As was announced officially earlier today, the current World Professional Road Champion Cadel Evans signed a three-year deal with the BMC Racing Team, the only UCI Pro Continental registered in the USA… update: a comment said that the team is registered in Switzerland, but that’s the first I’ve heard about that.
“Cadel brings a wealth of experience in the Grand Tours to the team.” BMC Racing Team co-owner Jim Ochowicz stated in the team press release. “As I said earlier, our team will have multiple chances to measure ourselves against the greatest teams in the world. We are pleased that we will have the opportunities to send out our most successful riders, now including Cadel Evans, to tackle these challenges,” Ochowicz added.
After years of an aggressive but linear progression, the BMC is making a huge leap with the addition of Evans and other big name riders in its quest to race at the Tour de France in 2011. Given the latest signing, my money would be on the 2010 Tour – the rainbow jersey opens up doors.
How did we get here? Originally created by Gavin Chilcott, the BMC team has been on an upward progression, registering as a UCI Pro Continental status in 2008 after only three years in existence. Immediately, the team went after the Wildcard Status to be able to race in prestigious European races, while still focusing on the big American stage races such as Tour of California, Tour de Georgia, Tour of Missouri, Tour of Utah. That year, the team participated in the Tour of Qatar, le Critérium International, the Tour de Suisse and its first Pro Tour race, the Tour of Romandie, where it was the only Wildcard team.
Another change in 2008 was the addition of John Lelangue as Directeur Sportif. As a former official within ASO and former CEO of the Phonak Cycling Team ProTour franchise, the Belgian brought valuable experience of the European races and maybe even more valuable, contacts to the institutions.
Then in 2009, the team continued to grow when BMC owner Andy Rihs and Ochowicz took a controlling stake in the team’s parent company. Chilcott and his partner Charlie Livermore remained active partners in the company while Chilcott assumed the role of General Manager. The team, split evenly across American and Swiss riders, continued to race in Europe, adding prestigious races such as Paris-Roubaix and le Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré to its repertoire. Split across continents, the team also raced in the North American UCI races and some NRC races but were stymied when an overlooked and rarely (never?) enforced UCI rule was brought into play.
The team progression was aggressive but no earthshaking bounds were made with the team built around young American and Swiss talents with a few experienced, but not Pro Tour, riders to lead. But that all changed this year.
Who have we got? Joining Evans in the revamped 2010 BMC will be current US Road Champion George Hincapie, former World Professional Road Champion Alessandro Ballan from Italy; Tour de France stage winner (2008) and 2007 Gent-Wevelgem winner Marcus Burghardt from Germany; Dutchman Karsten Kroon, second in the 2009 Amstel Gold Race and a Tour de France stage winner (2002); and Steve Morabito, Michael Schär, Aurélien Clerc, Simon Zahner from Switzerland, Mauro Santambrogio from Italy, Alexander Kristoff from Norway and US Crit Champion John Murphy.
Remaining in the team are Americans Brent Bookwalter, Jeff Louder, and Chris Barton who is graduating from the U23 program. Also expected to remain are Frank Mathias, Florian Stalder and Danilo Wyss, all from Switzerland. Who else is remaining is still unclear. Update: Americans Scott Nydam, Stewart Jackson and Chad Beyer along with Martin Kohler from Switzerland are also remaining with the team
What’s next? That makes 18 22 riders. The UCI rules state that a Pro Continental team must employ at least 16 riders up to a maximum of 25. The current mix of known riders is certainly strong for the early Classics, with Ballan focusing on the cobbles. But what about support for Evans at the Grand Tours? Who should stay? Who should be brought in? And just how deep at the pockets? so many questions….
Once the roster is complete, the next step for the team is to get awarded a UCI Wildcard status, which shouldn’t be a problem as they’re received it for the past two years. And then wait for the invites for the European races.
BMC also stated that it will continue to compete in the UCI American races, which means Tour of California, Tour of Missouri, Philly and a few more races. Given last year’s mess at NRC races, I do wonder if we’ll see the team at some of the other stage races such as Redlands, Tour of Utah, I sure hope so.
Lastly, how will the riders mesh together to form a cohesive unit? That’s the biggie for me at this point.