The riders of the Bigla-Katusha Women's WorldTour team have written an open letter to their sponsors seeking their support to help ensure the squad’s survival.
On Friday, the team announced that its future was in jeopardy after both title sponsors withdrew their funding due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Bigla has been a partner to the team since its inception in 2005, while Katusha came on board as a co-sponsor this season.
“We were saddened to recently learn that both Bigla and Katusha, our main title partners, have told the team that they are in a position where they are not able to commit their usual financial support to the team during the current crisis,” read the letter, signed by the 12 riders on Bigla-Katusha roster.
“It is clear we are in unprecedented times. More than ever, right now is the time for each and every one of us, both companies and individuals, to show their commitment to one another. It is in hardship that we see what we are truly made of. We are fully committed to this team, partners, and one another. We hope our title partners will look back after this pandemic has passed with pride and be able to say they did everything they could to honour their commitments.”
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has seen the sporting calendar grind to a halt around the world. Some 14 of the 22 events on the Women's WorldTour calendar have been cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic.
Ronny Lauke, president of UNIO, the association of women’s teams of which Bigla-Katusha is a founding member, expressed concern that some teams would not survive due to the impact of the crisis on sponsors and businesses.
Bigla-Katusha began the 2020 campaign with a brace of stage wins at the Setmana Ciclistica Valenciana through Emma Cecilie Norsgaard and Leah Thomas, while Norsgaard also placed third at Omloop van het Hageland.
“We haven’t yet won that big race, but every time we toe the start line, we get a little closer. We attack. We light up races. We are relentless,” read the letter. “And we are learning and growing in ability and confidence.”
The letter also alluded to the work of Swiss rider Elise Chabbey, who recently graduated from medical school and who volunteered to work at Geneva University Hospital during the pandemic following the suspension of the cycling season.
“We honour our commitments and do everything we can to meet expectations,” read the letter. “When the pandemic hit, riders who were in medicine put their lives on hold to return to the hospitals. Riders deliver food to the poor and elderly in their communities. We are more than just bike racers. We are kind, caring individuals.”
Katusha Sports, who provided a little under a third of the team’s budget, released a statement on Friday explaining that its factories and e-commerce centre have been shut for the past two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ensuing gap in its finances has left it unable to fulfil its sponsorship commitments for the time being.
It is unclear if and when competition will resume in 2020. The UCI has unveiled the rough outline of a compressed calendar of men’s racing in the Autumn but has yet to reveal details of its plans for the women’s calendar. The Giro Rosa, which was due to take place from June 26-July 5, has requested new dates of September 5-13, during the second week of the rescheduled Tour de France.
The Bigla-Katusha riders are hoping they will still have a team when competition does resume, and they vowed to find a way to continue.
“We don’t give up. It has become our defining characteristic. And we will continue to fight, just like our scrappy racing style, to find a way forward. If there is a way you can help keep this dream alive, we will be forever grateful.”