Next September's UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, will be the first in the US in nearly 30 years, and as the queue of domestic teams that hope to participate grows, so do the opportunities to earn the UCI points that can get them there.
At stake are spots in the team time trial, which was revived in 2012 and is contested by trade teams. Although all WorldTour teams automatically qualify for the event, US squads on the domestic circuit need to make it into the top five of the America Tour rankings to qualify. For the women's event, which US-registered Specialized-lululemon has won the past three years, the top 25 teams in the UCI rankings get to go.
North American women have four new UCI events on the circuit next year, while 2015 will provide at least two more US events where men's Continental and Pro Continental teams can earn points; the Joe Martin Stage Race has stepped up to the UCI 2.2 level, and the Grand Prix of Portland, a new one-day 1.2 race, is scheduled for the end of August.
Not surprisingly, the opportunity to earn more UCI points is welcomed by the US teams, even though most of them do not target the America Tour, per se. Success in the season-long series, which encompasses races in North, Central and South America, generally comes for US teams as a byproduct of targeting the big races in California, Utah, Colorado and Alberta.
"In general, not many US teams pay any attention to the UCI America Tour," said Optum Pro Cycling Performance Director Jonas Carney. "We, however, have wanted to qualify for the world team time trial championships, so we have kept an eye on it and have been able to qualify all three years by mainly focusing on the North American calendar.
"If our goal was to win the overall, we'd probably spend more time racing south of the border," Carney said. "The overall just isn't an objective. If we won, it would be great and we'd make a big deal of it, but we're not going to chase points."
Since 2005, riders from North American teams have topped the overall standings in the America Tour just three times. Svein Tuft, riding for Symmetrics, took the title for the 2007 season, and Rory Sutherland won in 2012 while riding for UnitedHealthcare.
Janier Acevedo, riding for Jamis-Hagens Berman in 2013, was the last rider from an American team to win the overall rankings. The Colombian, who currently rides for Cannondale-Garmin, won the 2013 series on the strength of his performances in six races: the Tour de San Luis, the Tour of the Gila, the Tour of California, the Philly Cycling Classic, the Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge.
Team SmartStop's Slovenian strongman Jure Kocjan led the 2014 America Tour until recently, when Oscar Sevilla, riding for the EPM-UNE-Area Metropolitana club team from Colombia, took over the lead with a third place finish at the 2.2 Vuelta a Guatemala. The Vuelta Kolbi a Costa Rica (2.2), which started on Sunday and concludes on Christmas Day, is the final race on this year's calendar.
Of all the races on the 2015 America Tour calendar, only the week-long tours in California, Utah and Colorado carry the 2.HC status just below the WorldTour. Results from those races offer more points toward the standings, but the relative lack of UCI races in North America compared with South and Central America has traditionally served to even out the competition.
That balance has been shifting, however, with the addition of more North American races in recent years. Excluding national championship events, 13 of the 35 races on next year's published America Tour calendar are in North America. The new US events account for two of the three new America Tour races next year.
"It's great that there are so many new UCI races in Canada and the US now," Optum's Carney said. "A few years ago, there were very few UCI races in North America, and it was very difficult for US teams to be competitive in the UCI America Tour without spending lots of time in South America, Central America or the Caribbean."
The 2015 America Tour begins January 9 with the Vuelta al Tachira (2.2) in Venezuela. The Tour de San Luis (2.1), which has already confirmed Nairo Quintana, Mark Cavendish and World Champion Michal Kwiatowski for the start line, begins January 19 in Argentina. The 2015 series ends at the Vuelta a Costa Rica (2.2) in December.
North American races on the 2015 America Tour include Joe Martin (2.2), Tour of the Gila (2.2), Tour of California (2.HC), Grand Prix Saguenay (2.2), Winston-Salem Classic (1.2), Philly Cycling Classic (1.2), Tour de Beauce (2.2), White Spot/Delta Road Race (1.2), Tour of Utah (2.HC), USA Pro Challenge (2.HC), GP of Portland (1.2), Tour of Alberta (2.1) and Bucks County Classic(2.2).
Races with the UCI 2.HC or 1.HC ranking can invite up to 70 percent World Tour teams, filling out the rest of the field with Pro Continental, Continental and national teams. Races with the 2.1 or 1.1 ranking can draw from the same pool, but they are limited to 50 percent WorldTour teams. Races with the 2.2 or 1.2 ranking can invite Pro Continental teams from the host country, along with Continental teams, national teams and club teams. WorldTour teams are not allowed to compete in 2.2 or 1.2 events.