Santa Rosa-based BMC team no longer anonymous

  • George Hincapie is greeted with applause as he finishes the 114-mile Breakaway from Cancer ride at Juilliard Park, in Santa Rosa, on Sunday, April 25, 2010.

He is a three-time U.S. champion, a five-time Olympian and a 14-time Tour de France veteran.

But after George Hincapie agreed to leave more-established Team Columbia-HTC for the BMC Racing Team last year, some friends and acquaintances wondered if the legend was also making a huge one-time mistake.

Leaving Columbia for BMC, largely anonymous riders in a a relatively new outfit that wasn't guaranteed a spot in the 2010 Tour de France or most of cycling's other major races? The move, on the surface, seemed like cycling's equivalent of ditching the Dodgers to hang in Dubuque.

"Yeah," Hincapie said with a laugh. "A lot of people were asking why are you leaving Columbia and are you sure you are going to be OK not going to the Tour de France? But I was confident I'd made the right decision."

Sure enough. It appears Hincapie might have chosen wisely by signing last year with BMC, a five-year-old, Santa Rosa-based team that looks hellbent on reaching the top of the cycling world in record time.

That process has been sped up by the entrance of Hincapie, the reigning U.S. champion whose signing helped lure luminaries such as reigning world champion Cadel Evans and 2008 world champ Alessandro Ballan. Is there any wonder BMC was granted entry into the 2010 Tour de France in March?

Assistant sports director Mike Sayers, a former rider on the team, said welcoming some of the sport's biggest names pushed BMC into a stratosphere that it otherwise couldn't have reached.

"You have to have those guys," Sayers said. "People have always talked about the importance of having a great organization, and having a great organization is really important. But you have to have the riders, also. You can't just plug riders in. You can have the best organization in the world, but if you don't have the riders, what's the point?"

In its first four years, BMC, which holds its training camps in Santa Rosa, had earned respect in the cycling community for its professionalism and its people at the top. Owner and Swiss businessman Andy Rihs was making a serious financial commitment and president Jim Ochowicz, the founder and coach of the first U.S. cycling team to compete at the Tour de France, was a legendary figure in the sport.

But while the team was upwardly mobile, its riders were largely faceless.

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