Kristy Scrymgeour: The future is bright for women's cycling

As the saying goes, all good things come to end, and so it was hard for Velocio-SRAM owner Kristy Scrymgeour to hide her emotions following her team's victorious last hurrah, a fourth consecutive world title in the elite women's team time trial at the World Championships in Richmond, Virginia. After all, her riders displayed the impeccable teamwork and world-class athleticism that her program has been known for during their four-year tenure at the top ranks of women's cycling.

"This is a relief in some ways," Scrymgeour said following her team's success in Richmond. "It's always been building up to this moment and we've put a lot of energy into this as it's finishing our season.

"There's also a bit of sadness because this is the end of the team but we've ended on a good note and that's great. We couldn't have asked for a better ending to this team."

The highly successful Velocio-SRAM team will fold as of January 1, 2016, an announcement that Scrymgeour made in August. Having created Velocio Sports, her management company, following the disbanding of HTC-Highroad in 2011, Scrymgeour has overseen the program that was initially known as Specialized-lululemon from 2012-14, followed by the title sponsorship Velocio Apparel and component manufacturer SRAM during the 2015 season.

"When Highroad stopped I started a new company to run a women's team, it was basically all the same riders as Highroad," Scrymgeour told Cyclingnews. "We built this team because we wanted to keep all the riders together. They wanted to stay together, it was the Olympics the next year [2012] and so I created Velocio Sports as a management company to run the team under, then I created Velocio Apparel two years later in 2014.

"The apparel brand was totally separate from the team but we loved the name and we kind of started the brand in the thought that we would build it around the team, with women's apparel first, and we wanted a way to support women's cycling."

During the team's title sponsorship under Lululemon and Specialized, they became known as the best when it came to team time trials. They won three previous world titles since the inception of the trade team event to the World Championships in 2012 in Valkenburg, along with titles in 2013 in Florence and again in 2014 in Ponferrada, before capturing their fourth title in Richmond as Velocio-SRAM.

But even with the team's incredible success in team time trials, stage races and one-day events, the challenge to find funding proved to be too much this year and Scrymgeour was forced to make the difficult decision to stop the program at the end of the season. She will instead turn her full attention to the two brands that she co-founded in 2014; Velocio Apparel and Ally's Bar.

Chairman of USA Cycling's Board of Directors Bob Stapleton, who owned HTC-Highroad and hired Scrymgeour to both manage the women's team and take over Marketing and Communications from 2007 to the end of 2011, chimed in on Scrymgeour's decision to end her Velocio-SRAM squad.

"I think she had a heck of a good run in women's teams but it is a very hard life, particularly when money is in really short supply across all of women's cycling," Stapleton told Cyclingnews. "Women's teams of that calibre require significant funding and that is difficult for everyone in the sport right now. There are really only a handful of teams, men and women, which are really funded at a level that matches their athletic ambitions. It is very difficult to raise money and Kristy did a good job of that, but to sustain that year-by-year and trying to bring on more sponsors and trying to balance that, it’s incredibly difficult and very stressful. To me it makes total sense that she would need to focus on her business interests at a time when they need her attention to succeed."

Scrymgeour said that she doesn't blame the lack of funding for the sole reason her team is folding. Although she is sensitive to the sponsorship reality in women's cycling, she said that her two brands ended up needing more of her attention as they have both grown and have become more successful.

"I was finding that I was spending so much time on sponsorship for the team that I couldn't put enough time into the other two companies, so I had to consolidate my assets. It was a combination of things, I won't blame it totally on sponsorship," she said.

It might seem contradictory, since Scrymgeour's team is coming to an end, but she has a sense of optimistism about the financial future and stability of women's cycling. She noted that during her time as owner of Specialized-Lululemon and Velocio-SRAM, her search for sponsorship dollars this year revealed a new level of excitement about women’s racing from sponsors and brands that are both inside and outside of the bike industry.

"The sponsorship side of things was really difficult but in the midst of that I could see positive changes happening in the whole industry of women's cycling - from what brands were doing. Even in the last six months when I was looking for sponsorship outside the industry there was a lot more positive reactions to the idea of funding women's racing,” Scrymgeour said.

"You might think that it's an odd time to pull out because in the next few years women's cycling can really grow, but at the same time, it's still quite difficult, and at some point I had to make a choice and figure out what was the best thing to do.

"Yes, in the end, sponsorship is really hard and this was a difficult year but I could also feel like there is definitely hope for the next few years. There are more people wanting to create teams, which is a really positive sign, and the race organisers are getting excited and they are taking things to the next level with the new Women's WorldTour. Their efforts to put the sport on TV is going to make some big changes for women's cycling."

