On the other side: Why I decided to continue working in women’s cycling, and how we can make a difference
The simple reason I have stayed in the sport is that I love it. I don’t really want to be involved in anything else at this point in my life. Whilst I no longer want to compete at a high level, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to still be around all the amazing people within the sport. For me, cycling was never just about the results, or the racing, it was the whole package that I loved. From the interactions with the photographers and journalists, to the staff to all the friendships I made within the peloton. But there’s more to it as well.
I still remember watching my first ever “Tour de France” in 2002 with my dad. I had only been riding a few months at this point, and was watching intently as local hero Robbie McEwen fought to win the green jersey. A big moment in Australian cycling, and a big moment locally on the Gold Coast where I hail from. I remember thinking to myself that what was what I wanted, not the green jersey necessarily, but to race overseas as my parents back home watch me take on the world. I assumed that women’s cycling must have their own Tour de France (which they did years back), the same opportunities and the same TV coverage as the men. It wasn’t until 2012 when I first turned professional that I began to learn the ins and outs of the sport, and that it wouldn’t be till the end of the 2012 season at the World Championships that Mum and Dad would finally be able to watch me live on TV.
The demand to have women’s cycling on TV is nothing new, I know that. What I am writing about is how I, like so many of my peers want to continue to work within the industry, so future generations can say “Hey Mum, look at me, no hands!” on live TV. The change has already started, and it is being led by many ex professional female cyclists in the likes UCI Vice-President Tracy Gaudry and former team boss of Specialized Lululemon Kristy Scrymegour. These women choosing to stay within the sport are at the forefront of the development and change we are seeing today.
There are quite a few ex pros still working within in the sport, playing their part in developing women’s cycling into something really professional and marketable to a wider audience. From fashion design to directing a professional team, more and more women are working within professional cycling in all different roles. I personally believe that the more women are involved in the marketing and media, PR and running of the teams, the better. This is where the real change and push can come from in order to continue the growth of the sport.
What we need is passionate, driven individuals with first hand experience within the sport, to really drive this change. If I look at what former rider Rochelle Gilmore has done with her team Wiggle High5, the precedence has been set. And Canyon SRAM, too, is doing really great innovative work with their promotion of their team. Just recently they held a talent identification competition with their team sponsor Zwift. It got great feedback, and a ton of clicks on YouTube. This is exactly the kind of content we need to keep pushing for, something different to what the men are producing, because our sport is the same, but also different. As we don’t have the same level of TV coverage, we need to create other content to attract fans and potential sponsors.
I do not believe that piggy backing off professional mens teams is the way of the future. I’ve been in a teams associated with men’s teams, and my honest feeling was we were always the after thought, which left my feeling under appreciated, angry and resentful at times. If I look at the women’s teams who are doing the most for promoting women’s cycling, paying their riders good wages and general professionalism, none of those teams are associated with men’s teams. The backbone of these teams funny enough are women. Specialized Lululemon I think was the first team that really set the precedence for more women’s teams to stand alone from men’s cycling, and really showcase women’s cycling for what it is. Since then, Boels-Dolmans, Wiggle-High5 and Canyon-SRAM have really thrown down the gauntlet with their marketing and social media campaigns. It’s paying dividends too as these are the teams that are gaining traction when it comes to sponsorship, and can thus pay their riders well.
We need more women inside the cycling world. Here are some of the positions in which retired pros are currently changing the sport of women’s cycling. Be sure to also check out Ella’s ongoing features series, Movers & Shakers, on women in the industry.
Iris Slappendel, former Dutch National champion and recently retired is working hard to form a women’s cycling union. In 2015, Iris along with Americna Georgia Gould were appointed President and Vice President of the UCI women’s commission. As well as this challenge, Iris has her own cycling apparel company “I Ride In Style “, which designs fashionable cycling accessories and clothing.
Kristy Scrymgeour– Former Australian National champion, is now the founder of Velocio cycling apparel clothing company, and former owner of team specialized lululemon/Velocio SRAM. Kristy has been heavily involved in the UCI women’s commission, as well Australian selection board.
Rachel Atherton – British mountain bike champion recently joined the British cycling commission and will help oversee British cycling policies. Rachel’s main ambition is to get more women involved in the sport.
Tracey Gaudry– Former Australian professional racer, now president of the UCI women’s commission, as well as UCI Vice-President has been working within the UCI to help develop the newly formed “Women’s World Tour”.
Sports directors / coaches:
Loes Gunnewijk, Olympian, former Dutch national champion, team captain for Orica AIS- Loes completed her Director Sportiff training course with the UCI in November of 2016, and is now the national coach for the junior-women as well as assistant coach in para cycling. As well as coaching, Loes will be directing in the Spring classics for a Dutch team.
Carmen Small, Former US national champion, bronze medallist at the UCI World ITT championships in 2013, is working alongside Veloconcept, a new Danish team as a mentor, rider and director.
Rachel Heal, former professional GB cyclist, now director for successful US cycling team, UHC.
Mari Holden, former Olympian and World champion, works alongside Nicola Cramer as DS for US based team “Sho-Air Twenty Twenty”.
Donna Rae- Salinski, former professional racer, has been a key player in Australian cycling for many years. Such roles as the National junior women’s road coach, Victorian Institute of sport coach, director for Australian national teams, and now newly appointed Wiggle High5 director.
Lucy Martin, former Olympian for Great Britain, is now working as a social media content and PR manager for the women’s Orica-Scott team. Lucy also does some commentary for the UCI YouTube channel.
Rochelle Gilmore, Commonwealth games gold medalist, owner of Wiggle High5. AS well as being the owner of such a successful women’s team, Rochelle also does commentary for BBC.