BMC to end U23 program after seeing prospects go to rival teams

BMC Racing is folding its development team because often, the riders it grooms end up on rival WorldTour teams.

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LOGAN, Utah (VN) — BMC Racing will end its development program after four years supporting promising young riders on their way to the WorldTour. The team says that some of its best prospects go on to race for rival WorldTour teams.

Since 2013, the development team has helped riders make the jump to the WorldTour including: Stefan Küng, Silvan Dillier, Tom Bohli, Dylan Teuns, Floris Gerts, Kilian Frankiny, Loïc Vliegen, and Nathan van Hooydonck.

However not all riders go on to race for BMC. And most recently, Russian stand-out Pavel Sivakov is expected to sign with Team Sky — BMC reportedly could not match Sky’s offer. BMC began questioning its return on investment after seeing some of its developing riders head to other teams.

“That’s the problem with the sport,” said BMC assistant sport director Jackson Stewart. “You want to develop riders but as soon as you develop, you just primed the perfect riders to go to different teams. That’s great to support the sport but it’s not worth you funding and putting all of your time into that. So we just weren’t getting what we wanted.”

Stewart also points to a limited number of open slots on the BMC WorldTour squad each year. The development team’s 12-14 riders would fight for two open spots. Plus, some would age out of the U23 category, making them less valuable and attractive for long-term contracts. Plenty of these riders were worthy of contracts, according to Stewart, and that’s when other teams would swoop in and sign them.

“We couldn’t take as many guys as we were developing,” Stewart says. “But when guys started going to other teams it was difficult to see that you put in all that time and money and then you lost that guy because another team came and bought them. We realized that model doesn’t work until the UCI can figure out how to protect your investment.”

Several years ago, the UCI proposed changing WorldTour team structures to help with rider development across the board. Teams would have 17-rider “A” squads as well as 12-rider “B” teams. Theoretically, the B squad would become a development program, putting all of the WorldTour teams on the same level for grooming young riders.

The proposal never gained traction. It would have been a massive change for the teams, and it’s not something that could happen overnight says Stewart. Teams have two- or three-year rider contracts that would have to be addressed with any large-scale changes, and it proved to be too much for the UCI to implement.

Lack of funding also makes UCI-mandated development programs difficult to realize. Most teams can’t afford a separate development squad. BMC’s development team costs an estimated $1 million to run each year — some WorldTour teams have budgets as paltry as $10 million. The extra expense wouldn’t be worthwhile for smaller teams that can rely on traditional recruitment methods, such as finding talent on the Continental circuits.

“At the pro level, it’s not like we don’t have enough resumes coming in,” said Stewart. “It’s not that you don’t have enough candidates that want to come to your team. It’s just that you’re hoping to create something better and then when someone else buys it, you’re like, well what was the point — other than just supporting cycling.”

Even though it is folding next season, the BMC development team is still supporting young riders this year. Swiss rider Patrick Mueller sees his first race as a stagiaire with BMC’s WorldTour team at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah this week. The young rider’s excitement was obvious as he took the start line with his new team.

It was a moment of relief as well, knowing that he’d made it — at least for now — just in time.