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Annemiek van Vleuten: We need more riders, bigger rosters

NINOVE BELGIUM FEBRUARY 26 Annemiek Van Vleuten of Netherlands and Movistar Team Women competes during the 17th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2022 Womens Race a 128km race from Ghent to Ninove OHN22 FlandersClassic WorldTour on February 26 2022 in Ninove Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Image credit: Getty Images)

Movistar Team Women employ 14 riders but with the expanding number of race days on the Women’s WorldTour, and with Giro d’Italia Donne and Tour de France Femmes in July, star rider Annemiek van Vleuten believes team sizes needs to grow in future to adequately meet the demands of the calendar. 

In an interview with Cyclingnews, Van Vleuten said women's teams will begin to feel strained because of the smaller rosters, especially if hit by the almost inevitable sport-related injuries or illnesses. "It's tight, we need more riders," Van Vleuten said.

"If I look at how many teams have between 12 to 14 riders, when you have the Giro d'Italia Donne and Tour de France Femmes coming so close to each other only 10 days apart in July, a lot of riders are not ready to race both of them," Van Vleuten told Cyclingnews.

The 2022 Women’s WorldTour begins at Strade Bianche in Siena, Italy on Saturday, where Van Vleuten will be racing with her Movistar squad. 

The top-tier series will feature 25 events this year, including new stage races Battle of the NorthItzulia WomenTour de Romandie and the much-talked-about rebirth of the Tour de France Femmes, for a total of 71 days. July will see both the Giro d’Italia Donne from July 1-10 and the Tour de France Femmes from July 24-31, separated by some 13 days.

That's up from 18 Women's WorldTour events and 37 days of racing last season – nearly double the days with the same team sizes.

"You cannot have any injuries or illness… it's tight. I think after this year, the teams will conclude that they need more riders, bigger rosters. Teams cannot have any injuries, there are always injuries, and when you get to July and August, teams are not at full strength and so we need more riders," Van Vleuten said.

In an interview with Lanterne Rouge (opens in new tab) podcast, Sebastian Unzué, the COO of Abarca Sports and the Team Manager of Movistar Team Women, agreed with Van Vleuten’s views stating that he expects to see women’s teams increase roster sizes in the next few years.

"If we analyze the last five years since we joined the women's peloton, there has been, every year, a huge increase in the number of race days, not only WorldTour but also Pro Series, .1 and .2 races, so that calendar is growing a lot," he said.

"It means the teams have many more commitments to pursue, and it means that we have to be at many more races than we originally maybe planned. In the end, it will affect the number of riders that we have in the teams.

"Right now, the average on the [Women's] WorldTour is around 13 or 14 riders, if I'm not wrong but if the calendar keeps growing the way it has been growing in the last few years, 14 riders is not going to be enough in the next few years.

"In my opinion, we will see teams growing in the number of riders because that's the only way to be able to compete in such a busy programme, like the one we have this year, for example."

Canyon-SRAM manager Ronny Lauke told CyclingWeekly (opens in new tab) that he is up for the challenge of racing with a roster of max 16, and that growth is welcome.

"We are not men's WorldTour teams with 30 riders, we have a maximum of 16. No team has that, and therefore it's a challenge, but I like challenges. It's good to see that there's growth in the sport, but July and August is quite demanding, so you are forced to have a big roster with some 14-16 riders to fulfil the demands of racing and share out the riders. You need a big team," Lauke said.

Larger teams would necessitate bigger budgets to cover the minimum salaries of their contracted riders and to bring in more staff to care for them. In 2022, the 14 Women's WorldTeams are obligated to pay their employed riders a minimum annual salary of €27,500 while contracted athletes get €45,100 per year. There is no minimum salary requirement for UCI Continental Women's teams.

Van Vleuten said that she is pleased with the minimum salary requirement that was introduced to the standard contracts for Women's WorldTeams in 2020. Teams Trek-Segafredo and BikeExchange-Jayco announced last year that they raised the salaries for their women's team to equal or exceed the minimum salary requirements set by the UCI for the men's WorldTour.

"When they announced the WorldTour and the rules, and how much they had to pay the riders, a lot of teams were struggling at first saying it wasn't possible," Van Vleuten said. 

"Now, we are at the level where we need to pay [€27,500] minimum salary and we have 14 teams that can apparently all pay that, so in two or three years we've seen a huge progression.

"I'm happy that at least there are 14 teams that are able to pay the minimum to their riders, which means the professionalism in women's cycling is taking a step forward, it's huge for the development of women's cycling because they can become full-time cyclists. It's awesome that there are 14 teams that can pay this, we are on the way up."

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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 cycling from the community and 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 men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.