Drapac Professional Cycling is set to become the first Australian ProConti outfit to ride the Santos Tour Down Under since the race became a top-tier event in 2008 in what can be considered a coup for the burgeoning squad.
For the first time an Australian Continental team who achieves ProConti status will compete in the WorldTour – the highest UCI road event classification – against the world’s best teams, in their own backyard. This is a great step forward for cycling in Oceania.
In an event first, the 2014 Santos Tour Down Under will issue a wildcard invitation to an Australian Pro Continental team, the second tier of professional road cycling competition in addition to its existing invitation to the UniSA-Australia national team.
The move follows a one-off allowance for American squad BMC to take part in the 2010 event, but today's announcement is understood to be a permanent criteria change for 2014 and onward.
According to a release obtained by Cycling Central from the South Australian Tourism office, the new criteria stipulates that eligible ProConti teams for future events must:
- Hold a UCI Pro Continental License;
- Be an Australian team as recognised by the UCI; and
- Have registration with the Movement for Credible Cycling team, where teams impose stricter anti-doping measures beyond the World Anti-Doping Agency Code.
Though well established as Australia's premier cycling event, the Santos Tour Down Under's status as a WorldTour circuit race has for many years impeded Australia's top local squads from competing.
Drapac has been a suitor of the race for some time but its continually been rebuffed due to its UCI Continental status and rocky relationship with Tour organisers.
With the team upgrading to the ProConti level for the 2014 season, a process that is still yet to be fully completed, Drapac is the only team eligible to be granted a wildcard under the terms dictated by the South Australian government and the race organisation.
The only other candidate, Huon Salmon-Genesys has put its own plans to upgrade to UCI ProConti status on ice as it looks to secure additional funding to shore up any increased calendar commitments.
Sources close to the South Australian government have confirmed to Cycling Central that Drapac will ride the Santos Tour Down Under, pending the finalisation of its UCI ProConti registration process.
“With the success and evolution of the (Subaru) National Road Series, the time has come to add an Australian Pro Continental team to the Tour Down Under peloton,” race director Mike Turtur said, who has overseen the event since its inception.
The President of the UCI Oceania Cycling Confederation Tracey Gaudry also backs the decision, which builds the race as a real incentive for teams to upgrade and expand investment in the region.
“Providing a connected pathway from club level to elite international competition is vital for the development of cycling,” Ms Gaudry said.
Gaudry became Oceania President in December last year and has been working hard to rebuild both Australia and the region's calendar in the months since.
The existence of a wildcard position at future Tours is also likely to entice teams with plans of increasing their financial stakes in the sport to commit further.
Cycling Central reported earlier this week that Drapac was considering changing its nationality for the 2014 season after it had not been guaranteed a position at the 2014 Tour Down Under.
Today's announcement however, which comes just two days before the team is required to lodge its official nationality for the 2014 season will come as a relief for the burgeoning squad.
Drapac is already a member of the MPCC, has Australian registration, and will be ProConti in 2014. It's expected to file papers that will confirm its status as an Australian registered team in the next few days to meet the second of a series of deadlines set by the UCI for teams seeking ProConti status.
The team intends to ride an extended calendar with UCI ProConti status, taking on the Amgen Tour of California and several other races in the United States including Colorado and the Tour of Utah as well as continuing its growing Asian Tour commitments.
Drapac could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.