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.
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.
"In 2006, our budget forced us to think as a developmental team," said Charlie Livermore, the team's performance director. "We didn't think we'd grow fast enough to keep really good riders. But instead of being a farm team, now we have aspirations of being at the top level of the game one day."
That lofty goal was laughable last year when BMC, living a Motel-6 existence, had no support staff.
This year, its staff of six includes a mechanic, two jack-of-all-trades assistants (soigneurs) and an employee to handle public relations.
Last year, the team traveled in a Ford van that towed a trailer. Now it travels in a 40-foot truck.
Last year, it never ventured outside the United States. This year, it will spend a month competing in France and Italy while also riding in the biggest U.S. stage races - the Tour of California and the Tour de Georgia - for the first time.
Moninger and Michael Sayers, 37, former teammates on the more-established Health Net team, signed with BMC in the offseason, lured by the team's upward mobility.
"It's fun to get in on the ground floor of a program," said Moninger, a 16-year pro. "And this program is obviously going places fast."
Said Sayers, a 13-year veteran, "I was willing to take a risk. On paper, I've moved to a smaller team ... But I felt this team had an unlimited amount of growth potential."
The engine driving the growth is Chilcott, 44, who has a unique blend of smarts and cycling expertise.
In 1982, he became one of the first American riders to compete in Europe when he began his six-year pro career in Italy. A graduate of Cal, he also has a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Washington.