America’s longest-established women’s team to close
The North American women’s professional peloton has suffered a big loss with the announcement that Webcor Builders Professional Women’s Cycling Team will no longer exist in 2011. The California-based general contracting company withdrew its title sponsorship funding after being hit hard by the United States of America’s economic downturn, according to directeur sportif Karen Brems.
“The construction industry was hit very hard by the recession and the company told us in July that they would no longer be able to support the pro team,” Brems told Cyclingnews. “It was a really hard decision for them but construction is down 42 percent in California. It’s been tough and they had to make some tough cuts and unfortunately the pro team was one of them.
“We have a lot of good product sponsors and infrastructure in place and we tried to find a title sponsor but it’s just really hard with the economy, so we are not going to have a pro team for the 2011 season,” she added. “It’s been seven years and a good run and all good things have to come to an end at some point.”
Members of this year’s team include former USA Champion and World Cup winner Katheryn Curi Mattis, former world time trial champion Amber Neben, Gina Grain, Andrea Graus, Ally Statcher and Lindsay Myers. Canadian Olympian Erinne Willock and Joelle Numainville have relocated to the TIBCO-To the Top squad for next season.
“For a while we were looking and trying to keep it a little bit quiet while we were searching for a new sponsor,” said Brems, who notified her riders following the Cascade Cycling Classic in July that there would no longer be a team the following season.
“We wanted to make sure to tell all of our product sponsors and athletes ourselves once it became clear that we wouldn’t have a team for 2011,” she added. “We found out about it a week before Cascade and we had a team meeting with the riders and the staff after that race.”
Webcor was the longest established women’s professional cycling team in the nation and a strong testament to the development of women’s bike racing in America. During those years members of the team have achieved success on an international stage. One notable rider who grew through its program was Christine Thorburn, a two-time USA national time trial champion.
“We had seven national championships, qualified five riders to the Olympics, won a World-Cup, were the only UCI registered North American trade team in 2008 and we did three international projects,” Brems said. “We’ve had a couple of our riders go on to HTC-Columbia and I take that as a compliment to our program. Riders like Katheryn, Erinne and Christine were loyal to our team for their whole careers. It’s been rewarding for me to see the new riders come through and have a core group that have been together for a long time.”
Webcor Builders has also helped produce some of the most talented women in racing today, including Mara Abbott, current USA road champion and Giro d’Italia Femminile winner, who will be competing for the Italian-based team Safi Pasta-Zara next year along with Evelyn Stevens (HTC-Columbia).
Brems is hopeful that the team could resurrect with a new title sponsor in 2012. For now Webcor Builders, along with team managers Dan and Andi Smith, will remain committed to the development and amateur programs, along with forming a stronger presence in cycling as an alternative mode of transportation in California.
“They are keeping their visibility in cycling,” said Brems, who will take on a mentorship role for the younger up and coming talents. “It’s a big change from what we have done before and with an Olympic year maybe something will come up for the 2012 season. It would most likely be with another title but you never know.
“It’s a tough economy and it’s not easy to get sponsorship for women’s racing,” she added. “We can’t say at this time but we have a solid program and we will still keep in touch with our product sponsor. It is sad for women’s cycling because we lost two teams this year and it is a tough job market for the women next year.”