HTC-Highroad team owner Bob Stapleton is looking forward to seeing more impressive results from his women's squad in 2011, with the addition of former world time trial champion Amber Neben and her fellow American Amanda Miller to his already winning line-up.
Stapleton has long been an advocate for women's cycling, having supported and managed the T-Mobile women's team before stepping up in 2007 to take control of the men's professional team.
Cyclingnews spoke to Stapleton this week after the announcement of the team's newest sponsor, Specialized, and the announcement of the team's newest signings. Neber and Miller will join US time trial champion Evelyn Stevens, sprint legend Ina-Yoko Teutenberg and former world champion Judith Arndt on the 2011 team.
"I'm really happy with the team," Stapleton said. "They're just stocked with talent. I'm optimistic about what they can do together.
"You've seen how well Evelyn's done, and it's great to have Amber back. The first team I was ever involved with had Amber - for me that's a great connection.
"The team is close to my heart, and they are structured along similar lines to the men."
HTC was the first, and for years the only, top men's professional team to have a women's squad. For 2011 there will be no fewer than six, with HTC, Garmin-Cervèlo continuing the Cervèlo women's team, Geox (formerly Footon-Servetto) bringing in the Safi Pasta team, Skil-Shimano adding the Koga-Shimano women, and Continental teams Nutrixxion and Topsport Vlaanderen having womens' teams.
"I'm very excited about that," said Stapleton. "I think that is the healthiest thing I see in the sport right now - a growing appreciation for the marketing value of a women's team, particularly when it's operated alongside a men's team.
"More than 50 percent of new endurance sports participants - running, swimming, cyling - are women. Women control over 85 percent of household recreation spending. So it's about time they got respect as participants and consumers. Now we just need more events."
The dearth of top stage races for women has been made even worse for 2011 with the loss of the Tour de l'Aude. "That's a real heartbreaker," he said. 'It was the iconic stage race for women."
With more men's teams supporting women's squads, Stapleton thinks that having the women race alongside the men is the formula that will work to bring more attention to the women.
"If we can get a [women's] Tour of California that would be great, I'd love to see Colorado do the same thing. I think if we can get the newer races to start off with that model, that would be a big accomplishment," he said.
"I know Andrew Messick [Tour of California organiser -ed.] wants to do that, we've talked about it every year. This is going to be a breakout year for Tour of California. They did a good job last year of raising the visibility, they had great television offering in Europe. This is going to be a whole new level up because the course is awesome. He does want to put a women's race in there, at least get it started. I hope he gets it done - but he'd need money to do it.
"I think that's the only thing missing in women's racing right now. You've got the athletes, you're starting to see the teams, but to get more money in the sport they need showcases, they need new events. But I'm very encouraged [by the teams]. You can clearly see that it's moving ahead."