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Europcar targets WorldTour spot for 2014; IAM Cycling, MTN will remain Pro Continental

The departure of two UCI ProTeams leaves an opening at the top level of racing, but only one major Pro Continental team is targeting it

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MILAN (VN) — Europcar could automatically take the 18th and last spot in the UCI WorldTour for 2014. Its manager, Jean-René Bernaudeau, said today that he applied for the vacant spot in the first division.

“We filed the documents,” Bernaudeau told French newspaper Sud Ouest. “We just need to wait for the decision now.”

Cycling’s world governing body, the UCI, typically announces the 18-team WorldTour lineup in December. Europcar, which raced this season at the Pro Continental level, would have to satisfy four criteria: sporting, ethical, financial, and administrative.

When Katusha was left out of the WorldTour for the 2013 season, the team appealed and was given a ProTeam spot in the first division — which meant there were 19 WorldTour teams instead of 18. However, with two teams leaving after this season — Euskaltel-Euskadi and Vacansoleil-DCM — one spot remains.

“Our sponsor would be able to automatically start in all the major races, including the Vuelta a España,” Bernaudeau said. “I have 22 riders now, a little too much for our current level [in the second division]. If we passed into the WorldTour, I’d need to sign three more. I don’t want to splurge.”

Europcar started in 2000 as Bonjour. It raced as Brioches La Boulangère and Bouygues Telecom before partnering with the Paris-based rental car company beginning with the 2011 season. Due to poor results, Bernaudeau’s team and Cofidis were unable to race in the first division in 2010. Since then, it has raced in the second division and has relied on wildcard invitations to the big races, including the Tour de France.

Europcar is ranked first in the UCI’s list of second division European teams.

Points might not be the biggest hurdle, however. For a first division team, managers need extra money, riders, and staff to support a three-race program. At most, second division teams must race in two simultaneous races but ProTeams face an additional demand. On March 3, for example, Vacansoleil fielded teams in Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Ronde van Drenthe.

The other consideration is marketing potential. “Switzerland and Europe is important for us,” IAM Cycling owner Michel Thétaz told VeloNews. “We have no interest at all to sell our product in Australia or the other places where teams are forced to ride.”

Thétaz said his team would remain in the second division for 2014. After signing Sylvain Chavanel and Mathias Frank, he feels confident he can receive wildcard invitations to the big races like the Tour de France.

NetApp-Endura and MTN-Qhubeka, which also race at the Pro Continental level, told VeloNews they would remain in the second division. MTN general manager Doug Ryder said, “We are not planning to go up to the WorldTour.”

Now, attention turns to the UCI, which was unavailable to confirm the number of teams applying for a licence when contacted by VeloNews on Wednesday.

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