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Team Sky not creating a women’s team was 'an oversight'

during stage 10 of the 2017 Le Tour de France, a 178km stage from Périgueux to Bergerac on July 11, 2017 in Perigueux, France.
Team Sky – now called Ineos Grenadiers – principal Sir Dave Brailsford at the 2017 Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images)

Fran Millar, former CEO of Team Sky – now called Ineos Grenadiers – has confirmed in an interview with the magazine Rouleur that initial plans to start a women’s team following the 2012 London Olympic Games, where Lizzie Deignan earned the silver medal, was rejected at the board level.

Team Principal Dave Brailsford has also told The Guardian that there currently isn't a plan in place to start a women’s team, but that the topic is under review.

“We haven’t got a plan but that’s not to say we won’t have,” Brailsford told The Guardian in a report on Friday.

Millar told Rouleur that she met with Deignan after her silver-medal performance in the 2012 Olympics elite women's road race won by Marianne Vos, to discuss the potential of creating a women's programme at Team Sky. She also said that she believed there was an earlier opportunity to build a women's team following Nicole Cooke's victory at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

“We were pushing and raising it at every board meeting. There was a window of opportunity at the early outset of the post-Beijing era, where we could have done something to really shift the dial," Millar said.

“It was a decision that was made at Sky board level. I don’t think this was a Dave Brailsford decision to be fair to him. But not seizing that opportunity was, with hindsight, an oversight … There was a generation of young women that did miss out. Lizzie’s had to blaze her own trail, as have many others.”

Millar said that the decision to not create a women's programme at Team Sky was due to marketing reasons, reported in The Guardian, because Team Sky were a sponsor of Team GB, the national team of Great Britain, which already had a strong women's programme that included Cooke and Deignan. 

“[Team Sky] were sponsoring the GB team at the time, so there was a female connection through that, access to Lizzie and Nicole. I think they felt there wasn’t enough commercial viability – the Tour de France so massively outweighs the commercial value in return on investment," Millar said.

“A lot of the research said that women were saying that it wasn’t women being successful at sport that made them want to participate, it was the country. Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour made women get out and ride just as much as men.”

Launched as Sky Pro Cycling in 2010, Team Sky went on to win the seven Tours de France with Wiggins (2012), Chris Froome (2013 and 2015-2017), Geraint Thomas (2018) and Egan Bernal (2019).

Deignan wrote in her autobiography Steadfast, published in 2017, that the cost of creating a women's programme at Team Sky at that time would have been an estimated £500,000, compared to the men's budget of £30 million.

After changing title sponsorship to Ineos in 2019, Brailsford declined to commit to the creation of an Ineos-sponsored women’s team, in his interview with The Guardian on Friday, adding that the sponsorship change was a big undertaking.

“At this moment in time we haven’t got a plan, but that’s not to say we won’t have,” Brailsford said, adding that the topic was under review.