With the AA Drink - Leontien.NL team confirmed to leave the sport at the end of the season, one of the team leaders Emma Pooley has told Cyclingnews that she may take a year out of the sport and that a complete retirement may follow.
The 2008 Olympic medallist and Amnesty International advocate is currently racing the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardeche 2012. However despite still riding at the peak of her career, the 29-year-old said she may take a year’s sabbatical, which could extend to a full retirement.
“It wasn’t a huge surprise that AA Drink - Leontien.NL were dropping out. Their sponsorship ran out at the end of this year and they gave us plenty of notice so it wasn’t like they left us in the lurch. But I’m still considering what I do for next year and whether I race at all, or what kind of race programme I do,” Pooley told Cyclingnews.
One option that appears to be off the table is a ride in AA Drink - Leontien.NL’s new formation. The team’s bosses are hoping to put together a new outfit for 2013 but have stated that Pooley does not figure in their plans.
“I think the director on AA Drink - Leontien.NL wants to start a follow-up team but he doesn’t seem to want me on it. He’s not spoken to me about it but all I know is that he did an interview with a Dutch cycling website where he named the riders he wanted and I wasn’t one of them.
“I’m considering or taking a year off. I have spoken to other teams but the whole climate in women’s cycling is not very encouraging. Although some women’s teams are really well run, there's such a hand to mouth existence. Every year it seems like a team folds and it’s a lot of stress.
“I've found full-time cycling stressful this year, probably because I don't feel I've been at my best or got the results I hoped for, so I’m thinking about taking a year off and if I really miss it I’d come back. The other option would be take a reduced race programme and start a little later in the year, because in the winter I need to finish my PHD. But I don’t want to race and be crap!”
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph published last week Pooley questioned as to why Sky had chosen not to support a women’s team. They won the Tour de France this year through Bradley Wiggins and have helped to improve the visibility of the sport in the UK through their men’s WorldTour team, their SkyRidesand support for the national track programme. However despite the nation having cyclists such as Pooley, Nicole Cooke and Lizzie Armitstead, and the Olympic Games having taken place in London this year, Sky have refrained from moving into the women’s peloton.
“What the Olympics made me realise is how brilliant it would be to be on a team like Sky which is basically a national team with a massive budget. There’s no conflict or stress between national team or pro team, no arguments over kit or race programme...
“It does seem strange because it’s a huge opportunity and women’s recreational cycling is growing, bike sponsors want to get women on bikes, and the truth is that it doesn’t really cost anything to run a women’s team. With the budget Sky have they wouldn’t really notice. Whenever you hear about Sky you hear about their exorbitant spending, and my team can’t afford the petrol to go to races."
Sky’s choice is certainly not the root of the problem. The women’s sport is underfunded across the board and lacks the media exposure, sponsorship and support needed in order to have sustained growth. Pooley also believes that the UCI should do more in their capacity as the sport’s governing body. They have made some successful measures, introducing parity in the Olympic track programme and promoting the women’s World Cup events. However Pooley says that more needs to be done both by the UCI and race organisers.
“Women’s cycling in the men’s peloton is widely regarded as a total joke but that’s because they don’t know enough about it and the UCI doesn’t make any effort to further the sport. They basically imply that we’re all shit and that really pisses me off. If we could do more or the same races as the men on the same day, on the same course and get on the television people will watch our racing like they did at the Olympics and people will see that women’s cycling can be exciting."