional cycling team to become Continental Pro especially if the interest is to race in Europe. Also, there is no clarity about the Amgen Tour of California. If it jumps to ProTour, then a Continental Pro registration will be very valuable. SpiderTech has a good shot at the higher status. Worst case scenario, we will remain a Continental team with a much more solid budget."

It is widely known that Fly V Australia's goal is to become its nation's first ProTour team. The team began at the end of 2008 and found its legs through North American racing. This year, the squad has won the San Dimas Stage Race, Redlands Bicycle Classic and the Tour de Beauce among several one-day races and criteriums.

"As an Australian team we see the US racing as a doorway to Europe, the biggest stage in cycling," said the team manager, Chris White. "Australia needs a ProTour team and we are saying that in time we will be that team. Australian cycling is in good hands and is internationally competitive, but we have a void without a team in Division 1 [ProTour] or Division 2 [Professional Continental].

"We have a long-term view on operating in some capacity in the US but for an Australian team we need to be in Europe at a point in time," he said. "Possibly some of the US Continental teams see the gaps appearing in the US circuit and want to fill them. It may also be to do with the sponsors' international footprint."

Next year, Professional Continental teams will be obliged to join the UCI's Biological Passport Program effectively negating the wild card status. "I have asked the UCI what it means for 2011 and no wild card status," White said. "The answer I received didn't really give me clarity. I think this is a major area of grey."

Another hazy subject is UCI code 2.1.009 that prohibits ProTour and Professional Continental teams from competing in national level events where only UCI Continental teams of the country, regional and club teams, national teams and mixed teams may participate.

The UCI code first surfaced two years ago at New Mexico's Tour of the Gila where the ProTour team Astana and Professional Continental team BMC Racing were prohibited from participating. Discussions between USA Cycling and the UCI resulted in a resolution whereby both teams could start three riders wearing nondescript clothing. The code and its temporary solution are still enforced in the US.

"I think most people are waiting on an answer to this situation," White said. "It is a rule that only has relevance in mainland Europe where there is no shortage of UCI sanctioned events. It should not apply outside Europe as it is holding back growth of cycling in those markets."

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