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SACRAMENTO ? Santa Rosa?s Gavin Chilcott, a former professional cyclist, isn?t your average ex-jock.

An alumnus of Santa Rosa High, Chilcott, 46, graduated from Cal, did fellowships at Cal Tech and UC Davis and earned his Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Washington.

Given his athletic experience and academic resume, it figured Chilcott might have some success when he began a Santa Rosa-based amateur cycling team, BMC, in 2006.

But even Chilcott wasn?t smart enough to envision where BMC, a once-underfunded, unknown team with no support staff, would be just three years later.

?Not in my wildest dreams,? said Chilcott, whose team is competing in the 17-team Tour of California. ?I mean, I made some power-point slides that looked exactly like what we?ve done. But power-point slides are pretty cheap.?

In contrast, BMC, now a 17-rider UCI Professional Continental team with a realistic chance of competing in the 2011 Tour de France, is no longer forced to do things on the cheap. To appreciate BMC?s status as a Pro Continental team, it helps to understand pro cycling?s three-tiered food chain.

The 18-team UCI Pro Tour is the sport?s top level, Pro Continental, comprised of 21 teams, is next, followed by Continental teams.

There are 16 U.S.-based pro cycling teams this year. Thirteen are Continental teams, two are Pro Tour teams and BMC is the lone Pro Continental team. In other words, BMC, which had eight anonymous riders washing their own bikes in 2006, is the third-most developed cycling team in America.

Chilcott said BMC?s operating budget has increased 10-fold since its first year. The team?s 2009 schedule includes races in Belgium, France, Germany, Qatar, Switzerland and Holland and it could possibly compete in Italy, Australia and Asia.

Its full-time staff, which includes three mechanics, three soigneurs, two directors, a technical rider, office manager and a person in charge of public relations, is scattered across the globe, from Portugal to Belgium.

Of course, BMC?s step up in status wouldn?t have been possible without financial backing from its primary sponsor, whose owner, Swiss business giant and cycling enthusiast Andy Rihs and his advisor, Jim Ochowicz, has taken a controlling stake in the team?s parent company, Continuum Sports.

?They?ve seen the potential in the program and have acknowledged that there is more equity,? Chilcott said. ?They?re coming in to take a more active role and to take it to the next level. The switch has been flipped.?

As a Pro Continental team, BMC is now eligible to enter Pro Tour events, not an option for Continental teams. For his team to be granted the upgrade from the UCI, Chilcott, the general manager/director, went through a complicated process last year that involved several trips to Switzerland, where UCI, cycling?s governing body, is based. Chilcott attended workshops involving auditing and accounting.

The team underwent an audit as did BMC, a Swiss-based bicycle manufacturer. As another condition of moving to pro continental, BMC was required to have guaranteed salaries for its riders.

For the second straight year, BMC has also been granted wild-card status for the Tour de France, a process that involved a hearing and an additional audit. BMC also had to adopt the UCI-sanctioned biological passport system, a comprehensive and expensive drug-testing program.

Chilcott believes BMC, if it continues its upward trajectory, could plausibly compete in the 2011 Tour de France.

Such a notion was laughable three years ago. And Scott Nydam, who rode with BMC on full-time basis starting in 2007, says Chilcott is the reason the impossible suddenly seems quite possible.

?I think I had a sense of our potential mainly because I had confidence in Gavin and his ability to put the pieces together,? Nydam said. ?I knew he would take it as far as it would go.?

You can reach Staff Writer Eric Branch at 521-5268 or eric.branch@pressdemocrat.com.