The Tour de France is set to become a distinctly global affair in the next few years, with the announcement that Australia and Canada hope to field national teams.
The Melbourne-based Australia Road Cycling group plans to apply for a ProTour licence that could see a new team enter the Tour in 2011. While the Aussies have made several attempts to put together a national team in the past, lack of financial support has hampered their efforts.
But according to the Australian newspaper, ARC's bid reached an important milestone in Adelaide this week, when one of its directors, Victor Barichello, met Pat McQuaid, president of the world governing body UCI. McQuaid said shortly before the meeting the UCI would give ARC whatever support it could.
Barichello said the meeting went extremely well.
"Mr McQuaid's encouragement and public support is a significant step for Australian road cycling and the UCI's plan to globalise the sport," he said.
It is thought the team will be at least 50 per cent Australian and ARC plans to recruit aggressively so it can make an immediate impact on the ProTour. ARC is acting independently of Cycling Australia, the national governing body, but the two groups are speaking regularly about the venture.
In Canada, a group of 15 riders took to the podium in Toronto yesterday for the launch of Team SpiderTech. Comprising 13 Canadians, an American and one rider from Mexico, the team will compete across North America and in Europe this year and has its eye on eventually entry into the Tour de France.
The team has been put together by Canadian cyclist Steve Bauer, who raced at the Tour 11 times. He told the Canadian Press that he was confident a home-grown team could compete at the Tour one day, but added it would take time, effort and money.
"We're going to grow this team into the future with a vision that we believe that we can take it to the top," Bauer said. "And there's no reason why we shouldn't stand here all together and think we should go halfway. We should aim for the Tour de France. We should aim for the top.
"We have to be realistic - not all of these athletes on the stage today will make it to the big leagues, or go to the Tour de France. But I believe, within their midst, there are athletes on our team that have the opportunity, given the opportunity to grow their talents."
Team members, such as Martin Gilbert, who represented Canada at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, walked across a stage in white uniforms with green trim and the logos of a handful of sponsors, including BlackBerry.