The Amgen Tour of California has maintained a women’s race as part of their lineup since 2009. Since then organizers have experimented with a variety of formats. In 2015 organisers took a big leap, and with the help of sponsors SRAM and Amgen, added a three day stage race to the schedule. Several veterans of the women’s peloton reflected on what the Amgen Women’s Tour of California means.
Ina Teutenberg retired from cycling in 2013, and after taking some time off has returned to the scene as a director at USA Cycling. The women peloton’s increasing depth and professionalism has impressed Teutenberg.
“I think the sport is on a good way to get better. I’ve directed the last two months in Europe and the level there is incredible,” said Teutenberg. “If you don’t have a good day, there is no way you can fake it and win a race anymore. The teams are all professional, they work really well. If you don’t have a good team behind you, you are not going to win. This is for sure, it’s gone up a level in the last few years.”
Kristy Scrymgeour has seen the sport from all sides. She rode professionally, worked as a journalist, and now owns and manages the Velocio-SRAM squad.
“This tour [Amgen Women’s Tour of California] is pretty significant in representing where women’s cycling has come, even in the last year I think,” said Scrymgeour. “We still have a long way to go in building women’s cycling into a sustainable sport, a sport which attracts sponsors easily.”
Scrymgeour’s hope is that media coverage will follow the increased opportunities for women.
“Racing wise the girls love these very well organized races, and for the women it is amazing. In terms of growing the sport you can’t just have a race it needs to be seen.” said Scrymgeour. “There are some amazing races around the world. There are some amazing races around the world, we’ve had Flanders, Flèche, a bunch of races that coincide with men’s race for years but nobody knew that they were on. They were barely reported on, they were definitely not broadcast. So, that was great for the riders, and great for the teams to have something to participate in, but not great in terms of helping the sport grow on a larger level.
"More and more now the races are saying ‘Okay we have these great races, we are incorporating them, and we know that it works logistically. Now we have to go that next step and make sure that it gets covered, make sure that the media outlets know that it is on, make sure we can fit it into our broadcast coverage.’ I think that is slowly starting to happen. It is not going to happen overnight, but when you have a really big organization like AEG making that step it is a really good sign.”
Tina Pic (Pepper Palace) has been racing so long she does not even know how many races she has won. After starting out in the 90’s Pic evolved into one of the top American sprinters. Her list of achievements includes five U.S national criterium championships. In recent years Pic has worked both sides of the fence as a team director and racer. At 49 she’s seen a lot of racing through the years, and has a keen eye for how teams work together in the modern peloton.
“When I first started there might have been one team that was able to do a lead out. That was like Saturn years ago. The rest of us were bungling around in there fighting for wheels,” said Pic. “Now we’ve got a really good European program, and now the Euros are coming over here. Today [Stage 2 of the Women’s Tour of California] was blazing fast. It was on the rivet all the time. You wouldn’t have gotten that years ago. The sport is really growing, it’s phenomenal now. It’s on the level of men’s races now that there is more than one team doing lead outs. It is definitely more of a team sport than it was years ago when I first started.”
Joanne Kiesanowski (TIBCO) has been racing professionally for 15 years. Like many riders she recognises the ebbs and flows of how women’s cycling has progressed in the last decade. Kiesanowski believes recent efforts by race organisers and organisations, like the Women’s Cycling Association (WCA) and UCI, to level the playing field are a step in the right direction.
“A lot of tours are stepping up and creating a women’s only event. The [USA Pro Challenge in Colorado] gave us our own event as well this year, and I’m sure it will just grow and grow like the Tour of California, which will keep on growing as well,” said Kiesanowski. “All the big races in Europe now are getting some races alongside the men. Hopefully it will keep growing with people like the WCA and other organisations like that. Tracey Gaudry, with the UCI, has been huge for women’s cycling. She keeps pushing for more events and more fairness. Sometimes it is not about equality, it is just about being fair.”
Alison Tetrick (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) has raced the Amgen Tour of California the last four years. Tetrick has seen first hand the impact a three day stage race presents for sponsors.
“One of the presidents of Amgen was just up here at the finish line watching the race. He wanted to come check it out and was super impressed with the venue and the quality of racing.” said Tetrick. “Being able to showcase what we can do with sponsors like Amgen Breakaway From Cancer and SRAM, and represent them, it is just huge growth there.”
