So why do I say no Team Sky?
Firstly, it’s amazing to have so many people calling for a Team Sky for women. It shows the sport has backing from fans and followers who all contribute to make the sport great. These people actually hold the power to take the sport forward, to lift the riders and to show sponsors the value of our sport. However, as I have alluded to in my previous ramblings, Women’s Cycling is its own animal and this means it has its own special requirements for development. There are so many calls for a ‘Team Sky’ for women and I always question, “Why?”
Firstly, I personally don’t think ‘Sky’ are the people at which these calls of frustration are aimed; it’s actually either directed at British Cycling or men’s teams in general (to add a women’s team). BC and Sky get confused a lot, and people have strong opinions on this and their connections, and it’s something I seriously do not want to get involved in; everyone has a right to dislike. The campaign for a Facebook “dislike” button has as much support as the campaign of “BC don’t back women.” Not my department.
So, now to my point of why I say “no” to a Sky women’s team. I need to look at this initially from a commercial point of view and I’ll explain this before I go on. For women’s cycling to get taken seriously, we need top-level races, high-end media, quality commercial returns, and professionally-run well-structured teams. This dreamy women’s cycling circus will take the sport forward to new heights. But having World Cup races that are increasing globalised and packed with national teams and mis-matched teams isn’t helping. Yes, national teams play their part in the development of riders, as they do predominantly with under-23 riders in the men’s side of the sport, but you don’t see them fighting it out any longer in the Tour or Giro. The sport for men has moved forward and sponsors and the governing body see the value of commercialisation.
So this is one area where women’s cycling needs to mirror the men. No more national teams in World Cups, and there is even a call for age-limited national teams in higher-end professional races, certainly in line with the regulations for pro teams. Riding for your national team should be an honour. Something the lucky few get to do. Getting your national team kit should a proud moment, where you feel nervous and feel expectation to represent your nation. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege.
So many more commercial teams are needed, that’s clear. But why do so many people want a sponsor who hasn’t yet seen the commercial value in women’s cycling to back it? Why do they want a sponsor who maybe hasn’t got the resources to do it correctly to back women’s cycling? Why do people want under-motivated marketing executives looking at a women’s team as a side project? I’m not suggesting any of these questions relate to Sky, they relate to general issues about who sponsors women’s cycling. This is the moment in time we need to take the spotlight for ourselves. Women’s cycling is a great sport, providing great commercial returns to sponsors who are prepared to be in for the long haul and innovate.
Of course if the head of Sky gave me a call today, I’d be listening. But I’d want to know that they believed in the sport, that they’d listen to what we have achieved already and how we have done it, and how they see themselves being able to help us. I think that when Team Sky was put together they had a vision of what was possible in men’s cycling. To be honest it seemed pretty farfetched at the time to me, but they have more than done it. A one-two finish in the Tour is fantastic, and it’s so good to see them talking about how they are going to innovate to try to dominate the sport and back this up. It’s not just a tick in a box and they’ll move on. I have a vision for this team, based on knowledge and involvement in the sport for a long time, and I am sure it’s a very different set of goals to Team Sky. So if we look at a direct comparison, let’s say I target winning the Giro. The solution right now isn’t too hard really; get money, buy Vos. Wow, what a fulfilling victory that would be?
I believe the sport needs committed backers to give both riders and the sport a different way of approaching things. We need to be making this sport bigger and better. We need to be making it harder for Vos with team structures and development programs that give us tactically well-drilled riders, who understand the sport in tiny details. We need to be able to back outstanding riders like I have on my team – Annie Simpson and Penny Rowson – to give them the realistic chance of getting to Rio in 2016. Why should it all be about Vos and Lizzie in Rio? Let’s make them fight for their places, let’s make their support network bigger, lets add real competition for places.
This sport is on the edge of a boom, but it is fragile in many ways. Team Sky came into a hugely competitive environment; they innovated and learnt to thrive. We need to not only take ourselves to the top, but we need to consider how we get there and what extra activities we engage in to do our service to the sport. Race promotion, media advancements, junior teams, sustainability…the list goes on.
We don’t need a super team at the top, bossing things. We have AA Drink, GreenEdge, HiTech, Rabobank, and Specialized Lululemon who seem to have understood the sport. We need more teams at this level and the name of the sponsor doesn’t matter. Just because a women’s team is called Team Sky, it doesn’t mean you’ll have Lizzie and Nicole riding in that team. We need to give riders a structure they believe will make them better riders. They need to believe in the process. They need to be in it for the long haul, the team needs to benefit the sport and provide a truly first-class commercial return, not be a sideshow.
So let’s change our calls – no more “where is Team Sky for Women?” – and start a positive campaign to back women’s cycling. I believe, and I mean really believe, that a big campaign of support for women’s cycling could be what gets Sky interested in backing a team like Matrix Fitness – Prendas. I also feel that constant berating of Sky and Team Sky will cause terminal harm to the chance of that ever happening.