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Ina Teutenberg has been affectionately known as the boss of women’s cycling for well over two decades. Her leadership qualities have transcended her years as a prolific winner, with over 200 career victories, and into leading the top-ranked team and riders in the world as the head sports director at Trek-Segafredo.
In an interview with Cyclingnews, Teutenberg speaks about what it means to be a good leader, respecting the skills, talent and qualities of her athletes, and allowing space for strong, winning personalities to flourish.
"I handle the riders in the way that I was handled or would have liked to have been handled, as a rider myself. It seems to work. It’s a working relationship. I never think that it’s the best idea to be a dictator as a director. In the end, I have smart, intelligent women on the bikes," Teutenberg tells Cyclingnews.
"There are a lot of situations that happen in a race where I might not even know what’s going on. I think that we really work that out well. They know that I trust them to make quick decisions, especially when I am not there or able to help. They have to believe in themselves and know that they can make decisions on their own, and I think that helps a lot."
Teutenberg, a two-time Olympian, retired from professional bike racing in 2013 after winning over 200 races during her 12-year professional cycling career. She competed for teams Specialized-lululemon, HTC-Highroad, T-Mobile and Saturn Pro Cycling. Her career highlights included winning 21 stages of Tour de l'Aude, six stage wins in Route de France, 11 stage wins of Giro d'Italia Femminile, four Liberty Classic Philadelphia titles, and a win in the women's edition of the Tour of Flanders.
Trek-Segafredo announced, in 2018, that they had signed Teutenberg to direct their newly-launched women’s team, and in just two full seasons - 2019 and 2020 - the team has risen to become the number one ranked team in the Women’s WorldTour. In addition, the powerful pair of Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini finished 1-2 in the top-tier series individual rankings.
Deignan's victories last year include GP de Plouay, La Course by le Tour de France and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. She attributes much of her success last year to teamwork, particularly the work of Longo Borghini. Trek-Segafredo won the Giro Rosa's opening team time trial, and Longo Borghini won a stage and finished third overall. On many occasions, Deignan and Longo Borghini provided the team with a two-pronged attack at the races, and they had the support of powerful teamwork to back up that strategy.
Deignan tells Cyclingnews, at the pre-season training camp, that Teutenberg is a champion, even as a director, and expects the best from the team at every race, that she is tactically gifted, passionate but also forgiving.
"Ina is completely determined to win every single race. It doesn’t matter what race it is, she wants to win it, and that comes across in the team meetings and over the team radio. You can feel if the director is bothered if you can win or not, and you can also feel in their emotion when you do win a race, how much it means to them," Deignan tells Cyclingnews.
"The fact that she is retired from cycling, but not that long ago, she knows a lot of people who are still racing in the peloton. When I won La Course, and I beat [Marianne] Vos, for example; Vos was a great rival of Ina’s in sprinting and I think it felt very personal to her that me and Elisa, because of her tactical ability, beat Vos in a sprint, which on paper shouldn’t have happened, but because we had Ina’s brains we were able to do it, and she was very excited by it.
"That’s nice to work with someone who is as passionate as that. One of her great qualities is that she can be very disappointed after a race but after five minutes, she’s already laughing and joking, so she also has the perspective that there is more to life than cycling, and we are already moving on quickly and thinking about how to win the next race. I really like working with Ina."
This year’s team includes Deignan and Longo Borghini along with Elynor Bäckstedt, Lucinda Brand, Audrey Cordon-Ragot, Lauretta Hanson, Letizia Paternoster, Shirin van Anrooij, who sign on as a trainee this August, Ellen van Dijk, Tayler Wiles, Ruth Winder and Trixi Worrack. New signings include Chloe Hosking and Amalie Dideriksen. The team of 12 riders include many proven and up-and-coming talents, all are champions, all want to win, and according to Deignan and Teutenberg, all have strong personalities.
"They are not that hard to manage," Teutenberg laughs. "The good thing is that they really let it out if things happen - and that can get a little uncomfortable on the bus - but everybody lets their feelings out, it’s talked about, and then we just move on and look to the next race. Strong personalities and characters also come with honesty, and I think that honesty just helps out on the road, too."
Teutenberg also offers room for every rider on the team to make mistakes, learn, and grow into their own potential, and she believes that every one of her riders can win a race, which helps the younger riders on the team build confidence in themselves.
"I really believe that every rider can win a bike race," Teutenberg says. "It’s just that every rider needs to realise where they are at. It doesn’t help if you think that you are better than you are, and then wait around for situations that are out of your ballgame, to win a race. You just have to help them realise that who they are as a bike racer is OK, even if they are not as strong as someone like Lizzie or Elisa, they are still strong enough to do great things on the bike, and that way we get the most out of everyone."
Teutenberg is embarking on her third year directing Trek-Segafredo, which are aiming to retain their spot as the number one ranked team in the world. She says the job can be tough, but that it’s also rewarding.
"It’s can be hard, but it’s a good challenge. It’s a good interesting job and things always change. There is a lot of human influence in it and so it can be challenging, not boring at all, I like it," she says.
"It’s a hard thing to stay on top because there are a lot of strong teams out there and it’s a totally different season. Our goal is to stay at the top and we have the riders and the talent. With the investment that Trek has made into the team, and with the riders that we have, we have to aim for the top. Otherwise, we should not show up at the start line if we don’t think that we can win races. It will be hard to stay at the top but we will try."
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