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NRC champs Jamis-Sutter Home not invited to ATOC, Dominguez not pleased

Sprinter Ivan Dominguez, the Cuban Missile turned American citizen, has won a stage in each of the major American tours — California, Georgia and Missouri — but will not have the opportunity to add to that tally at this year’s Amgen Tour of California, as his Jamis-Sutter Home team has not received an invitation to the race.

Dominguez at Redlands. Photo: Brad Kaminski

Sprinter Ivan Dominguez, the Cuban Missile turned American citizen, has won a stage in each of the major American tours — California, Georgia and Missouri — but will not have the opportunity to add to that tally at this year’s Amgen Tour of California, as his Jamis-Sutter Home team has not received an invitation to the race.

“The team was the (2009 National Racing Calendar) winner and we didn’t get an invitation,” said Dominguez. “The stuff is driving me crazy. I keep getting called to do interviews about the race.”

Under last year’s title sponsors Colavita Olive Oil and Sutter Home, the squad finished atop the NRC overall team standings in 2009, largely on the shoulders of Sebastian Haedo’s productive year in the sprints. Haedo, who joined brother J.J. at Saxo Bank this season, won nine times in 2009, including two stages each at the Joe Martin Stage Race and Nature Valley Grand Prix.

Dominguez, a multi-time Joe Martin stage winner, filled the void left by Haedo’s departure. He reached out to director Sebastian Alexandre last year when Rock Racing — which he joined mid-season after leaving the ProTour outfit Fuji-Servetto — was unable to secure the co-sponsor it sought for 2010. So Dominguez rejoined Alexandre, for whom he rode at Colavita in 2004, in hopes of defending the team’s NRC title and chasing stage wins at ATOC.

While an official announcement of teams competing at this year’s Amgen Tour of California is expected next week, Jim Birrell of Medalist Sports — the organization contracted by race owner AEG Sports to oversee race logistics — acknowledged that Jamis had not been invited to California, adding that selecting teams is one of the hardest decisions race organizers face.

“This is a discussion we have annually,” Birrell said. “The two toughest things in putting on a race like the Tour of California or Tour of Missouri are choosing the teams and cities. We only have x number of slots, and we have to go after those ProTour, Pro Continental and Continental teams that have household names. That leaves the pickings for the remaining slots pretty slim. Unfortunately there are teams that probably deserve to be in that didn’t get in. It’s nothing personal at all. It’s a hard position to be in, there are only so many big races for these domestic Continental teams to enter.”

Questioned about the decision to exclude the top team in the 2009 NRC standings, Birrell questioned both the validity of comparing teams from year to year, as well as the consistency of NRC rankings.

“Is Jamis-Sutter Home the same team as last year’s top NRC team?” Birrell said, alluding to Haedo’s departure to Saxo Bank. “I think the whole ranking system is a challenge, and I don’t know what the solution is. It’s tough, designing criteria that are fair and equitable across the board. One day a rider may be the team captain, because it’s a single-day race, and the next day he’s a domestique because it’s a stage race in the mountains. It’s hard to have a ranking system that really is fair and equitable.”

No stage, no spotlight

Dominguez rode for Toyota-United in 2008 when he finished second to Mark Cavendish on stage 6 of the Tour of Missouri. But he contended that the California exclusion resulted from his team’s refusal to defend his leader’s jersey in the race’s inaugural edition in 2007.

Dominguez won the opening stage, but after his team’s GC leader Chris Baldwin crashed hard in stage 2 and the team was one of only four to miss the break, Toyota-United halted its chase. Unlikely to hold the lead following the time trial, Dominguez surrendered the jersey to George Hincapie as the break finished 14 minutes ahead of the peloton.

“There is nothing you can do. When they say ‘No,’ it means no,” said Dominguez. “It’s really bad to talk about it because no one wants to see those things in the news, but for me it’s really hard to keep the truth hiding.”

As for Domiguez’s reference to the 2007 Tour of Missouri, Birrell said that had nothing to do with Jamis team selection.

“I can assure you the 2007 Tour of Missouri has nothing to do with it,” Birrell said. “There’s no ill will from that day of bike racing. I’m sorry he’s still carrying that burden, but by 5pm that day it was over and done with.”

And AEG president Andrew Messick re-iterated that there is no grudge.

“The notion that we wouldn’t invite a team because of a legal, tactical racing decision back in 2007 is completely false. Ivan is a terrific cyclist and we harbor no grudge or disguised agenda towards him or his team,” Messick told VeloNews.

While Jamis-Sutter Home’s NRC defense is underway this weekend at Redlands, California, Dominguez and his teammates will make alternative plans May, with a likely start at Joe Martin, May 6-9, before resuming post-California with the Northeastern NRC criteriums in late May “For now we are happy,” said Dominguez. “We are going to go to other races and see what happens.”

VeloNews managing editor Neal Rogers contributed to this report.