Women's WorldTour expected to give brands in women's cycling ROI

The UCI officially announced the details of the new Women's WorldTour in Richmond, hailing the series as a major step forward for women's bike racing. The Women's WorldTour will replace the World Cup and will include 17 events next year.

There will be four stage races with the Tour of Chongming Island, Tour of California, Aviva Women's Tour and the Giro Rosa. It will also include one-day events that were on the World Cup with the Flèche Wallonne, GP Plouay, Tour of Flanders, Open de Suede Vargarda road race and team time trial, Ronde van Drenthe, Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Philadelphia Classic. In addition, Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem, La Course by Tour de France, La Madrid Challenge and Prudential RideLondon have also been added to the mix.

"It's a good group of people and this whole WorldTour is a big step for women's cycling," said Scrymgeour, who sits on the Women's Commission at the UCI. "We all know that the structure of women's cycling is difficult at the moment whereby the only revenue that race organisers and teams get is through sponsorship, so it's a difficult model overall. While that is being solved, in the meantime, creating a WorldTour whereby race organisers are required to really actively promote the race and broadcast live, I think there are a lot of positive changes happening there."

Depending on their resources, organisers of races on the Women's WorldTour will be able to provide either live streaming or highlight packages, but it will be mandatory for them to provide a news clip to be distributed to international broadcasters shortly after the race finish. In addition, for one-day races, the minimum prize purse is €5,130. For stage races it is €2,565 per stage, and although this is the minimum established in the regulations, many candidates already pay more than that.

"We had the World Cup, and I raced the first one in 1998. Having a series is a really great thing for any sport but now what's happening is that there was no real promotion around that World Cup, no television, and it was not utilised as well as it could have been. But now, if you want to be part of the WorldTour then you have to take steps to film your race, stream it live, and broadcast it, provide footage for a highlight package.

"The teams will get those broadcast stats and viewership numbers and they can go back to their sponsors for future years and say; this is when we were on TV, this is how many people watched, and that's just not something that we've been able to do in the past. We've been able to say that we are a great team and we can do so much to promote your brand, but we haven't had the traditional ROI, which a lot of companies outside the industry are looking for. Traditionally, companies outside the industry don't know cycling very well.

"It's so much easier to be able to sell to sponsors, and having a structure where there's a WorldTour, and in two years from now, all the top teams will be in that WorldTour (a top division) and racing one another."

For next year, there will be no changes in the team structure for the Women's WorldTour. The UCI first want to solidify the platform – which is the events series and the calendar – right before making any additional changes. The sport governing body have set up a UCI Women's Teams Working Group with many riders and teams representatives to consult with them on the direction of possible changes to the Women's WorldTour for future seasons.

"Everyone at the moment is trying to push for change in women's cycling"

Scrymgeour may not be directly involved with a top-level women's cycling team next year, however, she will continue to play a role with in the sport as a member of the Women's Commission at the UCI, and through her cycling brands Velocio Apparel and Ally's Bar.

Through much of her time in the sport of cycling; as a competitor with the US-based team Saturn, in her career as a journalist for Cyclingnews and during her time as the owner of one of the most successful women's teams to have ever come out of cycling, she vows to continue to open doors for women in the sport during the years to come.

"Everyone at the moment is trying to push for change in women’s cycling," Scrymgeour said. "It was natural for me right from the beginning to push for women's cycling. I was a cyclist, and you come out of a racing career knowing that it's a beautiful sport and we need to create change so that it opens up opportunities, so that women don't have to quit to go and get a job.

"It's not something that has haunted me since I've stopped racing, but everything that I did after I was a racer… I have always strived to push for more women's coverage at Cyclingnews, promoting the women's team at Highroad, it was natural for me to want to push for the rights and opportunities of the women. You just become really passionate about it, and it's an enjoyable challenge when you can see change and see the way it affects people's lives.

"The whole industry is trying to do that right now, a lot of the women in the industry who have come out of racing, and have other careers now, still try and give back and try and improve the sport for the next generation.

"Change doesn't happen from one side or from one person, so it's important for all the women in the industry to continue to push for women's racing. Women from all sides of the sport are working hard for change and that's great because if you don't push hard it doesn't happen. You can never rest."

One person who will always be a supporter of Scrymgeour's endeavours in women's cycling is Stapleton, who said, "One thing that is unique is that Kristy had no personal agenda. She brought in a love of the sport alongside her competence. She put a friendly, likable and smart face on women's cycling and directly impacted the careers of many of the athletes that we talk about today.

"I'm super proud of her. It took a level of determination to do the things that she has done and to combine real commitment and her likability is a unique and effective combination."

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