Cofidis is set to launch a brand new women’s team into the professional peloton with a goal of becoming part of the Women’s WorldTour. In an interview with Cyclingnews, Cofidis’ general manager Cédric Vasseur explained the details behind the €1 million a year programme, the composition of the 10-rider roster and the goal of starting at the women’s Tour de France in 2022.
There's a large gap between women's team budgets, with Women's WorldTeams ranging between €1 million and €3 million annually, while a second-tier team is more likely to run on €100,000 to €500,000.
The €1 million a year budget, therefore, will not make the new Cofidis women's team among the richest in the peloton, but for a first-year programme, it's a healthy start.
"It’s never a lot. What is important is that we give our women’s team the resources to improve every year. The teams and the race organisers are now pushing for women. Women’s cycling has always suffered from the comparison with men’s cycling, but today the sport has an identity and we are impressed by watching the peloton at the races," Vasseur said.
"We fixed the goal of €1 million per year for the women’s team, which looks like a big amount, but if you look at the best teams today, we are below the budget of a team like SD Worx.
"We want to learn and grow little by little, but we also want to make things great with a serious start for our women’s team. We don’t want to just make a women’s team to say we are doing it, we want to give the programme enough resources to perform, succeed, and to enjoy what they are doing."
Cofidis initially announced the team would begin with a Continental licence in its first year and move up to the Women's WorldTour the following year, in accordance with the sport governing body rules.
However, new for the 2022, the UCI will make space for 15 Women’s WorldTeams, with a rule change providing a possible loophole for new teams hoping to join the top tier immediately. Cofidis hasn't confirmed that it will use this new Article 2.013.034 bis in its favour, however, the team plans to eventually reach the top-tier.
"Good things always take time but we’ve started and we will have a professional women’s team next year with the goal of improving each season," Vasseur said. "Normally, we would start with the objective of a Continental Team. We are working to be promoted to the WorldTour as soon as possible and as soon as we have the resources to do it."
International roster – all paid a salary
Cofidis will hire a team of 10 athletes with the goal of bringing in five French riders and five foreign riders. Vasseur confirmed that he is in negotiations with riders and could announce the team's first signing ahead of La Course by Le Tour de France, held on June 26 in Brest. Gaël Le Bellec will manage and direct the women's team.
"It will be an international roster. Cofidis is an international sponsor. Today, the men’s team has 11 different nationalities across 28 athletes. We are working on 50 per cent French athletes, so five riders from France and five riders from all over the world, for a total of 10 riders on the women's team. We are not making restrictions, so if we can find an Australian, American, Belgian, Italian, etc., it would be perfect for us," Vasseur said.
"We have not signed riders yet. We are working on the subject. I have spoken with Gaël Le Bellec, who is building the team and he knows women’s cycling for ten years. He is working on the 10-rider roster and is in touch with agents and athletes and presenting our team.
"The discussions are going well and we probably will be able to announce the first signature by the end of June, during the National Championships and the Tour de France. We want to have a good balance between experienced and development riders."
Vasseur assured that all riders and staff of the Cofidis women's team will be paid a salary as per their contracts with the organisation.
"Of course, we will offer our riders a salary because it makes no sense to create a women’s team and then not pay," he said. "There is no reason today that people working in a cycling team are not paid. Each and every single team member, riders and staff will be paid."
Paris-Roubaix and Tour de France
Cofidis headquarters are located in the northern region of France, and so Vasseur confirmed that the team will look to secure invitations to many of the nearby Spring Classics.
"Our goal is to be invited to all of the main Women’s WorldTour events. We want to race the Belgian events and of course the French events. We won’t have the responsibility to compete in every race, so we will decide race-by-race with the organisers. We are looking forward to races like Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège," Vassuer said.
The primary objective as a French team will be to secure invitations to Paris-Roubaix and the women's Tour de France. The two high-profile races are currently set to take place on April 10 (Paris-Roubaix) and July 24-31 (Tour de France) next year.
"The main objective is to be selected to the start of the Tour de France. It’s a major event for cycling for women. We don’t want to miss it. We want to give the team enough resources to be at the start," Vasseur said.
"We are based in the north of France, a few kilometres away from Paris-Roubaix, and so this is a race that we want to be part of, too. We're lucky to be close to this main event, so we will be working to get a wildcard."
Reflecting the business
Thierry Vittu, Director of Human Resources, member of the Executive Committee and Chairman of Cofidis Competition, announced that the organisation would launch a women's team alongside its men’s and paracycling squads, which is a project that has been in the works for several years.
Vasseur confirmed to Cyclingnews that the women's team would benefit from the organisational expertise of the men's programme and share sponsorship, equipment, and clothing.
"Yes, this was a main objective; no difference in the equipment, clothing, and so all the technical partners will be the same," he said.
Vasseur said the women's programme was part of Cofidis' overall vision for a global cycling project that reflected the overall business and its employees, the majority of which are female.
"Cofidis was working on our global cycling project, and for me, this had to include both men’s and women’s teams active in the peloton. It took some time because first we put our energy into the men’s programme becoming part of the WorldTour, which we did last year, and then we wanted to renew the contract with Cofidis that was supposed to end in 2022," Vasseur said, noting that the contract has been extended through 2025.
"In that discussion, we decided that it makes no sense for Cofidis to keep going in cycling only with the men’s team. Cofidis wants to be the mirror of its factory, which is active in nine countries; Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. In these businesses, 70 per cent of the salaries go to employed women. It was important to have a women’s cycling team because we want our employees to identify with our team."
French cycling has taken big steps recently with ASO launching Paris-Roubaix and the women's Tour de France.
In addition, the French Cycling Federation (FCF) now recognises WorldTeam contracted female cyclists as professional on their racing licenses, thanks to a push from the The Association Française des Coureures Cyclistes (AFCC).
The creation of new teams like Cofidis, alongside existing programs like FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, will go a long way in providing opportunities for women to race at the highest level.
"We like this challenge and we will continue to work on the structure of women's cycling in France, but the main objective is to be able to say to female athletes that they can become the best at what they do on a French team," Vasseur said.
"We will provide secured conditions and a good contractual situation on our team, and we will aim to take part in the same best races in the world, like the Tour de France. The more French women’s teams and races we have, the better women’s cycling will be here in France."
Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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