BMW will be the title sponsor of a new UCI women's team run by Team SmartStop owners Premier Sports Group, the North Carolina-based management company announced today. Happy Tooth Dental Group is on board as the presenting sponsor.
The team also announced a 2015 roster directed by former Vanderkitten manager Jono Coulter and headlined by 2011 US national champion Robin Farina.
BMW has been a Team SmartStop sponsor since last year's Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, while Happy Tooth was a sponsor throughout last season. Both sponsors will also continue their support of the men's team this year, although the women's team will have separate sponsors for bikes and other equipment.
“The women are not just an extra line item on the men's team budget,” said Omer Kem, general manager for both of Premiere Sports' teams. “They really are their own entity. We wanted to give them their own personality, their own kits, their own director, mechanics and soigneurs.”
The separation between teams is a departure from other management groups that field both men's and women's programs, most notably Momentum Sports with UnitedHealthcare and Circuit Sports with Optum.
“It's not to say that any way is the right way,” Kem said, “but I think for us and what we're trying to do, it really makes sense to be diversified as an organization with our partners.
“Right now to be able to have the partners we have involved, it's all about having two unique programs. They were very excited about the women's team specifically. It wasn't about the men's team. It was about supporting something new and exciting on the women's side.”
This year's growth in the number of women's UCI race opportunities in North America – combined with the World Championships taking place this September in Virginia – has spurred a number of teams to make the jump up to the UCI level. Pepper Palace recently announced a move to the UCI ranks, and Nicola Cranmer's Twenty16 team is back at the international level as well.
The growth in teams proved fortuitous for Coulter and some of his former Vanderkitten riders, who were looking for a new home after the longtime elite amateur team shuttered in the off season.
“When [Premier Sports Group co-owner] Jamie Bennett and Omer Kem said they were 100 per cent behind a women's cycling program, I knew we would have an amazing opportunity to create an engaging, high-performance team,” Coulter said. “BMW and Happy Tooth Dental Group have taken a lead and commitment that is commendable in a rapidly growing sector of sports.”
Coulter quickly assembled a 10-woman roster of American and international riders that included Farina, a founder of the Women's Cycling Association. Alongside Farina will be Elle Anderson, Miranda Griffths, Korina Huizar, Michelle Khare, Liza Rachetto, Megan Rathwell, Shoshauna Routley, Rhae Shaw and Jessy Uebelhart.
Shaw finished seventh in the World Championship time trial in 2011, while Khare is the 2014 US under-23 criterium champion. Huizar is the reigning points race national champion on the track, and Coulter is hoping her success on the velodrome will translate to results on the road.
“Aussie Miranda Griffiths will be a force in the climbing stages of our UCI events,” Coulter said. “Rhae Shaw from Canada is proven world class and is still fine tuning ways to turn her raw strength into a high-class wins. Swiss rider Jessy Uebelhart will bring her European knowledge to the squad, which will compete in all North American UCI events in 2015.”
The riders will compete on Blue bikes outfitted with SRAM components and FFWD wheels, while Champion System will supply the team kits. Other partners include Bissell, amain.com, Clement, Vittoria, Rotor, TRP and First Endurance.
The BMW p/b Happy Tooth Dental Group 2015 Roster:
Elle Anderson (USA), Robin Farina (USA), Miranda Griffths (AUS), Korina Huizar (USA), Michelle Khare (USA), Liza Rachetto (USA), Megan Rathwell (CAN), Shoshauna Routley (CAN), Rhae Shaw (CAN), Jessy Uebelhart (SUI)