The Canadian-based Symmetrics Cycling Team racked up impressive results in 2007 including the UCI Americas Tour individual and team titles, Svein Tuft's solo win at the U.S. Open and three second place finishes at the Tour of Missouri yet they were not invited to this year's Tour of California.
At the pre-race press conference for this year's Tour of California, I asked Medalist Sport's Jim Birrell, "What does Symmetrics need to do this coming year in order to get an invite to next year's event." His response was both acceptable and disappointing, Basically he said that they strive for 50% ProTour and 50% U.S. domestic teams. It's Medalist Sports and AEG's party so his answer was acceptable, but it was disappointing to hear they select half the teams based on nationality.
On the same day, Pat McQuaid said "he will fight Astana's exclusion from the Tour de France with whatever means he can until the first of July" and "It is the right of organizers to invite the teams they want" in reference to Symmetrics not being invited to the Tour of California.
But, there is more to the story. While I was busy covering the rest of the Tour of California from my den in Berkeley, others at the event were picking up on the race director's comments. Canadian Cyclist posted a story entitled McQuaid Makes Contradictory Statement on Tour Entries. In reference to the ASO (Tour de France organizers) not inviting Astana to their events this year, Rob Jones of Canadian Cyclist reported, "[UCI president Pat] McQuaid clearly said that it was dangerous and wrong for organizers to be deciding which teams could enter an event... However, when I asked him about the situation regarding Symmetrics not being invited to the AToC because organizers wanted to support U.S. teams, and what message it sent when the top team in the UCI America Continental Tour was not invited, McQuaid said 'It is the right of organizers to invite the teams they want.' The press corps looked at each other in disbelief: had he just implicitly said that ASO had the right to choose their own teams? Or was it somehow different for AToC than it was for the Grand Tour organizers? The press conference abruptly ended shortly after this."
Somehow a small Colombian squad has won the hearts of UCI's Pat McQuaid and AEG's Andrew Messick
There is even more to this story. It turns out that Pat McQuaid is lobbying on behalf of a Colombian team's participation in the next Tour of California. Cyclingnews reported (scroll 3/4 down their page) on Feburary 23rd, that McQuaid emphasized, "I will put all my support behind the participation of Colombia es Pasión-Coldeportes because I want a South American in this race. I understand that Colombia es Pasión-Coldeportes is very interested in coming in 2009. I know them, I know their results, and I will do everything I can so that the team will be present here next year."
McQuaid's lobbying for the Colombian team seems to be working because Cyclingnews says "Tour director, Andrew Messick, has shown a great interest in adding the Colombian team to the start list next year." Why if the Tour of California is striving for 50% ProTour and 50% U.S. domestic squad mix is it so keen to add a small Colombian domestic squad?
While UCI's Pat McQuaid is eager to plead cases for specific teams, why is he not interested in pledging his support for the UCI Americas Tour winner, Svein Tuft of Symmetrics?
McQuaid says "I know them, I know their results" in reference to Colombia es Pasión-Coldeportes. Clearly, he also knows Symmetrics' results because he handed the UCI America's trophy to Svein Tuft of Symmetrics at an official ceremony at the end of last year. Looking at the final standings for the UCI Americas Tour (slow site), I don't see a single Colombia es Pasión-Coldeportes rider in the top 50 even though 29 of the 40 events on the UCI Amercias Tour took place in South America. In addition to Tuft's win, Symmetrics also placed four other riders in the top 50. So despite, 70% of the UCI America's races taking place in South America, McQuaid's South American endorsement did not have one rider finish in the top 50 while Symmetrics had five.
Colombia es Pasión-Coldeportes results at the very mountainous Vuelta a Colombia show they are a very good climbing team. They won two stages and placed third in the overall team standings. At the Vuelta a El Salvador, a mountainous stage race in which Symmetrics and Colombia es Pasión went head-to-head, the results were very even. Symmetrics' Christian Meier finished second to Colombia es Pasión's Wilson Zambrano in GC while Symmetrics narrowly won the team classification. But, lets face it, the Tour of California is not a mountainous race by professional standards. Symmetrics has a balanced squad of climbers, sprinters, time-trialers and a GC man that makes them better suited and qualified for the Tour of California.
Versus never bothered to capture Dominique Rollin's raw emotion for a post-race interview; holding off two ProTour riders for 20k contributed to his "epic" win... definitely something to talk about. (Photo by Ken Conley)
To recap, Medalist Sports says the Tour of California is restricted to ProTour and U.S. domestic squads and Pat McQuaid does not support the inclusion of the UCI America Continental Tour Champions, Symmetrics at the Tour of Caifornia, ignoring the similarities of Astana and Symmetrics' recent exclusions and instead throws his weight behind an unknown domestic squad from Colombia that AEG Sport's also backs. AEG billed this year's team selections as "The Most Diverse, Accomplished Field Ever Assembled for a Race on U.S. Soil." I'd say, an accomplished Canadian team would have added to the cultural diversity of the field.
A couple other related points...
Did anyone else notice after the "epic" Tour of California stage won by Toyota-United and Canadian rider, Dominique Rollin, that Versus neglected to interview the stage winner and instead interviewed Levi once again? Anyone know why? Nice to see Velonews did (). Rollin also represented Canadian cycling well by winning the Points Competition... And as others have noted, the letleviride.com protest isn't actually a "grassroots campaign" ().
U.S. Cycling, the UCI and the cycling media need to be more balanced and careful of conflicting interests because their inconsistencies are not going unnoticed. — Steve Hill, February 28th, 2008