Nine women graduated from the annual UCI Sports Directors Diploma program offered at the sport governing body’s headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland. It was a record number of women enrolled in the program since its introduction five years ago. Among them were recently retired Orica-AIS rider Loes Gunnewijk and UnitedHealthcare director Rachel Heal.
Gunnewijk announced her early retirement from professional bike racing in May. She had originally intended to retire at the end of the 2015 season, however, pushed that date forward by several months because of a lingering shoulder injury.
In a post-program report on the UCI website, Gunnewijk said, “It’s a great opportunity to learn and to stay involved in the sport. It will be good to have this qualification at the highest level. You see things from a different perspective when you are in the car than when you are a rider.
“As a rider it’s pretty easy. You ride and people look after you. As a DS it’s 24 hours a day: you are responsible for the whole team, you have to be sharp during the race and you have to keep everything smooth and relaxed. It’s a different kind of stress.”
This year, nine women and 40 men took part in the weeklong program, which is open to anyone in a sports director role for a cycling team at any level. The program is obligatory for directors of teams on the WorldTour, but that is not yet the case for UCI-registered women’s teams.
Seven of the nine women who enrolled in the program were recipients of a new scholarship award set up by the UCI in an effort to get more women involved in directing. More than 50 women applied for the scholarship.
The move to get more women involved in the sport is a good one, according to Heal, a former racer who has directed US-based teams Colavita, Optum Pro Cycling and now UnitedHealthcare.
“Women will generally have a different perspective and a different approach that comes from different experiences within the sport. I think both men’s and women’s cycling can benefit from this different perspective.”