This is the time of year when the professional cycling teams hold their pre-season training camps and one of the first teams out of the blocks is the BMC Professional Cycling Team. This is former Team Phonak owner Andy Rhis' squad and with the addition this year of John Lelangue, who directed Floyd Landis to victory in the 2006 Tour de France, and who will share the team director responsibilities with current DS Gavin Chilcott they are looking to take it up a notch in 2008.
Founded in 2006 as a US regional team, they upgraded to a full-blown US pro squad in 2007 and with the addition of riders such as Scott Moninger, Scott Nydam, Jackson Stewart, Jonathan Garcia and ex-Phonak rider Alexander Moos they were ready to play with the best teams in America and beyond. Moninger nearly pulled off a huge win at Redlands and Nydam finished a respectable sixth place in the Tour of Georgia while battling a number of European Pro Tour teams. The capper came with a win in the team time trial at the Giro del Friuli Venezia Giuli in Italy becoming the first all-American team to do so. Colorado-native Jonathan Garcia held the leader's jersey for a few stages as well.
For 2008, the team has upgraded to a UCI Professional Continental team, the same classification as Jonathan Vaughters' Slipstream/Chipotle squad. The move paved the way for the team to compete in some of Europe's best professional races. I caught up with John Lelangue on a cold, misty day in Palo Alto after the team had returned from riding stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California up and over the daunting Mount Hamilton and the brutal Sierra Road climbs. Lelangue was excited with the races on the US calendar, noting that the Amgen Tour of California, Tour of Georgia, Tour of Missouri and the Tour of Utah were all on their program. But, he was most excited about taking the team to Europe and testing the waters there. Already on the program are the Criterium International, Three Day of DePanne, Tour of Picardie and GP Pino Cerami. The squad is eyeing several more wildcard invitations to two high-profile stage races in Switzerland and a bumpy, one-day race in northern France.
It must be remembered that Andy Rhis shut down the Phonak team at the end of 2006 because of sponsorship difficulties. The BMC team has slowly evolved into a potential replacement, but to be sure, even if the European campaign is a raging success, team management will still be taking things slowly. This year they are knocking on the door. Next year they will be looking to break it down. Keep an eye on these boys in 2008!