With the creation of the UCI Women's WorldTour, an ambitious new American women's team has come together under title sponsor Cylance, a high-tech computer security firm, with Olympic hopefuls Shelley Olds, Rosella Ratto and Valentina Scandolara heading up the roster.
The team also includes up and coming climber Krista Doebel-Hickok, who won a stage in the Czech Tour de Feminin, Tour de San Luis and BeNe Ladies Tour stage winner Alison Tetrick, multiple collegiate national champion Erica Zaveta, Sheyla Gutierrez, winner of the Grand Prix de Plumelec-Morbihan, Swiss time trial champion Doris Schweizer and Kathryn Bertine.
Cylance Pro Cycling is owned by Inspire Sports, the management company founded by Omer Kem, who previously managed the BMW p/b Happy Tooth and Bissell Pro Cycling teams. Cylance stepped in to sponsor BMW's brother squad SmartStop at the tail end of the 2015 season, and Kem was keen to continue the partnership under a new banner after the men's team folded.
"With the announcement of women's WorldTour, I was motivated to make a concentrated effort on that calendar. I felt it gave us something to step up to," Kem told Cyclingnews. "My motivation was to create a diverse roster but also make sure we were an American team. The first rider signed was Shelley Olds. She was a 2012 Olympian and someone at this point in her career can win, teach, lead and be there on the road. I wanted to bring her back after several years of racing overseas. We were able to sign Krista Doebel-Hickok, who is a very good up and coming climber. She had some success in Europe this year. We signed Alison Tetrick, who can be a voice in addition to get results for the team. A young rider named Erica Zaveta - she raced with BMW-Happy Tooth team, and I saw an opportunity to develop her beyond the multiple collegiate championships she's won and see if she wants to be a pro cyclists long term."
Ratto, 22, was the bronze medalist behind Marianne Vos and Emma Johansson in the 2013 UCI Road World Championships in Florence. She was also the best young rider in the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche this year, but previously won a stage and was third overall in The Women's Tour in Great Britain, and the Giro dell Emilia.
Scandolara comes from the Orica-AIS team, with which she claimed a second overall and points jersey at the Premondiale Giro Toscana Int. Femminile this year, and a stage in the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche. Bertine has been Saint Kitts en Nevis' national team for several years, taking part in the World Championships while advocating for women's cycling.
Kem and Cylance CEO Stuart McClure are hoping to further Bertine's aspirations of elevating women's cycling to be equal with the men's side. Short term, they are focused on supporting the riders' aspirations for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio in addition to the team's goals, but long term, they hope to be able to add value to the sport and draw in other tech companies as sponsors.
"Elevating women in the sport for me is huge. I really connect with that effort of serving the underdog and trying to get your voice heard. I think I've had that my whole life," McClure told Cyclingnews. "There is a lot to happen with women's sport, to get fair credit and equal pay, and I think it's a great opportunity all around for us to do some good as a company."
McClure said that the more he heard about the situation that the women face in cycling, as highlighted by Bertine's documentary film "Half the Road", the more he felt compelled to do something about it. "I was almost embarrassed that we haven't done a proper job - it's ridiculous. We need to do better than this. We have a lot of very committed, dedicated and talented athletes here, how are we not taking every advantage to bolster then and get them to where they want to be?"
He also sees an opportunity for his company, which sells a next-generation anti-virus product that employs artificial intelligence to prevent intrusions rather than try to detect known malware. They currently sell business-to-business rather than on the consumer side, and McClure sees cycling as a way to connect with his fellow tech business leaders - many of whom are avid cyclists as he is.
"The number of avid cyclists as senior executives far exceed those that golf anymore. For us, cycling or active sports like that, really attract the senior executives who are the buyers of our product. Those folks also appreciate the alignment with the charity work we'll be doing as an organisation through Inspire Sports and others. There's a lot of great appeal for the company, for the cycling team. Lastly, maybe even equally important is I'm really keen, and all of us are keen at Cylance, to see if we can develop a team of women that can not just sort of achieve team goals which are great, but achieve individual goals. We have a number of potential 2016 Olympians, and we'd love to help get them to achieve their goals there."
McClure hopes his involvement in the sport will help inspire some of his competitors to follow suit. "I'm hopeful that I can elevate [cycling] in the high tech world, so for example guys like GoDaddy and Dell who I know would be very keen to help sponsor and infuse more of a way to professionally develop a group of people and a team... I probably have high hopes, but I think it's very do-able."
Kem says the team will race both overseas and in the US next year, focusing mainly on the WorldTour, but also helping the women fight for UCI points toward Olympic qualifications in the first half of the season. They'll start most likely at the Ladies Tour of Qatar, where Olds has had success in the past, and take on the one-day WorldTour races in Europe. They will also tackle the North American UCI stage races like Joe Martin, Tour of the Gila, and Tour of California before taking on the National championships, Winston-Salem Classic, and the Philadelphia WorldTour race.
"Then we'll look at the women's race in Great Britain in June," Kem said. "Depending on how many riders make their Olympic teams, we'll see what the rest of the year looks like. La Course and the Prudential RideLondon are huge events. We'll be there. The second half of the year dependent on the Olympcis, but our focus is on the WorldTour and events around that."
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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