Schneider sisters Samantha and Skylar announced on Instagram last week that they have left Team Illuminate, a first-year US-registered UCI women's program, after racing just one local event in California.
Both talented sprinters, Skylar, 18, was second at the UCI Road World Championships junior road race in Doha, Qatar, in October and fourth in the junior time trial. The Schneiders raced on the US domestic circuit for ISCorp-SmartChoice MRI in 2016, with Samantha, 26, winning the season-long USA Cycling Pro Road Tour and Skylar finishing third behind runner-up Coryn Rivera. ISCorp also won the 2016 team standings.
The sisters surprised many when they signed with the upstart Illuminate women's team this year for its inaugural season. The women's program is an expansion of the men's Continental team, which grew out of the Airgas-Safeway squad that famously signed Chris Horner in 2015 on his return from European racing. The decision to sign with Team Illuminate obviously didn't pan out for the Schneiders, however.
In the announcement on their joint Instagram account, Samantha and Skylar Schneider said they needed to respect their "well-being as well as our future," but they did not elaborate about why they decided to leave the team before the season started in earnest.
"It is time to officially announce that we will no longer be racing with Team Illuminate," they wrote. "Doing what is right is not always easy, but we feel right about this decision. Although we don't know what is next, we are ready to move on and are more motivated than ever to race our bikes and prove that it is possible to overcome difficult experiences. As human beings, athletes, and mentors we need to respect ourselves and our well-being as well as our future. Thank you for your support, it truly does mean a lot to us."
In an email to Cyclingnews, Skylar Schneider claimed promises were made during contract negotiations but most were not delivered, which had a detrimental affect on the Schneider sisters and on several of their teammates.
"Salary payments came late and we never received a schedule of confirmed races for the year," Skylar Schneider wrote. "Not long after we signed, we realized the level of professionalism we have come to know in other teams we have been a part of was not at all evident in this program. This is not an easy situation. It has kept us from something we have a passion for and love. It has also kept us from representing the fine sponsors who have supported us in cycling and who did deliver what they promised."
Team Illuminate General Manager Chris Johnson confirmed to Cyclingnews that he is in the process of releasing the Schneider sisters from their contracts, saying that issues arose over control of the race calendar and roster selections, with his focus primarily on overseas UCI races and the Schneiders wanting to race more frequently on the domestic criterium circuit.
Samantha Schneider dominated criterium racing in the US in 2016, taking 15 wins on her way to winning the Pro Road Tour overall standings. She finished her season in September with a win at the Boston Mayor's Cup.
Skylar Schneider took 10 wins of her own on the US circuit in 2016, including the US junior road race and criterium titles. She also won the overall omnium at the Tour of America's Dairyland and took her final win of 2016 at the Doylestown criterium.
"Looking at the team's schedule, we're going to do one to three races a month and focus almost entirely on UCI events," Johnson said, although the team's hopes of competing in the Amgen Women's Race in California this May fell by the wayside when Illuminate did not receive an invitation. "In the next 60 days our women's team will have three big UCI races. However, this was not the schedule the sisters wanted and they were very vocal about it.
"We went through the process of getting the UCI license in order to race UCI events," Johnson said. "The Schneider sisters wanted to do a lot of events that didn't make sense for the team, and unfortunately they didn't want to give the schedule we were creating a try. They were paid to be athletes on the team, but they also wanted to play a role in management. With the UCI races you often don't learn about invites until two months before the race; sometimes you have even less notice. This wasn't something they were comfortable with."
Johnson said the role of the Schneider sisters' father within the team also became a source of conflict. The team had originally planned to compete at the Women's Tour of Thailand, a UCI 2.2 race that started on Saturday. Those plans were scrapped, Johnson said, when Samantha and Skylar Schneider refused to go to the race after he informed them their father would not be going along as team manager.
"Part of the stipulation with the Schneider sisters was that you had to work with their father," Johnson said. "We tried him for three months as a manager, but the fit wasn't right and so we started the process of bringing in a new director. Once they learned their father was not going to be flown to the first UCI event as part of the management team, they refused to race."
Instead of going to Thailand, both Schneider sisters raced last weekend's Alabama Cycling Classic, which featured the Sunny King Criterium on Saturday and the McClellan Road Race on Sunday. Samantha Schneider finished eighth in the criterium and 11th in the road race, while Skylar Schneider was 23rd in the criterium and 15th in the road race. Neither listed a team in their official results.
Skylar Schneider said she and her sister are in the process of returning equipment to the team so they can be released from their contracts.
"Beyond that we intend to keep chasing our goals in cycling and reaching the top level of the sport," Skylar Schneider said.
Johnson said the situation was "a bummer for everybody," and he's disappointed that the Schneider sisters didn't appreciate the opportunities he believes he was creating for them, but he does plan to move on with his women's team.
"We invested a lot of time and money in trying to create a team for the sisters, but it is better that we're moving on as we will now have a team that is more well-rounded and not focused on just two riders," Johnson said. "At the end of the day, I hope this turns out to be a positive for everyone, as they can do the races they want and we can move on and focus on growing the team."
So far the Team Illuminate women's squad has raced at only one event, the Chico Stage Race in California, where Skylar earned a top 10 stage finish and Samantha won the final criterium.
The Illuminate men's team started the season last month at the Tour de Taiwan, where Colombian Edwin Avila finished on the podium on four of five stages – including two wins – on his way to taking the green jersey and placing second overall.