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Armed with knowledge and a UCI certification in her back pocket, recently retired pro cyclist Iris Slappendel left the UCI World Cycling Centre in Switzerland last week with a head buzzing with information and ideas to further women’s cycling.
Slappendel was among the 41 men and women completing the UCI Sports Directors course, which is a multi-day intensive learning programme and exam open to anyone interested in becoming a Sport Director across all divisions of cycling, and compulsory for those working at the WorldTour level.
In an effort to get more women involved in cycling, the UCI gave out scholarships to women wishing to attend the course.
Already an active member of the UCI athlete and road commission, Slappendel received a last minute invitation to attend the course, joining fellow racers like Patricia Schwager, Carmen Small and Marieke van Wanroij.
“I’m just very excited and full of passion for (women’s) cycling,” said Slappendel, who, just a few months into her retirement, seems busier than ever with several projects already in the works. “I will definitely stay involved in cycling, but I don’t know yet in what capacity.”
Slappendel, 31, retired at the end of the 2016 season after a 12-year professional career in which she was an invaluable asset to many victories of her trade teams and the Dutch national squad. She had a stint in the tri-colored national champion jersey for a year as well, and spent her last few years mentoring developing riders. The latter is something she wants to continue doing in the near future.
— Iris Slappendel (@irisslappendel) September 19, 2016
“At the moment I am involved in a development project in the province of Gelderland. I’ve always enjoyed educating young girls, even as rider within the team,” Slappendel revealed. “I have been playing with the idea of starting a team or to manage one. And at the moment I am still active in the UCI athletes and road commission. In addition I’m trying to put something together in order to better represent the women’s peloton. In my opinion, [women] need to be given a stronger voice within the various unions and organisations.”
Attending the eight-day course at the UCI was a first step in building her understanding and obtaining the necessary certification to pursue a career in cycling management should she decide to go that route.
From three full days of classroom work to practical hand-on leadership coaching, the course covered everything from team registration to rules and regulation to insurance policies to driving in the race caravan.
“The course was very interesting and diverse,” said Slappendel, who pointed out that the attendees came not just from all over the globe, but also from all walks of life, not just former bike racers.
“This diverse group certainly gave an added impetus to the course as many experiences and ideas were exchanged and we therefore learned a lot from each other.”
Asked about the biggest takeways from the eight-day course, Slappendel said:
“As rider you tend to think that you know it all, the rules and such –that was a big disappointment; a good leader is aware of all the rules but communication and people skills are even more important; and finally, you’re best of to stay on the UCI Commissaires’ good sides.”
Slappendel is a fashion designer by trade and has designed kit for various organisations and brands in the past, including the Dutch Cycling Federation, the UCI and Milltag. Her newest venture is the launching of a cycling apparel brand of her own.
But giving back to the sport and getting more women involved in the business side of it, is something she feels strongly about.
“Our sport is still heavily dominated by men. Now, I have nothing against men, but I know for sure that women have other qualities from which our sport can benefit,” said Slappendel. “Most importantly, we need new and fresh blood –be it men or women –to slowly replace the ‘old guard’. Only then will we see real progress in women’s cycling.”
“Retired riders like myself have the experience, know the peloton and the races, and can offer a fresh look at things. Unfortunately there are but a few former riders like Heidi van de Vijver, Fabiana Luperini en Rachel Heal who have made that switch. They are doing a great job but are unfortunately the minority.”
Slappendel said she’d like to see more retiring female racers enter the business side of the sport, but also understands the reasons they don’t.
“Many racers stop because they don’t want to continue to be away from home as often because they start a family. Female riders also tend to have a better education than men, and have therefore more options outside of cycling. There’s less work and less money to be made in women’s cycling,” Slappendel pointed out. “And finally, there needs to be a change of culture. Nowadays, you’re an exception if you as a woman decide to work in cycling, because it’s still a male-dominated world. Once that is changed, more women are likely to see career opportunities in women’s cycling after their active career.”
By the sounds of it, Slappendel will surely be at the forefront of this culture change, and we cannot wait to see what’s the next chapters of her career will look like once she gets her various projects off the ground.