In a shake-up of the US domestic calendar, the Redlands Bicycle Classic will move next season from its traditional early April dates to the first week of May, while the Tour of the Gila, which usually occupies that spot on the calendar, will move to an earlier spot in April.
The changes come at the request of the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour, which asked Redlands to serve as the lead-in domestic race to the Tour of California, according to an announcement the race released on Wednesday. The five-day California race will take place May 3-7 next year, while Tour of the Gila will move to April 19-23, according to Gila race director Jack Brennan.
"The three races – Joe Martin, Gila and Redlands – all tried to work together to create a better flow for teams," Brennan told Cyclingnews. "So it's really USA Cycling working with teams and with our three races to kind of get things on the same page."
Teams have often complained that the current schedule creates long, expensive blocks of travel as they traverse with staff and equipment from one side of the country to the other and back again.
"So the idea is we can work a flow towards California," Brennan said.
In a statement released on Wednesday announcing the date changes, Redlands Bicycle Classic President Marc Shaw said his organisation was "excited to partner with USA Cycling and several other races to craft a schedule that will benefit the entire cycling community, particularly the teams who travel across the country to participate in the Pro Road Tour calendar."
"In 2017, the Redlands Bicycle Classic will move back to May, where it all started in 1985, allowing the west coast to host two of the most amazing cycling classics back to back," Shaw said.
Micah Rice, USA Cycling vice president of national events, told Cyclingnews it's been known for some time that the geographical flow in the first part of the season has been very tough on teams and their travel budgets. Rice said USA Cycling sat down with the teams after the US Pro Championships in May to try and work out a more efficient calendar.
"We went through it with them and just asked what could we do to improve this," Rice told Cyclingnews. "The teams were pretty clear that the two things they would love to see with Pro Road Tour are fewer events and a better travel flow, so those are the two things we set out to work on when we started creating the calendar."
The new schedule means Redlands will now be the lead-in race to the Tour of California, although that race's jump from 2.HC to WorldTour status next year will likely mean domestic UCI Continental teams will not able allowed to participate. Second tier WorldTour races must invite all WorldTour teams and must have a minimum of 10 on the start line.
As the rules stand now, Continental teams are not allowed to participate in WorldTour events, although there has been some suggestion that this rule could be changed for next year and possibly beyond.
"That is something that I have to admit those discussions are happening above me," Rice said. "So I don't know. We do know that the flow will be great for the women's teams, which will be going to the women's WorldTour race in California. Men's Continental teams? I think that's a tough one. I would be surprised if Continental teams got into Tour of California."
Although losing the opportunity to compete in California would be a big blow for domestic teams that count on high-profile US races to attract and keep sponsors, Rice said there is good news for US racing on the horizon.
"You're going to see maybe California go away for a lot of the domestic UCI Continental teams, but you're also going to see some other announcements coming out soon about some other opportunities that are going to be out there," Rice said. "I don't know when the announcement is on a couple of these things, but let's just say one thing goes away and maybe two more things pop up."
Rice also said that USA Cycling would soon be announcing a second national calendar below the Pro Road Tour.
"Another part of it, and you'll find out soon, too, is that there will be another calendar as well where we don't care about [event date] conflicts, the bar is lowered for prize money and things like that,” Rice said. “It will be a national calendar, but we're going to start possibly putting in some regional value. So you'll hear more about that soon as well."
The Redlands Bicycle Classic was founded in 1985 and has been a staple of the US domestic racing scene ever since. A look at the past winners of the race reads like a walk through a wing of the US cycling hall of fame.
Among the winners over the past 32 years are Thurlow Rogers, who won the inaugural race, Davis Phinney, Alexi Grewall, Scott Moninger, Jonathan Vaughters, Christian Vandevelde, Chris Horner, Dag Otto Lauritzen and a host of international riders. A young Tom Boonen competed at Redlands as part of the US Postal team in the 1990s.
Most recently, Silber Pro Cycling's Matteo Dal-Cin won the 2016 men's race. Newly crowned Olympic time trial champion Kristin Armstrong won the women’s race, which debuted in 1989, ahead of fellow Olympian Mara Abbott. The Tour of the Gila is equally prestigious. Recent Tour of Utah winner Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) won the men's race this year, while Abbott took the women's title.