I love pro cycling. Of course the Tour de France is cool and the most popular bike race in the world, but the athletes are the real story makers. And those in the TdF are only a fraction of all the pros pedaling their way to a paycheck out there. Over the past few years I've been able to associate with some of these pros and get to know some of them personally. Most of these guys and gals have been stand up human beings who love the sport. Its been great to have them at some of my races and be able to follow their progress over the years.
Each year around this time we get to see a great list to gauge the progress of American pro cycling with the number of teams we have registered. US Cycling just announced the 17 teams registered from the US with the UCI. http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/usa-cycling-announces-american-uci-registered-continental-teams
There's plenty of interesting tidbits in this year's list. First, we lost 2 top level American teams: Radio Shack merged with Leopard and Leopard kept the registration in Luxemberg. We also saw the demise of the best team in the world, HTC-Highroad. This was truly a sad situation, that the winningest team in the world had to shut down because of lack of sponsorship.
But I also see some huge progress. We still have 2 top level Pro Tour teams with BMC and Garmin-Cervelo. Garmin-Cervelo comes off a fantastic year that saw them win Paris-Roubaix, best team at the TDF, the yellow jersey for a few days and a top 10 GC placing.
There's also 2 second tier Pro Continental teams in Team Type 1 and United Healthcare. That leaves 13 Continental teams, some with big rosters, filled with mostly American talent. Its great to see Spain's Francisco Mancebo return to Competitive Cyclist and big Tom Zirbel with a contract with Team Optum. Also, for those who follow cycling very closely, check out Mancebo's teammate Mike Olheiser.
Olhieser's a great story. He's been one of the fastest guys in America for a few years now winning numerous elite and masters titles. He's been offered pro contracts before only to turn them down because they never offered enough cash to quit his day job at a hospital. He's also 40 years old. So to see him on a pro roster is a very cool development! He raced on a composite team that included Mancebo and my coach, Dave Harward, in the Tour of Utah in 2010, so I guess a good contact was made there. I will be watching closely to how Olheiser takes to the pro races.
Scroll though that list and you might see some familiar names from your home town. Get familiar with the teams as well as the national and international calendars are tons of fun to follow. And one more thing, get familiar with the sponsors and buy their stuff! Its because of them that pro cycling exists.