Recently there have been a number of calls for more equality for women in cycling, and while the ASO director Christophe Prudhomme dismissed the idea of a parallel women's Tour de France, and UCI presidential candidates Pat McQuaid and Brian Cookson continue to try to appeal to the female racers with rhetoric, one organisation is leading by example: the Momentum Sports Group, which runs the UnitedHealthcare men's Professional Continental team, announced today it will add an equivalent UCI-registered women's team for 2014.
While it is too early to name riders or staff, General Manager Mike Tamayo confirmed to Cyclingnews that the team of 10 to 12 women will be clad in the same "blue train" kit as the men, and will focus mainly on the domestic circuit, but with some international races as well.
Tamayo said that the time is right to launch this project, and that adding the team is the "right thing to do" in order to help further women's cycling. "It's good for the sport. A team like ours, with a decent budget - we take care of our men really well - if we take care of a women's team, manage it properly and bring that group of 10 or 12 women to a more professional level, that's good for the sport. If that motivates other Pro Continental teams or WorldTour teams to find 10-12 women and help them to be more professional, that continues to grow the sport. That's what needs to happen.
"It's not about prize money or paychecks at this point, I think it's more about growing the sport, and where that money needs to go is into infrastructure. The athletes today aren't going to necessarily benefit from the work we're doing today, they're going to benefit in 10 years. Big changes don't happen overnight, and when you try to force big changes, they come tumbling down."
In recent years, more well-established men's teams have begun to fund parallel women's teams than ever before: WorldTour teams Argos-Shimano, Lotto Belisol, Belkin (Rabo-Liv/Giant) and Orica-GreenEdge, Pro Continental teams RusVelo and Topsport Vlaanderen, and Continental squads BigMat-Auber 93 and Optum Pro Cycling all have teams of both genders.
"Financially it's doable that these teams can have both teams, you just have to have the will to do it. It's important to lead by example. We're not in a position to say what should or should not be done, we can only focus on what we can do for the sport. We'll lead by example, and maybe it will inspire other teams to follow suit.
"A women's program alone is going to cost more to run that a women's team attached to a men's team. We have an excellent infrastructure, with a service course and vehicles in Europe, multiple vehicles in the US and staff - it allows you to cost share quite a bit. With that we can run not just a small women's team, but a team that can strive for excellence."
Tamayo has a special appreciation for women's racing, since his wife Lauren is a successful racer and 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the team pursuit. He got his start as a team director in 2002 when he formed the Amoroso's/Victory Brewing team which he ran for four seasons.
"I call that my PhD in cycling," Tamayo said. "At the time I was racing and I was ending my career because of ulcerative colitis. I couldn't race anymore, and I still wanted to stay in the sport. We thought we'd put together a small women's team and it grew from there.
"I got to work with some great athletes and to learn a lot about managing. When you don't have a lot of money, there is very little room for mistakes. You have to be more diligent, and I have carried that into running the men's teams."
Tamayo is nearing completion of his roster for the next season, and expects to be able to make announcements of more details by the season's end.
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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