Demand for ProTeam squads and new UCI rules may lead to expansion of field

Organisers of the Tour of Britain could be left with a headache when it comes to team selection this year, with the success of the race since it was relaunched in 2004 leading to increased interest from the sport’s top team’s, together with new UCI rules which require the top three teams in the Professional Continental rankings to be invited.

SweetSpot, the company behind the event, won last year by Michael Albasini of HTC-Highroad, have confirmed that more than eight UCI ProTeams have so far contacted them to express an interest in riding this year’s event, which takes place from 11-18 September, starting in Scotland and finishing in London.

Those include the new Leopard Trek team, which includes Andy Schleck, winner of the King of The Mountains classification in the 2005 edition of the race, Martin Pedersen, overall winner in 2006, and Stuart O’Grady, winner of the overall title under its previous guise of the PruTour in 1998.

Last year's race saw ProTour outfits Team Sky, Garmin-Transitions, HTC-Columbia and Team Saxo Bank, as well as Professional Continental outfits including Cervelo TestTeam and ISD-Neri, line up alongside homegrown teams such as Rapha Condor Sharp, which has Continental, or third division, status.

“As ever we’ve had far more teams approach us with a view to riding The Tour of Britain than we could ever hope to accommodate”, confirmed Race Director Mick Bennett.

“It is rewarding for everyone here in the team at SweetSpot to have so many ProTeam squads wanting to be a part of The Tour of Britain, and we are certainly aiming to have 50% of the field in September made up of ProTeams.

“The fact that The Tour of Britain is ideally situated less than a week before the World Championships take place in Denmark means we will continue to attract world-class riders targeting the Worlds and looking for a tough race in which to hone their form.”

Under new rules drawn up by world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, organisers of UCI Europe Tour events have to invite and accept entries from “the first three UCI Continental teams in the classification…for the relevant continental circuit”,which are “‘drawn up on the basis of individual points for the end of the 2009-2010 season.”

Although the UCI won’t inform the Tour of Britain as to the identity of those teams until the end of this month, that could include teams such as Geox-TMC, which includes former Grand Tour winners Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov, and the French team Cofidis, both of which narrowly missed out on ProTeam licences last November and were given Professional Continental Status instead.

Bennett acknowledges that the new rules will make it a difficult task to accommodate all those wishing to take part in the race while ensuring there is also a decent mix of home-based teams.

“We have always sought to have a mixture of ProTeam, ProContinental and Continental professional teams racing in The Tour of Britain as we believe this makes for the most exciting and entertaining racing,” he explained. “However the current communiqué from the UCI has put us under pressure to increase the number of Continental teams competing in the event.

“Last year we had six Continental teams competing, five of which were British, and while we would obviously want those teams to return again in 2011, we must also now take into account that the leading three Continental teams from the UCI Europe Tour have to be invited, plus the additional interest from some of the world’s biggest teams, such as Leopard Trek.

“In an ideal world we would be able to incorporate all of these entries; unfortunately we cannot. Over the coming weeks once we have been notified by the UCI of the teams we must invite then we will look to finalise the 2011 entry list, taking into account a number of factors. I’m sure though that come Sunday 11th September there will be a world-class line-up taking to the start line in the Scottish Borders.”

The UCI currently classifies the Tour of Britain as a 2.1 level race, which means that up to 50% of the field can be made up of UCI ProTeam outfits, while UCI Professional Continental, Continental and National teams can also be invited to participate.

Currently, 16 squads of six riders apiece are envisaged, making a total of 96 riders, and the Tour of Britain confirmed that it is considering opening up the race to additional teams so it can meet demand from those wishing to take part as well as satisfying UCI requirements.

However, that in itself opens up another potential problem, since under the Road Traffic Act (Cycle Racing on Highways Regulations 1960), a race on British roads comprising 100 or more riders requires organisers to secure permission from the Chief Constable of each police force whose are the event passes through, which for the 2011 race amounts to 20 forces throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

Names of the teams that will compete in the race, together with full route details, will be announced at the national launch of the event in the Springtime.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.