USA Cycling will announce Monday a new team designation, “Domestic Elite,” which national events director Micah Rice hoped would bring improved organization to elite teams in the men’s and women’s pelotons. The new category is effective immediately and will affect National Racing Calendar points standings and criteriums on the circuit.

Rice stressed the fact that the new licensure would not create any new barriers for teams or riders hoping to compete in NRC races. Elite domestic teams like California Giant Berry Farms and Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12, however, need to meet the new registration requirements in order to accrue team points on the national circuit.

“We’re not locking anybody out of NRC races or anything like that,” Rice told VeloNews. “We’re just organizing the team points side of it and organizing those rosters.”

The new licensure requires an annual registration fee of $250 and comes with roster stipulations similar to UCI protocol. Domestic Elite squads will be able to make roster changes during a number of windows throughout the season and must keep their line ups current with USA Cycling. Guest riders will continue to be allowed, but those riders will not earn NRC points for their host teams.

“Essentially what we’re doing to organize the NRC better is to organize team points — how they’re garnered and who can get them,” said Rice, also pointing to benefits for race organizers. “Someone like Redlands or Nature Valley, we can point to these Domestic Elite squads as more organized than a local club, but not taking the big leap to being a UCI team.”

Unlike Continental registration, Domestic Elite squads will have no age requirements placed on their rosters, but will require80 percent of the riders to be U.S. citizens. Foreign teams can compete for the NRC teams classification, but must pay the registration fee. “One restriction we are putting on it is nationality,” said Rice. “The idea is that this is really a domestic elite roster for United States riders. If foreign teams want to come in and compete, if they’re UCI, they obviously can do that … but if it’s a foreign team they’ll have to pay the $250.”

Rice first informed team directors of potential changes at the national professional criterium championships in August 2010 before presenting the new licensure to NRC organizers at their summit in November. Rice said that the decision by the UCI this month to allow top level teams into UCI criteriums did not affect his plans to revamp NRC team points this season as first reported by VeloNews in August.

According to Rice, USA Cycling set the registration barrier low for the new designation to allow elite teams to achieve maximum benefit. “A lot of teams, even amateur teams, will brag to sponsors that, ‘Hey, there are ProTeams racing on the NRC in the States this year, but we were ranked 13th,’” said Rice, former director of the Jittery Joe’s and Aaron’s elite programs. “There’s always interest in trying to figure out where you fit in, where you rank.”

Pro Continental composite squads

The new designation will allow squads like UnitedHealthcare and Team Type 1 to field eight-rider composite pro-am teams in NRC criteriums, where Pro Continental and ProTeams will be allowed to compete in 2011. “This does allow for UCI teams to add a domestic component onto their NRC squads,” said Rice. “A team like UnitedHealthcare may choose to add riders to their domestic roster that would not be on their Pro Continental roster. These would be Cat. 1 men.”

Team Type 1 is expected to take advantage of this allowance, but UHC president Thierry Attias informed VeloNews recently that his squad had scrapped plans for an ancillary elite program.

Women’s implications

While riders earn paychecks, the top U.S. women’s teams, like PB & Co. and Webcor Builders, have been recognized officially as elite amateur programs by the UCI and USA Cycling. The new registration designation won’t change that, but Rice did hope it would add even more organization to women’s domestic racing.

“I think that providing more structure is better,” said Rice, who ran the Aaron’s team for three years. “If these women are getting paid even a small amount of money to travel and race their bikes, they’re a pro athlete in my mind. Whether that meets the UCI designation is another issue.”

Rice and technical director Shawn Farrell will distribute information regarding the new licensing to teams and race organizers Monday. Rice did not expect much resistance, as many directors and promoters have been involved in the process for months.