A smaller, more efficient Garmin-Cervélo women's team will start its season in the Tour of Qatar this week, but the squad's contraction from 14 riders to 10 is not due to shrinking emphasis on the women after it was melded into the Slipstream Sports network.
Cervélo co-owner Gerard Vroomen ensured that his women's team, which was the world's number one in 2010, was brought on board with the Garmin team after he signed his company on as a title sponsor. Vroomen explained that the budget is bigger than last year for the women, but the drop in the roster was designed to benefit for the riders.
"When you look at women's racing there is rarely a double program," Vroomen said. "The races except for the Giro [Donne] are all for six riders. If there's no double program and you can't field more than six, why would you have more than 10? It doesn't make sense to have a larger team than there are races to put riders in."
Despite a smaller roster, Vroomen revealed the budget for the team has actually increased over 2010. "The reason budget went up is we instituted a minimum salary, which doesn't exist in women's cycling. Plus we have some very successful riders, and they should be rewarded for that."
Five riders have returned from the dominant 2010 squad: time trial world champion Emma Pooley and fellow Britons Sharon Laws and Lizzy Armistead, Australian Carla Ryan and Dutch rider Iris Slappendel. New to the team are Lucy Martin, Trine Schmidt, Jessie Daams, new Australian champion Alexis Rhodes and Noemi Cantele.
With the loss of prolific winner Kirsten Wild and stage race favorite Claudia Häusler, Vroomen said the scaled-back squad will not be under pressure to be as dominant in 2011 as they were in the past.
"In a way, the goal is to win less this year. I think it would be good for the sport. As a team, we'll try to win every race we can - but [for] the overall design for the sport - it's one of the reasons we went from 14 to 10," came the counter-intuitive argument.
"It's important to have all the strongest riders at the start line. Of course when you let four strong riders who might have been bench sitters for us go to another team and start, then competition will go up. I see it as a positive. You don't go out and tell the team the goal is to be just as dominant as last year, of course every single race we'll do the utmost to win, that's part of competition. But it won't be realistic to be as strong after an unbelievable year in 2010."
The team's directeur sportif, Theo Maucher, comes out from behind the desk of the Cervélo TestTeam where he was in charge of logistics, to lead the women's team in its first race of the season, the Ladies Tour of Qatar.
While the team will go to Qatar with star sprinter Armistead, Rhodes, Cantele, Martin, Slappendel and Schmidt focused on the usual bunch sprints, Maucher expects the team to be more unpredictable and exciting during the season.
"For one day races we have a lot of possibilities with fast Lizzy Armistead, who has the ability to compete with the other big sprinters. We now have Noemi Cantele, a very experienced rider - I think we have a lot of possibilities to win," Maucher said.
"It's won't be easy to figure out what our tactic will be, compared with last year. If you have a rider like Wild or Teutenberg in your team then a lot of races are blocked by the tactics, to bring it to a bunch sprint. Sometimes it's a little bit boring for the public and also for the sport director. Now we have more possibilities. We can win a bunch sprint, or we can win with a breakaway group. For me it's more impressive. There are more possibilities and the other teams don't know what we will do."