The Champion System Pro Cycling Team makes its U.S. debut Wednesday at the 26th annual SRAM Tour of the Gila with a pair of Americans, Chris Butler and Craig Lewis, on its five-rider roster.
General Manager Ed Beamon said the mountainous, five-day race in New Mexico is an ideal event to launch the first Asian pro continental team’s American campaign.
“We won’t have a full squad because of our international schedule, but I think we’re sending a very good group of guys with the goal of trying to win the overall,” Beamon said. “I know there will be some good, strong American teams there. But Craig is really starting to come into form and Chris and Australian Cameron Wurf are both ready to tackle the climbs. So we feel pretty confident we’ll be able to challenge.”
Joining Butler, Lewis and Wurf on Champion System’s roster is former Malaysian national road champion Adiq Othman and past Chinese national road champion XU Gang. Othman’s five top 10 finishes this year include a pair of third place performances at the Tour de Taiwan last month.
The SRAM Tour of the Gila features mountain-top finishes on Wednesday’s opening stage and Sunday’s final stage and a 16.15-mile individual time trial with two categorized climbs on Stage 3. Champion System Assistant Director Chris Wherry, a two-time winner (1999, 2002) of the Tour of the Gila himself, will direct the team.
Lewis has not competed at Gila before, but said he is familiar with some of the climbs after doing a few training camps in the area.
“It’s been five or six years since I’ve last been there, but I remember the climbs and how the roads are,” he said. “So I’m pretty comfortable with it even though I’ve never done the race. The altitude is kind of an unknown for everybody. And there aren’t that many races at high elevations. But I’ll be coming from Colorado. The courses are tough for the U.S. for sure, so that kind of suits me.”
Champion System Vice President of Sales and Marketing Charlie Issendorf said he wouldn’t mind seeing one of the team’s riders trade their Champion System team jersey for a Gila leader jersey, which Champion System provides to the SRAM Tour of The Gila for competition in eight different competitor categories.
“Champion System has become a market leader in custom cycling apparel and America is our largest market,” Issendorf said. “What better way to showcase the construction quality and performance functionality of our latest products than to have our own team racing in a top U.S. event?”