Australia's Tour Down Under will next year become the first event outside Europe to be included in cycling's elite Pro Tour, the sport's governing body has announced.
UCI president Pat McQuaid said the ProTour series would kick off in South Australia in January next year and that all 18 Pro Tour teams for 2008 would participate.
"I'm very pleased with the news today from the Professional Cycling Council (UCI) that we will be bringing the Tour Down Under into the ProTour," McQuaid said.
"This is a just reward for an event going into its tenth year that gets better and better each year, increased media attention in Europe and is a testament to the sport of cycling.
"I am personally pleased as this is working toward the globalisation of the sport, because this will be the first time a ProTour event will be held outside Europe."
Cycling Australia President Mike Victor OAM welcomed the announcement in Stuttgart, Germany, where the road world championships are being held.
"We look forward to it becoming one of the landmark events on the world calendar," he said.
"The elevation of the Tour Down Under to ProTour status is further endorsement of the standing of Australian cycling on the world stage and a huge honour for South Australia.
"Our cyclists have proven they have what it takes to be among the best in the world and now they will have an opportunity to race in South Australia in one of the top-ranked events on the world calendar."
As a formality, the UCI will submit its decision to the UCI Pro Tour Licensing Commission in Como, Italy, on October 17.
The Tour Down Under will celebrate its 10th anniversary from January 20-27.
Its inclusion on the Pro Tour gives the stage race the same status as events such as the Spanish Vuelta and Italian Giro.
The Tour de France will be run as a separate event outside of the Pro Tour in 2008.
The number of Pro Tour teams is expected to go back up to this year's total of 20 in 2009, opening the door for an Australian team to bid for inclusion.
Source: The Age