BMC Pro Cycling may not be on the UCI’s list of ProTour teams, but the revamped Swiss/American squad appears to be more than ready to take on the world’s top races on the 2010 calendar.
Financed by Swiss businessman Andy Rihs and his bike company, BMC, the team has clearly reached its goal of becoming a major international program, one that Rihs outlined when he established the squad back in 2007.
Indeed, this week’s training camp in Agoura Hills, California, underscores just how much progress the team has made in the past few months.
With the addition of reigning world champion Cadel Evans, U.S. national champion George Hincapie and 2008 world champion Alessandro Ballan, the Swiss-American Pro Continental wildcard team has made a major jump forward from its 2009 roster and is openly lobbying for an invitation to the 2010 Tour de France.
The team’s California training camp began in Santa Rosa on January 17, headed south to Agoura Hills, north of Los Angeles, on January 25, and ends on Sunday, the 31st. Seven members of the team have already competed together, at the Santos Tour Down Under in Australia: Evans, Hincapie, Karsten Kroon, Danilo Wyss, Martin Kohler, Mauro Santambrogio and Thomas Frei. Evans, competing for the first time in the rainbow jersey on home soil, finished sixth overall.
“Really the main goals of the Tour Down Under were to get to know the guys and to start working with (team director) John Lelangue in a race situation, to get operating as a team together, and I think we operated really well,” Evans said. “It came down to me having a pretty good day. We made an opportunity for ourselves and we took it to the line. It didn’t quite come off at the end, but I hope personally it’s just a sign of things to come.”
The next events on the team’s calendar are February’s Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman; the team is sending Ballan, Kohler, Marcus Burghardt, John Murphy, Alexander Kristoff, Jackson Stewart, Simon Zahner and Michael Schär.
Because of the long travel between Australia, the U.S. and the Arabian Peninsula, Kroon, Frei, Wyss, Kohler and Santambrogio did not fly to California for training camp, choosing instead to head directly to Europe to continue their race preparation. Zahner was in California until Wednesday morning; he flew back to Europe to be with his wife, who is expecting twins.
Instead, the team presented its three marquee riders in Evans, Hincapie and Ballan, who each conducted three 20-minute round-table interviews with the media while flanked by their custom-painted BMC bikes. All three riders have won major one-day events and have worn the leader’s jersey and won at least one stage at a grand tour. (Ballan won a stage and wore the maillot oro for a day at the 2007 Vuelta a España; Hincapie won a stage at the 2005 Tour and wore the maillot jaune for two days in 2006; Evans, who has worn the leader’s jersey at all three grand tours, and won the stage 13 time-trial at the 2007 Tour.)
As a Pro Continental team, invitations to the sport’s biggest events are not a guarantee; however with its top-caliber roster, BMC is in the luxury position to pick and choose which events to participate in, without the mandatory ProTour event participation that ProTour teams are held to.
“We’re in a situation this year where we don’t have a guarantee that we’ll go to the Tour de France,” Evans said. “But at the same time we’re not obliged to do as many races. We have less riders, but we have less races. I like to think of it as quality over quantity.”
Evans announced in December that he would race this year’s Giro d’Italia. The Giro marked the first grand tour of his career back in 2002, when he wore the maglia rosa for a day — the same day that he famously cracked on the final mountain stage and finished the race in 14th overall. Ballan will also race the Giro, marking the Italian’s first-ever appearance at his home tour after years spent focusing on April’s classics and then the Tour.
“For the first time the Giro is on my program,” Ballan said. “Cadel will also be there, so I’ll be 100 percent to get Cadel in the maglia rosa, and I also hope to be there for a stage win, but primarily I’ll be there to support Cadel.”
However even with its Pro Continental wildcard status, a Giro invitation and the rainbow jersey in its corner, several times Wednesday BMC riders stressed that they’re not assuming they’ll be invited to the sport’s biggest race.
“We’re just hoping for wildcard entries,” Evans said. “Nothing’s really secure for us. If we really deserve a place and we don’t get a start, that would be frustrating. But I see it as a challenge and something we have to work together to confront. I see it as an interesting challenge, and look forward to working with the guys here and getting to the start line in good shape. We have to work harder to prove to the world that we deserve a place at the Tour. And if we don’t deserve a place, and we don’t get a place, then that’s our own fault.”
