Five years ago the women’s peloton lost one of its most powerful voices when Ina-Yoko Teutenberg crashed hard at Drentse 8 and suffered a significant head injury. That forced the German into early retirement, bringing to an end a successful career that delivered 68 professional victories.
Teutenberg is launching back into top-level racing, not as a racer but as sports director at the newly announced Trek women’s team.
Trek made a statement last month when they announced the signing of former world champion Lizzie Deignan, who is expecting her first child. They showed an intent to provide a professional, well-resourced team that would create a step forward for female pro cyclists. Now Trek has made another big statement, with the appointment of a female team director, especially one with the reputation of Teutenberg.
In the respected German’s time as a rider, which included victory at the Tour of Flanders and eight Giro Rosa stage wins, there is no doubt she was a powerful force in the peloton, both with her legs and voice. Nowadays you’ll often hear riders lamenting the days when Teutenberg was, as our SHEcret pro put it, “calling the shots and when riders knew their place pretty quickly if they f***ed up”.
Teutenberg’s appointment was part of the attraction for Deignan, who said a strong person in the sports director role was a high priority for her when considering what she wanted from her next team.
“I think that’s really key,” Deignan told Ella CyclingTips. “I think you can have the best team in the world in terms of infrastructure and budget but unless the person at the top is a good leader then you are always going to struggle.”
Along with her reputation and significant racing experience, Teutenberg also brings experience from outside the peloton — she’s served in part-time or temporary directing roles with other teams including Rally Cycling and USA Cycling. But this is the first time she’ll be back and committed to returning to the European race scene full-time.
There to win
In coming back to the sport, Teutenberg certainly hasn’t eased in with a team that’s just there to make up the numbers.
“Trek is coming in with ambitions, they’re putting a lot of money behind us, they are putting a lot of infrastructure there,” Teutenberg told Ella CyclingTips. “We are going to have enough good bike riders that we can be competitive at any WorldTour race we are starting and I think that has to be the goal too.
“I mean, we can’t just go in and say ‘Oh let’s see what happens’. We want to win WorldTour races and maybe even the WorldTour … if that’s possible.”
Despite the fact that it’s a new team, Trek is likely to be packed with seasoned professionals that are able to quickly adapt to working within a new environment. Official announcements about the rest of the riders that will join Deignan are yet to come but there’s been plenty of talk that they’ll include Elisa Longo Borghini from the folding Wiggle High5 and Team Sunweb’s Ellen van Dijk.
The reputation of Teutenberg has undoubtedly worked as a drawcard for riders, but it also worked the other way round.
“If you work with world-class athletes you just rise to the occasion,” said Teutenberg. “For me it was like a super-exciting project because of just knowing that I’m going to be handed pretty much a world class team and it’s up to me to handle all these different characters and be able to hopefully win a lot of WorldTour races.”
Sharing the know how
The strongest team on the women’s race scene in recent years has undoubtedly been Boels-Dolmans, Deignan’s former team. Other players, in particular Mitchelton-Scott in 2018, have been stepping up to challenge the Dutch team’s dominance. The addition of another strong squad in 2019 is likely to liven up the competition, particularly given it’s a team that is likely to be able to quickly perform.
The fact that Trek is a women’s team combined with the already established men’s Trek-Segafredo squad is expected to help the team hit the ground running. Indeed, this was an additional drawcard for the new sports director, who raced with the Saturn and HTC-Highroad women’s squads for many years — both programs with men’s and women’s teams. Access to resources, and experience, was a key reason Teutenberg was happy to be part of the new venture, but so too were the surrounding support structures.
“Trek made it so clear that this is really going to be run like a WorldTour team and we’re gonna have all the support the guys’ team has,” Teutenberg said. “I think that’s pretty exciting.”
Exciting and an essential part of the consideration for Teutenberg who has had to deal with some long-lasting impacts from her 2013 crash, when she hit her head hard and was unconscious for a time.
“It’s just making sure that I actually can concentrate on being a director, “she said. “In a lot of women’s teams you have everything around it too. With my head trauma from 2013, I know I can’t actually do this because I know I can’t do three, four hours of screen time after I’ve done a whole bike race day.”
The lasting impact of that head trauma kept Teutenberg out of the European race scene for far longer than anyone initially expected, but now that she’s back with a powerful team under her charge, there’s little doubt she’ll once again be a major influence on the women’s peloton. This time, it’ll just be from behind the scenes.