A new elite women’s team out of Canada is expected to apply for a UCI licence and launch in 2017 as the S.H.E. Cycling Program. Owner Claudine Gilbert aims to give young women visibility and the opportunity to compete against North American and international elite cyclists.
Gilbert is a former team manager of the Canadian men’s UCI Continental team Silber Pro Cycling. She will hire former professional cyclist Audrey Lemieux as the director and Ralf Medloff as the technical director and head mechanic.
“To build a team at the UCI level is not easy,” Gilbert told Cyclingnews when asked why she has decided to announce the team a year ahead of the intended launch date. “We need to be grounded when we start it, so the key is patience, time, and contacts. It requires a lot of teamwork, too. It’s not just myself in this project even if I am the founder.
“Medloff plays a big role in the sponsorship and Lemieux as an ambassador,” Gilbert said. “We need to have a solid foundation before launching the team. Real solid sponsors, who share our vision; gender equality by empowerment, and to bring in the best athletes who want to be a part of our program. I don't like to promise something to someone and in the end have nothing happen because the preparation was too fast or there wasn’t enough thought behind it. I want to build the team in a good way and have it alive for 2017.”
Gilbert said she and Lemieux will hire an all-Canadian roster because the team’s goal is to promote and support Canadian athletes at an international level.
“Our goal is to have a complete Canadian roster,” Gilbert said. “We want to promote Canadian female athletes. Audrey will select all the Canadian girls she considers to be able to race at this level and build a team balanced with both experience and young talent.”
Lemieux is a multiple-time Canadian champion who competed for many of the top North American-based UCI teams during her career, along with the French team Esgl 93 - Gsd Gestion. She retired from professional racing at the end of the 2010 season.
Gilbert hired Lemieux not only to direct the team during the races but also to build the team’s communication and team spirit. Lemieux will also lead team training camps and supervise the athletes' training programs throughout the season.
“Audrey has all the qualities I searched for in a good director sportif,” Gilbert said. “She has the leadership, the experience, the determination, she's strong, persistent, and she’s a fighter. She's a great role model for Canada and young female cyclists. I called her to talk about the female circuit. After this conversation, I knew she was the best for this position.
Gilbert said that she is currently in negotiations with potential sponsors but that it is too soon to announce them at this time. She said that during the first season the team will focus on UCI events across North America.
Although Canada has developed many world-class cyclists that race in the peloton today, the nation's last UCI-registered team was GSD Gestion-Kallisto in 2013. "In 2015, Canada can count only three female trade team registered at Cycling Canada for the whole country. It’s not enough and I want to change that.” Gilbert said.