While much of the focus of GreenEdge's bid to enter the professional peloton in 2012 has surrounded the creation of the men's ProTour team, the Australian outfit has also been hard at work shaping a women's elite squad to take on the likes of Garmin-Cervelo and hopefully, HTC-Highroad. Plans for a women's elite team were announced at the GreenEdge launch in Adelaide in January and Cycling Australia board member, former professional Tracey Gaudry says that it's a move that will add "the final piece" to the nation's cycling puzzle.
Just as they are with the men's program, GreenEdge is working directly with Cycling Australia and the Australian cycling pathway from the state institutes of sport, through to the AIS scholarships, to the national team for women. So for the first time for Australia's female cyclists there is a road from club racing all the way through to professional team status in Europe.
The deadlines for women's elite teams are different from the ProTour, with registration payments due to the UCI on December 10 however, GreenEdge General Manager Shayne Bannan said plans are well and truly under way.
"We're looking at the structure - a lot of the sponsors for the men's team will be the same for the women's team such as Scott Bikes, Santini and all the technical sponsors that go with it," he confirmed to Cyclingnews.
"We're in the process of looking at the riders list and the combination of age, experience and youth."
Gaudry, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of the Amy Gillett Foundation, believes that running an elite women's team alongside a ProTour outfit is the "perfect model" for professional cycling.
"We have to be honest, the cost to maintain a women's team is such a low base right now internationally – very modest improvements on that will add so much value to women's racing," the two-time Olympian told Cyclingnews. "If you build into that the infrastructure from the men's professional team and assign a portion of that to the women's team, the inroads you're going to make are amazing."
Building off established infrastructure
The majority of the team will be Australian for a total of around 10 riders with two or three foreign riders within that group.
"It's the foreign riders that will bring the experience because there is a really good group of young [Australian] cyclists who are emerging – they just need the exposure to some really solid experience and that's what we know that the Europeans will bring to the table," said Bannan with Gaudry echoing his sentiments.
"GreenEdge is not just about Australian athletes, it's an Australian-owned team on the international scene that will focus on maximizing the pathways for Australian athletes, but will of course have international athletes to round out that team to give it the right skills and strengths that it needs," she explained.
While Bannan wasn't able to confirm, reigning Australian and Oceania road champion Shara Gillow, former Australian champion Ruth Corset and former under 23 Australian criterium champion Chloe Hosking have all been linked to GreenEdge. Gillow and Corset currently ride with the Jayco-AIS team with Hosking spending the last two seasons with the highly successful HTC-Highroad team. Signings will be officially announced from mid-September.
Bannan, former director of Cycling Australia's High Performance Program, said that: "coaches that we currently use in the national program in Australia... as well as mechanics and masseurs," will also join GreenEdge, including head coach of the Australian women's road squad, Martin Barras.
A change for good
Like many within the sport, and women's sport in general, Gaudry laments the lack of support for female cyclists pointing out that it's especially difficult for Australians in Europe or the United States and being so far from home.
"I know women who are signed up to women's professional teams who are on a few thousand dollars a year as their income, it's just disgusting," she admitted. "Yet these women are doing it because they absolutely love it.
"What we've seen for Australian athletes is that it's a big deal to base yourself in Europe, you're in a professional team environment that most of the time doesn't provide you with that holistic support that is needed to sustain the lifestyle, the incomes with the exception of a select few are less than you would world for back in Australia – people wouldn't get out of bed for what they're being paid – and therefore when things don't go well for women, it's very hard to keep propping yourself back up."
Gaudry is adamant that GreenEdge is the best opportunity ever that Australia's had to maximise the potential of its female cyclists and is hopeful that some of the urgency to crack it for a start in a European professional team will disappear.
"It will actually buy athletes a little bit more time that they would have had before," she explained. "You don't have to suddenly as soon as you've raced on the national team for one year, jump and try and find a European pro team because if you don't do it you won't make it."
A key message in Bannan's pitch throughout this year has been sustainability and it's something that will especially ring true for the women's team given the athletes the likes of which we've seen come through the Garmin-Cervelo and HTC-Highroad programs have greater longevity in the sport. The reason for this is because "it's not win or perish," according to Gaudry.
"They're committed because they've got a contract, they've got stability and therefore the athletes can take their time to earn the results as well and you've also got a better team dynamic."