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How track led to pro road racing in America
 
12/20/2005

While Greg LeMond was burning up the roads of Europe in the early 1980s, becoming world professional road champion and making the podium at the Tour de France, pro road racing was still in its infancy back home. LeMond's successes were a clear inspiration to amateur racers in North America, but there were no pro teams for them to join and no pro races in which to compete.

That situation only started to change in 1982 after an agreement was reached between the U.S. Cycling Federation (USCF) and the Professional Racing Organization of America (PRO) to sanction "open" pro-am road racing in the U.S. So, you may ask, what was PRO?

The story of PRO begins in 1948 when a 29-year-old Dutch bike racer named Chris van Gent arrived in North America to compete in this country's still-burgeoning circuit of six-day track races. That year there were three sixes in New York (90,000 people attended the October 18-23 event in Madison Square Garden!), and one each in Buffalo, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Winnipeg, Canada. Van Gent placed second in the Washington Six with countryman Ben Remkes.

The American six-day scene - which was huge in the 1930s - had collapsed by 1950, but van Gent stayed stateside and eventually settled in Denver. He worked for AMF for a number of years before he and his wife opened a bike shop. They also organized local road races and volunteered as race officials (their niece Yvonne van Gent is today an official with the American Cycling Association). In the mid-1960s, Van Gent decided he wanted to try to revive the American six-day scene, and with this in mind he founded PRO in 1968.

Bike racing was still strictly amateur in the U.S. and was run by the Amateur Bicycle League of America (ABL). At that time, the sport's world governing body, the UCI, was split into amateur (FIAC) and professional (FICP) branches.

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