Breaking the Glass Ceiling: the women in top positions in cycling

Robin Morton
(Image credit: Robin Morton)

Cyclingnews' dedicated women's page features race reports, results, news, interviews, tech, and galleries from the world of professional women's cycling.

This International Women’s Day we are celebrating the women who have smashed through the glass ceiling in the male-dominated industry of cycling and taken up important and influential positions in the sport. 

From Directeur Sportifs to CEOs and Director Generals, Cyclingnews highlights some of the women who are defying society’s expectations and serving as inspirations to many. 

Bonnie Tu - Founder of Liv Cycling and Chair of Giant Group 

Bonnie Tu is not only the Chairperson of Giant Group — under which the brands Giant, Liv, Momentum, and CADEX operate — but she is also the founder of the award-winning women’s cycling gear brand, Liv. In 1972, Tu was one of the founders of Giant and has played an integral role in the company throughout its growth. 

Years later, in 2007, while preparing for the Tour of Taiwan, Tu was frustrated at being unable to find bikes and kit suitable for her needs. In turn, she was also concerned about the messaging that the lack of kit sent to other women when it came to starting out in cycling, so, the idea for Liv came about. The brand — which employs an entirely female team — has the aim of encouraging more women into the sport. Liv are also sponsors of the Women’s World Tour Team, Liv Racing as well as many ambassadors internationally. 

Cherie Pridham - Directeur Sportif, Israel Start Up Nation

Cherie Pridham found herself in the spotlight at the end of last year when she made history as the first woman to take on a full-time role as sports director for a men’s WorldTour team.  

For Pridham, the job of sports director is not a new one, the 49-year-old has been directing teams for 14 years. A former pro herself, she took part in the now-defunct Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale but it was after being forced to give up her own racing career due to an accident that she decided to become a DS.

On taking the job, Pridham said, “I feel truly proud and privileged to be the first woman to serve as a sport director at the WorldTour level, joining one of the best teams in the world and being entrusted with great and legendary riders,” 

“So, for me, I want to get it right because when I do, I know that it will inspire others to take the same journey and that really does mean something to me.”

Yana Seel - Managing Director of Astana-Premier Tech

Belgian businesswoman Yana Seel joined the Astana pro team at the beginning of 2019 as Managing Director of Abacanto SA, the Luxembourg-based company that runs the team. Before joining Astana, Seel worked for a pharmaceutical company. 

In 2020, Seel stepped up her involvement in moving the Astana team forward, with Alexandr Vinokourov remaining as Team Manager but with less control on the business element of the team.

“I do the full day-to-day management,” she explains to Wielerflits. “I also do the administration and I make strategic choices. We have different departments for this: a technical department, a logistics department, a financial department and now we finally have a very good marketing department, headed by Sven Jonker. I sit with each department and I make decisions based on what they propose. So I actually do the entire management of the Astana team."

Robin Morton - Owner and Manager of the First U.S Team to Enter the Giro d’Italia

Cherie Pridham may be the first female with a full-time role as a modern-day WorldTour DS, but the mantle of the first female to direct a professional men’s team at an international race goes to American, Robin Morton. 

Morton was not only the first female director but also the first female manager and owner of a men’s UCI registered team. In 1984, with Morton as director, the team — Gianni Motta-Linea MD— became the first US team to race the Giro d’Italia.

Such was the unprecedented nature of a female DS that the race organisers decided to cast a vote to determine whether Morton would be allowed to drive in the race caravan, luckily the consensus was that she could. She told Pez Cycling, “I’m not sure what I would have done if they had voted no; I wasn’t going to go home. At that point, it was quite a big deal.”

The following year, Morton’s team also went to the Vuelta a España and the Critérium du Dauphiné where they — and she — once again made history. 

Amina Lanaya - Director General of the UCI 

In 2018, Anima Lanaya became the first female — and at 40, the youngest — Director General of the UCI. Originally a lawyer, Lanaya spent 15 years at the organisation with seven of those being in the legal department before she moved to Deputy Director General and then her current role.

As Director General, Lanaya oversees a wide range of business operations from racing calendars to marketing and is responsible for a team of 120 people. In 2020, under her leadership, the UCI obtained EDGE certification — an internationally-recognized benchmark of gender equality within workplaces. 

On receiving the certification Lanaya said: “As the first woman Director General of the UCI, I am very proud that our Federation has obtained EDGE certification,” said Lanaya in a statement. “We are committed to an ambitious project to make the UCI an exemplary international sports body in terms of internal governance. In this context, the theme of gender equality is a priority, and we will continue to be committed to this goal in order to put in place, by 2021, a policy ensuring the well-being, equality, and promotion of all our employees.” 

Fran Millar - CEO of Belstaff and Former CEO of INEOS Grenadiers

Part of the team since its inception, Fran Millar spent a decade working with Team Sky and then INEOS after being approached by Sir Dave Brailsford to help set it up. Millar oversaw team staff, as well as riders’ personal development in her role as director of Business Operations before being promoted to CEO in June 2019. 

Asked about being a woman in business by the broadcaster Orla Chennaoui for Rouleur magazine, Millar said: “I don’t think it’s impacted my opportunities…but I think it’s impacted what I’ve been able to do in my career because it gives me a different point of view...” 

“Being a woman in a sport that is very male-dominated and where the primary focus is on the men’s side of the sport… I think I can bring something different to the table that men don’t tend to bring.”

Ina Yoko Teutenberg - Head Directeur Sportif, Trek-Segafredo Women’s Team

Being a female DS in the women’s peloton might not seem particularly subversive, but given that management within women’s teams is a male-dominated environment, it is.

Trek-Segafredo were one of the most dominant women’s teams of the 2020 season and in the car for many of those races was two-time Olympian Ina-Yoko Teutenberg. The German ex-pro has over 200 wins to her name and if the team’s results are anything to go by, they are certainly benefitting from her experience. 

Teutenberg also works alongside fellow ex-pro Giorgia Bronzini who herself boasts over 80 wins to her name on both the road and track including world championship titles. 

Marie-Odile Amaury - President of Groupe Amaury 

The jury might be out on exactly how much the Amaury Sport Organisation have done for women’s professional cycling, but the fact remains that one of the most influential and powerful organisations in the sport is helmed by a woman.

Amaury took over as president of the family business, Groupe Amaury, who run Amaury Sport Organisation  — which owns the Tour de France among other big-name races —  after the death of her husband in 2006. Amaury is still involved in the business along with her daughter and son.

The currency that the Tour de France carries both inside and outside the sport and the exorbitant revenues it generates means that Marie-Odile Amaury and her family business have  — for better or worse  — an enormous influence on the cycling world.

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