By Brian Holcombe
As the 2009 UCI calendar draws to a close, the 2010 spring classics are a faint flicker of pain and glory far off on the horizon. If all goes to plan for team manager Gavin Chilcott between now and then, the U.S.-based BMC Racing Team will line up at the start of the monuments with a good chance of taking one of the world’s biggest one-day titles.
The BMC squad started its first Paris-Roubaix in April before scoring a coup this fall by signing 2009 U.S. national road champion George Hincapie and 2008 world road champion Alessandro Ballan. Ballan and Hincapie headline a group of veterans joining the team in 2010 and should provide strong leadership for returning Americans, including Jeff Louder and Brent Bookwalter.
If BMC does receive a much-anticipated invitation to Paris-Roubaix, the team should join Columbia-HTC, Garmin-Slipstream and RadioShack to place four American-registered teams at the start in Compiègne for the first time.
As the new signees gathered in Zurich last week, we caught up with Chilcott to discuss his squad’s progress since 2007, what the next few years may look like for American cycling and the difficulties faced by a growing program. Below are excerpts from that interview.
VeloNews: Is all of the recent progress according to the plan that you initiated back in 2007?
Gavin Chilcott: I couldn’t have assumed that we’d be moving along this far, this fast. It’s always been our goal to keep stepping out as much as we could each year. We’ve had phenomenal support from BMC, so I think that the degree to which we’ve been able to expand the program and move up the sports level of the program is directly attributable to Andy Rhys and BMC’s support.
VN: You could have potentially thrown your hat into the ProTour license ring this fall. Why are you going forward on as a Continental team?
GC: I don’t think we’ve ruled out (a ProTour license) in the future. At this time it seemed appropriate for the team at the sports level. Our goal is to be able to earn invitations to the races that we feel like we belong at with this roster and that seems to us like the right step for 2010.
VN: What, in the team’s view, are those races?
GC: You can infer from the type of rider, the marquee names on our roster, that we would like opportunities to contest the big one-day events. So that’s very clear. The long-range goal of the team is to be in the Tour de France. We would be eager to accept an invitation at any point in the future. So, that’s where we want to end up and we don’t know exactly how that’s going to go until we have actual invitations and we’ve had a chance to demonstrate ourselves in the early part of the year.
VN: If you receive a wildcard invite to one of the three grand tours or the spring classics next year, you could potentially have four U.S. licensed teams in those biggest races. What are your thoughts overall on this period of American racing in Europe?
GC: Well, I think that all of these teams are internationalized, in terms of the roster, the staff and even the sponsors. The country of origin is important, but not singularly important, so I think that the teams will deserve their place based on their sports program, not on their nationality. I don’t think that the nationality of teams is usually the biggest determinant. It may be a tiebreaker here and there, but by and large a team has the obligation to be granted an invitation based on the sports performance.
VN: It is important to American fans, though.
GC:I think that’s really exciting. I don’t think we’ve had a situation like this ever in the history of American cycling – so much link to United States cycling. I think it’s really exciting for the sport here. I think it’s going to be a time that gets a lot more people looking at cycling, that will bring us closer to the mainstream in the sports media. I think that people that are not currently followers of bicycle racing, per se, are going to find celebrities from within these American teams that they can follow. I think it’s going to give a very tangible and attractive product for event promoters to sell, so I’m certainly hopeful that this is going to be a shot in the arm for the American races that are developing.
VN: What will the domestic schedule look like for BMC in 2010? Will it be more limited than 2009?
GC:That’s still not confirmed. We have to look a little bit at the sanctioning of the races and what sorts of allowances are going to become possible to allow some of the teams to fit into administrative niches outside of Europe that require special provisions.
We’re hoping to be present at a similar number of races that we were at this year. There are a lot of them that we like a lot. We certainly like Redlands. We like Cascade. We like Utah. We had a positive experience at Tour of Battenkill. And so there are races in the U.S. where we certainly want to be there and we want to be in front of the American fans. We have American riders, we’re an American team and our sponsor has an eye for the American market, so it’s important for us to have an opportunity to showcase the team here.
All of us that have been behind the scenes on the team really care about American cycling, so we want to be here contributing in the U.S. and we’ll take the opportunities when we have them.
VN: Have you seen much movement from the UCI or USA Cycling to allow the Pro Continental teams to fill out the American calendar more next year?
GC:At this point, I don’t think that there is a lot of movement. I think that everyone has an orientation toward solutions, but the adaptation of the European model everywhere has its challenges and I think everybody is trying to work through those.
VN: You have signed big names for next year, but what’s happening to the the program’s developmental role?
GC:Well, we’re happy that we’ve been able to move Chris Barton – a lot of people realize that we’ve had a collaboration going with the national team where we were supporting a number of riders that were concurrently active with the (USA Cycling) U23 team in Europe. This year we had Chris Barton, Cole House and Austin Carroll in that group. Cole House has another year in the under 23 group and Chris Barton moves up onto the pro roster, although he is young enough to remain in the under 23 group. We’ve added two riders, Chris Butler and Larry Warbasse, for next year on that espoir roster. Austin Carroll graduates out of that team age-wise and is not continuing.
VN: As a program grows you no doubt have to move on without some of the riders that you have been with for the last few years. Are there hard decisions to be made?
GC:Those are always really hard choices because when you bring someone into this program you always want them to succeed and have a positive experience and continue to be a fit. In some cases that doesn’t continue indefinitely to be an ideal fit. You always hope everybody finds next steps that are good for them and allow them to pursue things in a way that they want to. We’ve never had a situation where we were really glad to see someone go. It is always really hard.
VN: On the equipment side, other than Hincapie Sportswear, who will provide team clothing, is there anything significant changing next year?
GC: We’re just finalizing the remains of our agreements, but in terms of changes, we’re strengthening our relationship with Easton, which is going to be a big feather in the cap for this program. Most of our other sponsors are continuing. Easton had a role previously, but they’re really expanding the partnership with us, which is really outstanding news from our side, because they’ve been an excellent partner thus far. To have them more invested is really very exciting for me as a manager, so we’re very happy about that.
They’ll be our wheel partner next year and that’s an important niche because there are a lot of special considerations that go on around time trialing and riding in the classics. They’re very service-oriented – they really understand team support in a way that is very valuable. We’ll also be using helmets through them – they’re associated with Bell Helmets.