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By Neal Rogers
A short-term agreement between the UCI and USA Cycling has made room for Team BMC, the only American UCI-registered Pro Continental team, to field full squads at national-level stage races for the remainder of the season.
The Swiss-American team will now be allowed to field a full team at the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic, the Cascade Classic, the Tour of Elk Grove and the Tour of Utah. All are part of USA Cycling’s National Racing Calendar series.
USA Cycling chief operating officer Sean Petty told VeloNews Thursday that he’d received confirmation from the UCI allowing for a short-term exception to rule 2.1.009, which prohibits ProTour and Pro Continental teams from participating in non-UCI sanctioned events.
“Based on the fact that as a Pro Continental team, BMC can’t enter category 1.2 or 2. 2 races on the European Tour calendar, they still have to have a race schedule,” Petty said. “We asked the UCI, ‘can we get a variance for them to compete here,’ at least at stage races where they can get a good amount of racing before they go back to Europe.”
With Astana’s Lance Armstrong racing at April’s SRAM Tour of the Gila, the UCI apparently was compelled to enforce the rule, which had been historically overlooked in North America.
A loophole was found — UCI rule 2.8.003 — allowing both Astana and BMC to field three riders each at Gila, but the riders were not allowed to compete in their team kits. Team BMC, which splits its schedule between Europe and the U.S., had intended to field an eight-man squad at Gila but was forced to send five riders home.
Petty said another loophole allowed Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner to race last weekend’s Nevada City Classic. The rule allows ProTour riders to compete in a certain number of kermessess each year, and the Nevada City race met the definition of a kermesse.
Petty added that Armstrong had been in direct contact with McQuaid in the days prior to Nevada City to be sure the UCI viewed American criteriums similarly to European kermesses, and that his presence would not be in violation of any UCI rules.
The UCI rule prohibiting Pro Continental teams from participating in non-UCI sanctioned events has been problematic for BMC, the only Pro Continental team not registered in Europe.
BMC general manager Gavin Chilcott said USA Cycling’s successful lobbying to have the UCI grant an exception to its rule “represents a demonstration that both entities are seeking a solution that takes into account a lot of factors. It makes me hopeful for a future resolution that is universally applicable.”
Chilcott added that the team would now be able to take three of its under-23 riders — Cole House, Austin Carroll and Chris Barton — to Fitchburg. “That’s something we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do,” he said, “So we’re pleased about that.”
Petty, who, like BMC’s team director John Lelangue is a member of the UCI road commission, said that the UCI council plans to convene in August and will then look for a long-term solution to Team BMC’s unique situation.
“Our hope is that we can have a proposal put forward which states that a Pro Continental team can race in national races in the country in which they are registered,” Petty said.
In UCI terminology, “national events” means events sanctioned by a national federation, such as USA Cycling, rather than the international governing body. Events that wish to be UCI sanctioned must meet certain standards, including a minimum number of international teams as well as minimum prize lists and registration fees, set, of course, by the UCI.
Petty added that the UCI road commission understands that it is in the best interest of the sport to see ProTour and Pro Continental riders at national-level races in the country where their teams are registered, particularly in countries such as the U.S. and Australia where UCI calendars are too slim to sustain a season’s worth of racing.
“We like to see (ProTour and Pro Continental riders) racing here at a few smaller races,” Petty said. “The sponsors have an interest, the fans have an interest. I’d like to see ProTour riders allowed X number of days each season to ride in events in the country their team is registered. We’ve seen Lance, Horner, Levi, Ted King and Jason McCartney do the odd race here and there this year, and I think that’s also good. We saw the impact at Gila and Nevada City having Lance there. Those are positives. I think we would need to cap that number of days for ProTour teams, but for Pro Continental teams, I think it’s a good thing to race in national calendar races. BMC won’t make a steady diet of it, just between races they are doing in Europe.”
“You want to see those top riders racing in their home country,” Petty continued. “Take Robbie Hunter in South Africa. It’s important for a guy like that to be seen in his home country, but there aren’t currently any races for him there. Even in Australia, there are almost no UCI races there. Yet it’s critically important for the development of the sport for Australians to see riders like Stuart O’Grady, Michael Rogers and Robbie McEwen racing in their home country. We need those heroes racing in front of their fans.”
BMC will also field a full squad at the Tour of Missouri, which was never in question as it is a UCI-sanctioned stage race.