Tetrick recognises that the cycle of progress isn’t always steady but is optimistic about the future.
“Just like sport and life, everything ebbs and flows, but i think there has been a steady increase in exposure and opportunity,” said Tetrick. “You win some and lose some in terms of gaining races and losing races, but I think that is the nature of sport and finding sponsorship dollars. I’ve really seen a lot of positives and I’m looking forward to continued growth.”
Storey living the dream in Tahoe
Dame Sarah Storey vacationed in Tahoe once. The experience left her thinking a race there might be a good idea. The decorated Paralympian got her chance this year with the first edition of the Amgen Tour of California women's stage race, which began on Friday with two stages in Tahoe before the finish in Sacramento.
"I've been to South Lake Tahoe on holiday and I absolutely loved it and wanted to ride around that lake in a race," said Storey. "For me to get off the front today, and be loving life up there was absolutely perfect."
Storey spent most of the first stage of the Amgen Women's Tour of California in a breakaway with Allison Beveridge (Canadian National Team.) The two riders worked together for over half the race, building up a lead of almost two minutes. The pack swallowed up the leaders at the second QOM summit, but the move earned Storey the Lexus Queen of the Mountain jersey. It also gave Storey's Pearl Izumi-Sports Tours International team much needed publicity.
Storey has been competing as a Paralympic athlete since 1992 when she won her first medal at Barcelona in swimming. Since then she's racked up 22 Paralympic medals and 73 world records in swimming and cycling.
After the London Olympics, Storey's athletic accomplishments began to reach a wider audience. The recognition culminated in an appointment as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE.) A title akin to an honorary knighthood.
Storey's racing success has extended to able-bodied competition as well. Storey first raced professionally in 2009, and raced several pro events in the run up to the 2012 London games. Recent success has earned even more attention. In 2014 Storey won a TT stage in the Tour de Bretagne, a 2.2 UCI ranked race.
"Ultimately I've got a really good engine," said Storey. "I've got some good power data. The time trial next week will be really interesting to pit myself against the likes of Lisa Brennauer, Tara [Whitten], and Kristin Armstrong. People that are right up there with time trialling in the history of able bodied women's cycling. If I could nick a place for GB at the world championships this year, which are obviously in the states as well, that would be amazing."
Storey blends her professional cycling, Olympic, and Paralympic goals into one single program. Each helps build on another. She doesn't rule out a run at spot on the Olympic roster, and yet still has an eye on the Paralympic road race.
"These opportunities help me be better and better," said Storey. "By the time Rio comes, and I'm defending my road race, hopefully I have a few more tools in the toolbox to try and take a win there as well."
Storey put together the Pearl Izumi program with the help of several friends and sponsors. Designed as a way to get back into racing after the birth of her daughter Louisa, the program has taken on deeper meaning. The team combines riders just starting their careers, with women who juggle full time jobs with elite racing.
"We tried to spread the team out so we represented a cross section of the women's peloton in the UK," said Storey. "Every single one of them has a way of funding their cycling, they are not professionally paid as cyclists. They fund their cycling outside of racing so that creates different challenges. I think I'm the only rider that is full time. It's an incredibly inspiring group of girls to be part of. The way they juggle work and studies, alongside training for races like this, is really inspiring."
The team is small. The women on the team have paid their own way to be at the Amgen Tour of California. Storey's parents worked as soigneurs handing out bottles in the feedzone. The team director doubled as the mechanic. Several riders did not make the time cut at the end of the stage.
The goals and tasks seem daunting but at Friday's post race press conference Storey sat at the head table with Louisa in her lap. As Storey fielded questions from the media, 22.5 month old Louisa entertained the crowd. Storey made it all look possible.
Video: Teutenberg on her retirement, women's racing progress
Ina Teutenberg crashed in 2013 at the Drentse 8 and suffered a life-changing head injury that forced her to retire. After spending a year away from the sport, she is back on the other side of the sport, directing teams.
Cyclingnews spoke to Teutenberg about her change of career, the state of the sport and more in this video.
Video: Loren Rowney on her viral crash and bum-pinches
Australian Loren Rowney should have been making headlines for her results, after a strong start to the season. But instead, it was a crash in the Drentse 8 finishing sprint, where a spectator thrust out his arm, hitting her bars and knocking her to the ground. The video of the incident, which made the move look intentional on the spectator's part, went viral.
Cyclingnews asked Rowney about the incident and more in this video.