Second-year squad BMC will make its racing debut next week

Thanks to its endless miles of scenic and challenging backroads, Santa Rosa has enjoyed a longtime connection with professional cycling.

In the '80s, the 7-Eleven team, the first American team to ride in the Tour de France, based its training camps at the Fountaingrove Hotel. In past decades, cycling royalty - from Greg LeMond to Lance Armstrong - have prepared for upcoming seasons by pedaling around Sonoma County.

For all its history, however, Santa Rosa has never served as the home base of a pro cycling team.

Until now.

BMC, a second-year team led by Santa Rosa native and former pro cyclist Gavin Chilcott, will make its debut as a professional team at next week's Tour of California, the biggest race in the team's brief history.

In its first year, BMC - then an underfunded, understaffed, amateur team with eight young no-name riders - didn't win much of anything.

It did, however, win the confidence of its bicycle-making title sponsor.

And, thanks to a subsequent infusion of cash, BMC is setting its sights considerably higher in its second year.

With a seven-figure operating budget - about five times bigger than last year's - BMC is taking a step up in competition in 2007 while boasting a 14-man roster featuring a blend of up-and-comers and decorated veterans.

Among those who signed with BMC in the offseason are Scott Moninger, 40, whose 263 career victories are the most of any active North American rider, and Alexander Moos, 34, a Tour de France veteran who finished 18th in last year's Tour of California.

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