Evans also said prior to the Giro he would like to contest Fléche Wallonne and Liége-Bastogne-Liége. Asked if we would seek a new team if BMC didn’t get a spot in the Tour, Evans joked, “No, if we don’t make the Tour, I’ll just take my wife on holiday.”
Beyond the addition of Evans — a rider who can allure race organizers with both the rainbow jersey and the potential of a legitimate GC contender — one of the more interesting developments of the squad is its bolstered classics squad. In Hincapie, Ballan, Kroon and German Marcus Burghardt BMC has quickly established itself as one of the top classics teams in the world, second perhaps only to the Quick Step team of Tom Boonen and Stijn Devolder. Ballan won the Tour of Flanders in 2007 has and twice finished on the podium at Paris-Roubaix; Hincapie has stood on the podium at Flanders and Roubaix; both Hincapie and Burghardt have won Gent-Wevelgem; and Kroon has reached the podium at Flèche Wallonne and the Amstel Gold Race.
“We have an awesome classics team. Either (Ballan or Burghardt) can be the leader. I only want to be the team leader if I go in there more than 100-percent fit,” Hincapie said. “That requires the best racing and the best preparation before I get there. You have to be healthy and everything has to be right. And then the legs have to do the talking. We are professionals, we all get along well, and we all know that they will be willing to help me if I’m going better than they are.”
Like Hincapie, Ballan said the presence of so many classics specialists would only increase the team’s chances of winning, rather than hinder any one rider’s chances.
“It’s not a problem at all, it’s a strength,” Ballan said. “Cycling is a team sport, and we are a team. Of course we all have goals. But when I’d heard George Hincapie had signed with BMC, I called him and asked him about it. He said he was very happy, and he was also happy when I decided to sign as well. We will support each other. We’ve both shown that we are willing to ride for other leaders, me with Paolo Bettini at the world championships, and George has countless times, for riders like Lance Armstrong and Mark Cavendish.”
Asked if Roubaix is the crown jewel missing from a career that includes wins at Flanders and the world championships, Ballan answered, “If I had to choose one race I’d still like to win, it would be Roubaix. It’s the one event everyone wants to win, but no one wants to race.”
Though he freely admitted that he left HTC-Columbia so he could find more opportunities to race for himself, Burghardt echoed his teammates’ sentiments regarding classics leadership, adding that BMC’s strength on the cobbles could prove pivotal during the Tour’s opening week, with stage 3 traveling over 13.2km of cobblestones used in Paris-Roubaix — with the final cobbled Haveluy section ending just 10km from the finish line, at the entrance to the notorious Arenberg Trench.
“Cadel may be isolated a little bit in the mountains, but what could be a problem for others is the first week of the Tour on Belgian roads,” Burghardt said. “You need a good team, and it will be a big advantage for him to have George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan and myself leading over the cobbles.”
While Team BMC has taken a giant leap from its modest roster of last season, the squad has retained some of its core veterans. Jeff Louder and Brent Bookwalter are two American BMC riders that are entering their third season with the team, and have watched it grow from a developing Pro Continental team to, at least on paper, one of the strongest teams in the world. Both men are aiming to start their first grand tour in 2010 in Italy; it’s Louder’s 11th season as a pro, while it’s Bookwalter’s fifth.
“I sort of semi-wrote off ever racing a grand tour,” said Louder, winner of the 2008 Tour of Utah and the 2009 Redlands Classic. “That’s why I started racing, to one day start the Tour de France. It’s always kept me going. I’ve had great successes in a lot of small races all over the world, but it would have been disappointing if I never got to do a grand tour. I’m really happy to be with this team and the way the program is moving is really impressive. I think I’m ready for a grand tour. I know I’m ready. I think I was ready five years ago, it as just a matter of getting the opportunity. I want to give it everything I can. I’m already working as hard as I can to finish the race, and finish it on a high note.”
As for watching the team outgrow it roots, Louder said with the leadership of team president Jim Ochowicz and sponsor and co-owner Rihs, he always sensed the team was “destined for greater things.”
