Walkout: Illuminate women leave over dispute with manager
Riders Samantha and Skylar Schneider announced on social media last week that they, along with several other riders, have left Team Illuminate –a newly formed UCI women’s program –only one race into the 2017 road season.
“I will no longer be racing with Team Illuminate. I’m not sure what is next, but am ready and motivated to move on,” Skylar, the younger of the two sisters, tweeted.
A lot of eyes are on the sister duo after they dominated the US Pro scene last year. Samantha, 26, netted 15 wins on her way to taking first in the US Pro Road Tour, while her 18-year-old sister took home 10 wins of her own to finish third in the series, behind WorldTour sprinter Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb).
In her breakout year, Skylar also won US junior road race and criterium titles as well as the silver medal in the junior women’s World Championship Road Race in Qatar.
After such a season, the sisters were hoping to take their careers to the next step and fielded offers from several teams, but ultimately chose a brand new program.
With a promise of keeping the core of the Schneiders’ existing team – ISCorp p/b Smart Choice MRI – together, Team Illuminate decided to add a UCI women’s program to its men’s Continental squad, offering a home to the sisters, their father and core riders.
But just one race into the season, half of the women on Team Illuminate roster are leaving, terminating their contracts out of “respect to ourselves and our well-being as well as our future.”
In a phone interview with Ella CyclingTips, the Schneider sisters stated that promises made during contract negotiations were unmet.
“When we were approach by Illuminate last fall, we were promised the opportunity to carry on the same programming we spent two years developing –as ISCorp p/b Smart Choice MRI— on a bigger platform and at all these UCI races,” Skylar told Ella CyclingTips in a phone interview. “Unfortunately these were false promises.”
The sisters claim that race schedules and rosters were unclear or not as previously promised, payments were late and there was a lack of equipment.
Rachel Langdon, another Illuminate rider currently in process of terminating her contract backed those claims, adding:
“My concerns about the team stemmed from a complete lack of organization. We did not have a confirmed race calendar and had virtually no communication regarding the plans or rosters for team races. Major team decisions were made without communication, explanation or consultation. We were kind of left in the dark as riders,” Langdon said. “When you add the UCI label to a team, you certainly expect a level of professionalism and expectations to make it to those bigger races. And that clearly wasn’t there.”
A ‘toxic environment’ for all parties involved
Team director Chris Johnson meanwhile cites the sisters’ managerial demands, family involvement and refusals to race as the reasons behind the contract terminations.
Johnson explained that as the first UCI race was approaching at The Tour of Taiwan, the Schneider sisters insisted on picking the roster and also having their father come as part of the staff.
“I have to look at these things from a logistical and economical standpoint and the staff and riders they wanted to bring didn’t make sense,” said Johnson. “Once they learned that I wasn’t going to bring their father they refused to go, calling the staff unreliable.”
Throughout their career, Dave Schneider, has served as Samantha and Skylar’s mechanic and director but Johnson clarified that Dave did not in fact have a contract with the team.
“I paid the Schneider sisters to be riders on the team, but they also wanted to be the managers. Their dominating manner was not only hard for me to work with, but also presented conflict for other riders and staff,” Johnson said.
And so a mutual, albeit bitter, decision was reached to part ways.
“After refusing to race in the Tour of Thailand, I gave the Schneiders the opportunity to leave the team,” said Johnson. “They were very vocal by that point that they did not agree with the schedule we were putting together, did not have faith in the staff and did not want to use our equipment. I wish they had given our team an opportunity, but I’m happy to see them move on and wish them the best of luck.”
Langdon, however, wanted it noted that the conflict was beyond a family affair.
“I have never seen two more professional people in the cycling world than Sam and Skylar. Similarly Dave showed immense professionalism toward the team,” she said. “This isn’t about two sisters and their father, this is about a team director and a majority of the team’s decision to leave, which is a huge difference to the story that’s been painted.”
Beyond the Schneiders and Langdon, Johnson would not confirm who else is leaving the team, but he did say he’s in the process of signing new riders.
“There are a ton of talented women out there who I know are hungry to compete at the UCI level,” he said. “There is no doubt that the Schneiders are accomplished riders, but at the end of the day we’re going to build a more well-rounded team and everyone involved with the project is excited about that.”
Moving forward with eyes on Bergen
“We are going to wear the white hat here as we believe in honesty and professionalism, even if it is not reciprocated,” Samantha responded.
“You have to stand up for yourself when things aren’t done safely or in a professional manner. Keep in mind that we and the other riders all left without having anything lined up, no plan B, no job, no way to get to races just to get out of the program.”
While trade team discussions won’t take place until the contract terminations are finalized, the Schneiders do have a home within Team USA.
“We have a few opportunities with team USA coming up such as the Pan American Championships in May, some races in Europe this summer, and hopefully compete at as many UCI races as possible in North America,” said Skylar, adding that the sisters’ goal is to represent Team USA at the World Championships in Norway this September.
“Of course we are trying to look out for the other riders and want to try to stick together as a team,” Skylar continued. “We really care about the careers of these girls and no matter what happens we are going to look out for them.”
Langdon, being one those riders, said while the Illuminate situation has been extremely stressful, she’s still optimistic about the season ahead.
“I’m quite new to the sport so I’m trying to establish myself at this level. It’s very disappointing to be in a situation like this but I’m just ready to move past this and excited for what’s to come in the rest of the season,” Langdon said. “Racing bikes is meant to be fun so that’s what I look forward to doing.”