In a brand new film series called The Run Up, Women's WorldTeams Trek-Segafredo, SD Worx and Canyon-SRAM take viewers behind the scenes in the days leading up to Liège-Bastogne-Liège held on Sunday, April 25.
Launched on the eve of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which is the closeout to the Ardennes Classics, The Run Up brings fans closer to their favourite teams and riders as they prepare for a major target.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the youngest of the Ardennes Classics women's races, introduced in 2017 to form the third event of the historical cycling series. Only one rider has won all three events in one season - Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) - during the inaugural year 2017. Since that feat, Van der Breggen has gone on to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2018, too, while Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) won it in 2019 and Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) won the race in 2020.
In a round table interview ahead of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the launch of The Run Up, select members of each team; Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx) and Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM) spoke with the media about why collaboration, visibility and engagement are important to the progress of women's cycling.
Initiatives like this, where rival teams are working together are not particularly common, but something new. Is there a willingness to engage in this project from the women’s peloton?
Lizzie Deignan: Yes, I think you see a united front quite often in women’s cycling. Obviously, we are pushing for change all the time, and in recent times, we are open to our quest for equality. Riders across the board are vocal about that, and it’s nice that we have three teams working together to send out a powerful message. I’m pleased that everyone is working together because, ultimately, that’s the way we create change.
Why is it important to show what goes into preparing for a race?
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio: There’s a sustainability of the sport in building a community around the women’s peloton. Community means connecting people and so to be able to connect people and help them to feel part of the team and our story, it’s important to show what happens behind the scenes. In general, that is something that women’s cycling doesn’t do enough. Cycling is a complex sport, and not just about winning the race, there’s the work that goes on during the race, behind the scenes that make a victory possible. It’s nice to share stories and it's a good way to build community and engagement.
Why is it important to have a partner like SRAM that is willing to work with teams on a project like this?
Tiffany Cromwell: It’s important to have sponsors that not only want to support the teams but that also want to grow the sport. They have an interest as well because they want to market their products and find the best ways to engage with the community. The fact that our partners work closely together and have the same vision to grow women’s cycling, bring people behind the scenes, and looking outside the box and ask what we need to do to open the world to a new audience.
Will people be surprised by what goes on behind the scenes?
Tiffany Cromwell: I think so, yes, because some people get small glimpses through our social media pages, but cycling is very closed-doors. There’s a lot of normalcy from riders joking around to the stresses of racing. It will surprise and genuinely interest people. It will show that we are normal and not untouchable.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio: The Netflix series of F1 is a good example of how important it is to show what happens behind the scenes. From seeing that series on Netflix, I am more engaged and interested in that sport, and so that is a good example.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the first episode?
Lizzie Deignan: To engage fans, they need to understand the characters. When you watch us on TV, you see the helmet and the glasses, so I think, fans are people who see something in someone who they admire and can relate to. So, from our team perspective there are 12 women and 7 nationalities, and a variety of women, ages and personalities. It’s an opportunity [for fans] to see themselves in a group of women, to see a character they want to follow and be a true fan. That’s what we need to engage with to grow the sport.
Do projects like this promote fan engagement?
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio: Women’s cycling needs exposure and that has been the biggest challenge. It’s evolving and great to see, but for me, it’s important to have consistency in exposure to build a proper fan base. That has been the biggest challenge or obstacle for women’s cycling; one week an entire race is shown, the next it’s just 20 minutes, so it’s difficult for fans to understand the story. Cycling is a story and there is so much that happens behind the scenes and inside the races, for a result to occur. It’s important for fans to be part of the whole story.
Have you noticed a bigger following?
Tiffany Cromwell: Every year it grows and there are a lot of people who want to see more. It’s exciting, and of course, you get mixed opinions, but in general women’s cycling has a positive fanbase. They want to be inspired and I think The Run Up can provide a big platform; we see the racing side, we show the behind the scenes and we engage with our fans as well, and they feel like they are part of your life.
What will we see in The Run Up?
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio: The objective is to get raw footage, as raw as possible, to showcase what we do in preparation. It’s not prepared in advance or scripted. It’s to give insight into the teams’ and individuals’ preparations ahead of a race. It’s a combination of rider interviews, getting the full process of the riders ahead of a race, seeing group recons, general preparation, all leading up to the race day.
Tiffany Cromwell: It’s also showing the rollercoaster of emotions that we go on; inside team meetings, which can be intense, and emotions can come out when there is the pressure to deliver a race plan. This is what we want to show people; that we are human. Helping people understand the sport and the emotions and mucking around with each other, massages, and what the staff do to prepare for the race day.
Lizzie Deignan: I think it’s an exciting opportunity to see the different characters within a team, the cultures, and a group of completely different women. It will be nice to showcase the personalities of the domestiques of the team and the race directors. Our directors - Ina [Teutenberg] and Giorgia [Bronzini] - have completely different personalities and that dictates the way we race sometimes.
Can you speak to women’s cycling and its uniquely inherent mentality to bring about change; visibility and exposure, progress, organically and on their own?
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio: I come from a background studying engineering, which was a male-dominated degree, but I never felt that I was any different and I was treated 100 per cent equal in my learning environment. Coming from that and into cycling, it was a shock, to see such disparity between men’s and women’s cycling. In the beginning, it was frustrating and I felt a bit like a victim because I was constantly hitting my head against a wall because I wanted change but it wasn’t easy to make change happen. As I grew up a little bit in the sport, I realised that frustration is not productive, and victim mentality is not at all productive. If I want to change this challenge into something that is productive or better for energy for myself, then I need to change the way I see it and my mentality, and that’s when I decided that the only way to feel not frustrated by [inequality] was to lead by example and take on the challenge and create my own change. That’s why many women are happy to take it in their own hands and make it happen themselves. It’s frustrating to be in a position where you feel like you are helpless.
Tiffany Cromwell: We have always had to rely on media, and had no choice, but since the evolution of social media we understand the value of that platform. We don’t have to wait for the media to decide to cover our sport, now we can utilise social media and make the most out of it. That was a vision of Canyon-SRAM, to do things differently and make our sport more accessible. At the end of the day, if you sit around and wait for other people to help grow the sport, it’s never going to get anywhere. We are used to being a small sport and having to fight for what we want, so we embrace it and make the most of the opportunity.
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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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