Jim Ochowicz, mastermind behind the pioneering and highly successful American-based 7-Eleven and Motorola cycling teams of the 1980s and early '90s, is the sponsorship liaison for Team BMC Racing, a Professional Continental squad based in Santa Rosa, California. From where he sits in his office in downtown San Francisco, the former team director-turned-stock-broker foresees another resurgence of American teams, and he's hoping Team BMC Racing can be a major contributor.
According to Ochowicz, the team could make ProTour level by 2010, filling the hole left by the Discovery Channel team. But, first things first.
Ochowicz, who retired from directing the Motorola team after the 1996 season, volunteers his time as board president for USA Cycling. He relocated to San Francisco from Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2001, when he became a stock broker for Thomas Weisel Partners. The 56-year-old Michigan native got to know Swiss businessman Andy Rihs a few years ago, and has been an integral part of getting Team BMC Racing to its current Pro Continental status. Rihs owns several companies, including BMC Bicycles, Assos clothing and Phonak Hearing Systems.
From the ashes of Phonak
Ochowicz's involvement with Rihs dates back to the latter's Phonak Cycling Team days. Rihs hired Ochowicz as a consultant to help land the ill-fated iShares title sponsorship deal. But that was happening at the time of Floyd Landis' positive doping test after his short-lived Tour de France victory in late July 2006. It was the Phonak team's 11th doping case in five years and Rihs decided to disband it.
"As a passionate cyclist, I am bitterly disappointed that the sport of cycling apparently has become a synonym for doping," he was quoted by Cyclingnews.com as saying. "For this reason, today I see myself forced to do something I have never done in my whole life as a businessman: I have given up!"
Well, not quite.
BMC Bicycles continued to sponsor the Astana team, only to see that team embroiled in a major doping scandal with Alexandre Vinokourov midway through the 2007 Tour. Added to that were doping cases involving Andrei Kashechkin, Eddy Mazzoleni and Matthias Kessler. Unsurprisingly, Rihs pulled BMC Bicycles out of the team well before the end of 2007.
But even that wasn't the final straw for Rihs. BMC had been sponsoring a small American team with a mostly American roster and management since 2006. But with none of Rihs's money going into Astana, he could afford to put more into this squad: Team BMC Racing.
A glance at the 2008 management listing and one can see it's been beefed up: General manager Galvin Chilcott, who turned pro with Selle Italia-Chinol in 1982 before becoming one of the first professional mountain bikers in 1987, and also has a PhD in microbiology; sports director John Lelangue, who worked as team manager for Team Phonak, as did PR/media office Georges Luchinger; former 7-Eleven and Motorola peers Eric Heiden and Massimo Testa, now team doctors for BMC Racing; and training consultant Charlie Livermore, ex-team manager of the successful Volvo-Cannondale MTB Team.
The rider line-up doesn't contain as many big names...yet, the best known being Swiss Alexandre Moos (ex-Phonak) and experienced Americans Mike Sayers and Antonio Cruz.
The road to the ProTour
"The addition of John (Lelangue) gives the team a step-up it needed to attain Pro Continental status, which we'll have through 2009," Ochowicz says. "After that it's only natural to get to the ProTour level."
And based on his experience, the ProTour level is where Ochowicz is most comfortable.
It's clear now that Rihs, with the aid of Ochowicz, Lelangue and the current Team BMC Racing staff, intends to do in 2008 and beyond: return to the glory days of racing the major Tours ... but without scandal.
"Andy loves professional bike racing, and discussed ways to support American cycling in 2007," Ochowicz said. "I helped him get the team's foot in the door in 2007, with invitations to race the Tours of California and Missouri. For 2008 we've bumped it up to Pro Continental status, and the team's racing in Qatar."
As Ochowicz describes it, he's a resource to the team, but not in the field. As someone synonymous with successful American racing both stateside and abroad (his 7-Eleven team won the first stage of its debut Tour de France in 1986, which opened the floodgates to more victories; Andy Hampsten won the Giro d'Italia in 1988, and a young Lance Armstrong won the world's in 1993 under Och), his name naturally comes up when people start thinking about grand cycling plans in the US.
Ochowicz gives us an example of his ability to connect the dots: "I've known the folks at Medalist Sports (organizers of the 1989 Tour de Trump and subsequent Tour duPont, now organizing the Tours of California, Georgia and Missouri), and they asked me about having the 2008 Tour of California prologue in Palo Alto," Ochowicz said. "I spoke to the mayor, who was excited to get it going. I connected the two parties and after going through a selection process, Palo Alto was awarded the prologue last July. It's a natural for Palo Alto to host such an event."
To say Ochowicz is connected is an understatement. He knows how to bring the right people together.
Andy Rihs is probably hoping for the same Ochowicz magic with Team BMC Racing.
Team Manager: Gavin Chilcott
Sports directors: John Lelangue, Gavin Chilcott
Training Consultant: Charlie Livermore
Riders: Brent Bookwalter (USA), Steve Bovay (Swi), Antonio Cruz (USA), David Galvin (USA), Jonathan Garcia (USA), Martin Kohler (Swi), Darren Lill (RSA), Jeff Louder (USA), Ian Mckissick (USA), Nathan Miller (USA), Alexandre Moos (Swi), Scott Nydam (USA), Mike Sayers (USA), Jackson Stewart (USA), Taylor Tolleson (USA), Danilo Wyss (Swi)