Movistar have achieved seven successful seasons as part of the men's WorldTour under their current title sponsor, but that isn't enough for parent company Telefónica. The Spanish multinational broadband and telecommunications provider has duly recognised the importance of fostering inclusion and gender equality, factors that have sparked the creation of their new UCI women's team in 2018.
"I was surprised Telefónica wanted to build a women's cycling project and that a huge company like that would go to bat for women's cycling, especially here in Spain. It has been amazing and incredible," the team's appointed director, Jorge Sanz, told Cyclingnews.
Sanz acknowledged several factors that came into play with Telefónica's decision to support women's cycling. That included a new generation of talent in Spain over the last four years, the UCI's increased support to developing women's cycling and a general shift in societal attitudes toward women in sport.
"A few years ago, Spanish women's cycling sunk into one of its worst levels in history, with no representation in the women's road race at the 2012 Olympic Games, in the top 100 of the UCI ranking or the top 30 of the UCI country ranking. It was a very bad situation.
"But in the last four years, a young and talented generation has emerged, headed by Sheyla Gutierrez [Cylance Pro Cycling] and flanked by Eider Merino, Alicia Gonzalez and Alba Teruel. And add to that Ane Santesteban [Ale Cipollini], and older riders who had a later start in the sport like Mavi Garcia and Lorena Llamas, and suddenly it has improved.
"Next year, Spain will have one woman in the top 50 of the UCI ranking, two women in the top 120 of the UCI ranking and Spain will sit in 16th on UCI country ranking. So you can see that change is happening.
"We now have the UCI making some needed improvements for the development and professionalisation of women cycling. And we can also find similar movements of equality happening in society."
The UCI has made some progress in developing women's cycling standards with the creation of the Women's WorldTour and building better event coverage and media presence, among other solutions.
There has also been the creation of the Association of Professional Cyclists [CPA] women's chapter and recently announced group called The Cyclists' Alliance headed by former and pro riders Iris Slappendel and Carmen Small, and Gracie Elvin (Orica-Scott), which both serve to educate women and improve working standards within the sport.
Telefónica has supported the men's WorldTour program, Movistar, for eight years [in 2018]. Carlos López-Blanco, Telefónica's global public affairs and regulations director, said one of the company's initiatives is to foster inclusion and gender equality. Sanz elaborated on the importance of supporting the progress of professional women's cycling.
"Telefónica's sponsorship of a women's team is a reflection of one of its own values toward equality," Sanz said. "It decided that now is the moment to support women in sport, and specifically cycling.
"Luckily, social values and development are changing step-by-step. Not as fast as we wish, but hopefully now without pause. Traditionally, cycling has been considered (by some) a 'men's sport' because of its association with suffering and strength. Society has changed or is changing, at least. Society must forget stereotypes like these because they are wrong."
Telefónica commits to two years, envisions long-term future
Movistar women's team are built on the same management, sponsors and staff as the men's WorldTour outfit, with Eusebio Unzué as their general manager.
Sanz is a cycling coach who started working with women's teams five years ago, taking on a directing and coaching role with the Lointek Team. He will direct the 10-woman team in what he says is a solid two-year commitment, and he is convinced that Telefónica envisions a long-term program beyond 2019.
The team include Spanish riders Mavi García, who was second at the Spanish national championships in the road race behind Anna Sanchis and fifth overall at the Tour de l'Ardeche. Alicia González was third at the nationals road race and stood on the podium in a stage of the BENE Ladies Tour. Eider Merino was fourth in the road race at nationals and third at Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria. The team also includes Lourdes Oyarbide, the Spanish time trial champion, Gloria Rodríguez and Alba Teruel, who was 10th at the Madrid Challenge, and Lorena Llamas.
The team hired French rider Aude Biannic, who was third in the overall classification at the Route de France in 2014 and 10th in the women's road race at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia's Rachel Neylan has spent the last three seasons with Orica-Scott. She was second in the road race at the world championships in 2012 and more recently had a string of second places at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and Erondegemse Pijl.
Poland's Malgorzata Jasinska joins the team from Cylance. She twice won the overall title at the Giro della Toscana and was second overall at the Tour Femenino de San Luis.
Sanz admitted that the team are relatively inexperienced, and that might be their biggest weakness, but he believes that what they lack in experience they make up for in potential.
"We are very happy about our team," Sanz said. "We have a capable team, without a big leader, but with a medium-high level of talent. I think our weakness is inexperience but our undeveloped talent is our strength.
"The team will give all the women the professional facilities and support needed to develop and reach the level we know they have. It will be a great year; I'm very sure because we know we have the talent."
Movistar women's team will participate in a full season, 70-80 race days, around the world. But they are hoping to also compete in some of the Women's WorldTour's 23-event series.
"The first years are to 'land' into this new experience and see where we fit in. So in the first year, we will not be a Women's WorldTour team, and we will have to wait for the wildcards of the best important races," Sanz said.
Sanz reiterated that he hopes to have a solid first season in the UCI ranks. If they did get invitations to the Women's WorldTour events, they would want to be at Strade Bianche, Tour of Flanders, Ardennes Classics; Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Emakumeen XXXI. Bira, Ovo Energy Women's Tour, Giro Rosa, La Course and the Madrid Challenge.
"Our first feeling is that there are a lot of events that are interested in our new project and we hope to have a good program for this first year. But we have to wait to see if the organisers have places for us."