There are many signs of Giorgia Bronzini's standing in the women's peloton. The rainbow bands that denote her status as a double road world champion - she also has won a title on the track - are one. Another is the fact that the Italian was the marquee signing for the largely Anglophone Wiggle-Honda squad in its inaugural season.
A third, and rather less welcome nod to her rank manifested itself on the road to Mesaieed on stage one of the Ladies Tour of Qatar – at the midway point, Specialized-lululemon split the peloton to shreds in crosswinds and, tellingly, only relented once it was clear that Bronzini had been dropped and would not make her way back on.
Such is the price one pays for boasting the kind of finishing kick that denied Marianne Vos gold at two successive world championships. Perhaps it was little wonder, then, that before the season began, Bronzini admitted that she was actually looking forward to life without the rainbow jersey on her back for a change.
Before the start of Tuesday's opening stage outside the striking Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Bronzini told Cyclingnews that she was also glad to don another new jersey this year, the black and orange of the high-profile Wiggle-Honda team, put together by Rochelle Gilmore and numbering Bradley Wiggins' "Wiggo Foundation" among its backers.
After a career spent racing for a litany of Italian teams and sponsors, Bronzini has already detected discernible cultural differences at her new set-up. "Well, let's say that on this new team I've seen that there's a lot more precision; things are done on time, actions are prioritised over words, which is maybe a bit different to how we might be on an Italian team," Bronzini smiled.
Among the stated aims of the Wiggle-Honda squad is to raise the perception of women's cycling to the wider public and, Bronzini hopes, the level of professionalism within the sport itself. "I think if we improve year by year, we can help to raise the level of women's cycling internationally."
Teams such as Orica-AIS, Argos-Shimano and Specialized-lululemon have already helped to push the standards of support for top-level women's teams in the right direction, but such progress is countered by the continued lack of a minimum wage, an alarmingly thinning international calendar as well as the demise of advanced but ultimately ephemeral projects such as Cervélo TestTeam, later Garmin-Cervélo.
It was with such problems in mind that Nicole Cooke delivered a stinging critique of the UCI's management of the women's sport on announcing her retirement earlier this month, but Bronzini is more of the belief that the system can be changed from within and in tandem with the governing body.
"I don't think there's any point in complaining about it, you have to look at where the problems are and then think about how you can help to the world of women's cycling to change them," Bronzini said of Cooke's statement.
For Bronzini, the glaringly obvious way to address the problems that beset women's cycling and help secure its future is for more women's races to be held in conjunction with existing men's events, following the template employed by the Ladies Tour of Qatar, the Tour of Flanders and Flèche Wallonne. The increasingly-globalised UCI men's calendar is set for an overhaul ahead of the 2015 season and, in theory, that should also present an opportunity to consider how best to market the women's cycling.
"We need to have more events and ideally we should have races in tandem with the men's races," Bronzini said. "It's great that we do that here in Qatar but unfortunately, it's one of the rare occasions when it happens. I hope that the UCI can understand that events like this only do good for women's cycling and that they look at ways to add our races to the men's ones. So our job is to help the UCI to help us."
A more immediate concern for Bronzini is to prepare for the UCI Track World Championships in Minsk at the end of February, where the Piacenza-native will line up in the points race (which she won in 2009) and possibly the scratch. Like Vos, Elen Van Dijk and countless other stars of the women's peloton, versatility across disciplines is par for the course, all the more so given the limitations of the existing road calendar.
"I'll see what level I'm at in the final run-in to the worlds before I decide for sure," Bronzini said. "In any case, I think Qatar is ideal preparation for the track worlds and I just hope that we can get a few bunch sprints this week so I can check on my form for the end of next month."
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.