“You could always see the writing on the wall,” Louder said. “As a rider I learned early that you don’t expect to start a race until you are pinning your numbers on and you’re on the start line, because so many things can go wrong. But the way this team was built and structured, you could tell as long as things went according to plan, we would be where we are today. It’s been cool to see it happen, the vision. Andy Rihs always knew this would happen, it’s just been a matter of everyone else catching up.”
And the team has continued adding young American riders, including 25-year-old John Murphy, the 2009 national criterium champion, who has been given a classics schedule that will include Qatar, Het Volk, Three Days of De Panne, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. The former OUCH-Maxxis rider, who raced in Europe with the U.S. national U23 team in 205 and 2006, said that though he might not have many chances to wear the national crit champ’s jersey, that was more than alright with him.
“This might sound weird, but to not wear the jersey is a dream come true, because it means I’m in Europe, doing the biggest races in the world,” Murphy said.
It’s an objective the whole team will share in 2010, from the world champion on down the roster.
Check back with VeloNews.com for extended interviews and videos from the Team BMC training camp.
The 2010 BMC Racing Team
Alessandro Ballan (Italy)
Chris Barton (U.S.)
Chad Beyer (U.S.)
Brent Bookwalter (U.S.)
Marcus Burghardt (Germany)
Cadel Evans (Australia)
Mathias Frank (Switzerland)
Thomas Frei (Switzerland)
George Hincapie (U.S.)
Martin Kohler (Switzerland)
Alexander Kristoff (Norway)
Karsten Kroon (Netherlands)
Jeff Louder (U.S.)
Alex Moos (Switzerland)
Steve Morabito (Switzerland)
John Murphy (U.S.)
Scott Nydam (U.S.)
Mauro Santambrogio (Italy)
Michael Schär (Switzerland)
Florian Stalder (Switzerland)
Jackson Stewart (U.S.)
Danilo Wyss (Switzerland)
Simon Zahner (Switerland)
Under 23 Team
Chris Butler (U.S.)
Cole House (U.S.)
Larry Warbasse (U.S.)
Jim Ochowicz (U.S.), President / Co-Owner
Andy Rihs (Switzerland), Sponsor / Co-Owner
Gavin Chilcott (U.S.), General Team Manager
Herbi Baechler (Switzerland), Technical Director
Cindy Buckman (U.S.), Administration
Georges Luechinger (Principality of Liechtenstein) PR/Media Officer
Sean Weide (U.S.), US PR Agent
John Lelangue (Belgium) Chief Sports Director
Fabio Baldato (Italy), Assistant Sports Director
Noel Dejonckheere (Belgium), Assistant Sports Director / Europe Operations Manager
Jacques Michaud (France), Assistant Sports Director
René Savary (Switzerland), Assistant Sports Director
Mike Sayers (U.S.), Assistant Sports Director
Max Testa (Italy), Chief Medical Officer
Eric Heiden (U.S.), Physician
Scott Major (U.S.), Physician
Giovanni Ruffini (Italy), Physician
Dario Spinelli (Italy), Physician
Ian Sherburne (U.S.), Chief Mechanic
Kevin Grove (U.S.), Mechanic
Ronald Ruymen (Belgium), Mechanic
Andy Stone (U.S.), Mechanic
Nick Vandecauter (Belgium), Mechanic
Freddy Viaene (Belgium), Chief Soigneur
Eddy De Groote (Belgium), Soigneur
Kaycee Evans (U.S.), Soigneur
Graeme McCallum (Republic of South Africa), Soigneur
Jeremiah Ranegar (U.S.), Soigneur
Trudy Rebsamen (U.S.), Soigneur
David Bombeke (Belgium), Physical Therapist
Francis Bur (France), Bus Driver
Luis Carneiro (Portugal), Mechanic
Stefano Cattai (Italy), BMC Company
Mike Hürlimann (Switzerland), CEO BMC Company
Carrie Needham (U.S.), Assistant Chief Medical Officer
Rolf Singenberger (Switzerland), BMC Company
Michèle Tanner (Switzerland), BMC Company