BMC, the cycling racing team based in Santa Rosa since 2006, has been awarded entry into the world's most prestigious cycling race, the 2010 Tour de France.

BMC's inclusion marks a remarkably quick ascendancy, given that it started five years ago as an amateur team, guided by Gavin Chilcott, a Santa Rosa High School graduate and former professional cyclist.

"Obviously we are quite pleased," said Chilcott, the team's general manager, "that the organization which runs the Tour (International Cycling Union) has great confidence in us."

Though Chilcott might have been a one-man office in the early days, he took great pains to emphasize that for BMC to now compete in the Tour de France, "it took the work of a great many people to make this happen, and some of them are behind the team that no one had heard of."

BMC is a wild-card entry. For the first time in Tour de France history, four American-based teams will compete in the 22-team field: Radio Shack, Columbia-HTC and Garmin-Transitions being the other three. BMC (Bicycle Manufacturing Company) is funded by Swiss business giant and cycling enthusiast Andy Rihs.

Even though this was the first year that BMC applied for wild-card status to the Tour de France, its selection didn't come as a complete surprise.

"There were three reasons that accounted for this," said Fabio Selvig, BMC's general manager for bicycle development. "The first was Cadel Evans."

On Nov. 12, BMC signed Evans, the Australian who is the current World professional Road Champion, to a three-year contract. Evans finished second in both the 2007 and 2008 Tours de France.

"The second reason is Alessandro Ballan," Selvig said.

On Sept. 1, BMC signed Ballan, an Italian who is the 2008 World Racing Champion.

"The third reason is George Hincapie," Selvig said.

Also on Sept. 1, BMC signed Hincapie to a two-year contract. Hincapie is one of the American icons of the sport. A three-time U.S. National Professional Road Champion, Hincapie was the only rider to accompany Lance Armstrong on all seven of Armstrong's French victories. Hincapie will be competing this year in his 14th Tour, the 2,200-mile race which will run this year from July 3 to July 25.

As for any other factors that might have contributed to BMC's selection, Selvig was quick to point one out.

"When it comes to drugs and doping," he said, "we have a very squeaky clean record and we are very proud of that."

What BMC did was the cycling equivalent of a Major League Baseball team stocking up its team to the point that it became a contender in a matter of a few days. High profile athletes, in any sport, give a team instant credibility.

"It was pretty clear early-on from the beginning that BMC was committed to top-level racing," said Chilcott, 47. "This is a big step for BMC."

And also for Sonoma County.

"I could have started the team anywhere but I chose here," said Chilcott, a Cal graduate who earned his Ph.d in microbiology from the University of Washington.

"Great weather. Great scenery. Great riding," were Selvig's three reasons for the Santa Rosa training location.

BMC is categorized as a Pro Continental Team, the second-tier on pro cycling's food chain. The first tier is the Pro Tour Teams, then the Pro Continental teams, and then the Continental teams. Typically all the Pro Tour teams are invited each year to the Tour de France and very few Pro Continental teams are asked to participate. This year only 16 Pro Tour teams are competing, thus leaving six selections available.

That certainly increased the odds that BMC would be selected but, given the acquisitions of Evans, Ballan and Hincapie, it was generally assumed BMC would be awarded a spot. It is, however, still a discretionary choice for ICU.

"I think signing those big riders certainly increased our chances," Chilcott said, "but that doesn't guarantee anything."

Chilcott said it was John Lelangue, BMC's Chief Sports Director, and Jim Ochowicz, BMC's co-owner, who provided the big push for signing Evans, Ballan and Hincapie. All three riders, at the time they were signed, were working or could have worked with Pro Tour teams. By signing with a second-tier Pro Continental team, they could have been taking a risk. As it turned out, they didn't.

"This is such a different team from last year," said Scott Nydam, a BMC racer himself who lives in Sebastopol. But when you sign guys like that, and then a guy like Marcus (Burghardt), you're telling people you want to take the team to the highest point possible."

Burghardt is an up-and-coming German rider who won a stage at the 2008 Tour de France.

"BMC has been doing everything it can to get to the next level," Nydam said. "And now they are to the point that they are capable of winning any race at any time."

Just weeks before, BMC also was awarded a spot in the 2010 Giro d'Italia, one of three European classics, which runs from May 8 to May 30. The Tour of California will run from May 16 to May 23. Although the rosters have yet to be determined for each race, Chilcott guaranteed BMC will field a strong lineup for the California race.

"We are an America team, and California is a very important race for us," Chilcott said. "We will have a very competitive lineup."

For more on North Bay sports, go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com