AEG and Medalist Sports, organizers of this year's Tour of Georgia and the Tours of California, Missouri and the US Pro championships, announced this week that the Rock Racing team will not be invited to the seven stage race. Team owner Michael Ball was understandably upset at AEG/ Medalist's explanation as to why the team wasn't invited.
Jim Birrel, the race director for Georgia, was interviewed by Velonews regarding the decision to not include the Rock team. "There are a finite number of slots we’re interested in filling, and it’s hard, there are too many qualified teams to extend invites to, and not enough slots." Too many qualified teams? What qualifies a team to race in Georgia? All memberes having a heart beat?! Because when compared to Team Type 1 or GE/Marco Polo Cycling Team presented by Trek, the Rock Racing squad is head and shoulders above both teams in terms of talent, and just as importantly, budget.
Birrell also allowed that Rock's high profile at the Tour of California hurt their chances of being included for Georgia. "I like all the riders he (Michael Ball) has on his team, it’s just that renegade approach and his desire to steal the limelight away from the platform that has been created for everybody else is what troubles me. Right now, for Georgia, Colorado and Missouri, I just don’t know if there is a fit for that team at those stage races. We still haven’t finalized those rosters, but I don’t know if they are under consideration or not." In what sounds purely like rhetoric, Birrell left the door open for Rock to participate in the bigger American stage races later in the season, but seemed less than enthusiastic that they would be invited.
All this is a shame for the sport of cycling, which can use the new, chic attitude that the Rock team is trying to bring to the sport. Yes, they are publicity hounds hellbent on being in the headlines at all times, but is that a bad thing? Publicity is publicity, and Rock brought that to the Tour of California in spades. Clearly Michael Ball needs to tone down his and his team's behaviors, but did the Rock camp really act so bad at California?
The answer is no. Scruffy teenagers on skateboards stopped to look at the neon green and black team bus of the Rock team in California. They bought hats a t-shirts from the Rock vendors. Women young and old whistled at the riders as they posed before races and flew by while in the pack. And news crews flocked before and after each stage to the Rock area to interview the colorful characters on the team. The Botero-Hamilton-Sevilla chimera was irritating, but not disruptive to the point that the team should be excluded from America's biggest races. In the end, cycling loses out as top riders like Fred Rodriguez and Victor Hugo Pena are taken away and replaced by no names like Joe Eldridge and Tim Hargrave. Sure, Team Type 1 has excellent riders, but frankly, they would get shelled by the far more talented Rock team.
In the end, the Tour of Georgia will have fewer fans and less drama, both important ingredients for any live event. Team Type 1, while game competitors, will in all liklihood find themselves completely over-matched throughout the week as the Pro Tour teams drop them like stones on the climbs and ride away from them on the flats. Meanwhile, the Rock team will be on the sidelines, for no other reason than that they called AEG to the carpet before the Tour of California. AEG is looking more and more like another cycling event organizer, ASO, by the day.