Trek-Segafredo will be launching their men’s and women’s 2020 team kits at the Rouleur Classic on Thursday 31st October, 2019. Book tickets here
Opening Google Maps in Catania Airport, I tap in the hotel location and set off south into Sicily’s dark heartlands. Thoughts of gun-waving, horse head-depositing mafioso bosses wriggle through my mind: the bad old days.
The island is a very different place now. It’s December 2018, but it feels pleasant in comparison to the damp and bitter streets of London. Heading to this latitude at this time of year means one thing: winter training camps are upon us. But Trek-Segafredo don’t migrate to the usual Spanish go-tos of Mallorca or the Costa Blanca. General manager Luca Guercilena holes the team up in the south-eastern Sicilian town of Syracuse. At this year’s end of season camp, the process is the same but there’s one big difference.
There are female riders wandering around the sun-toasted hotel courtyard of the golf spa resort, a converted Benedictine monastery. Trek-Segafredo has launched a women’s WorldTour team and this is their first camp together. The drive for the project comes from the very top: Trek Bikes president John Burke, alongside CFO Chad Brown and Vice President Roger Gierhart.
This is the start of a journey that the American sponsor hopes will stamp change on women’s cycling at the highest level. They want to set an example for how a women’s WorldTour team should be run alongside a men’s. Unlike some of the other top squads that flank a male counterpart, Trek-Segafredo will share their resources. What the men get, so do the women: training together, nutrition, coaching, physio, massage.
They will also give the women salaries they can live on comfortably. With this in place, their minds can be solely focused on performance instead of worrying how they’re going to be able to pay the bills. The UCI has promised that by 2023, the women’s WorldTour will have a minimum wage equal to the men’s Pro Continental level, currently set at €30,855.
“I think this year we are already a bit over that, so for sure we will keep going on that,” Guercilena says. “I believe that the more men’s teams coming with a women’s team will be a clear message to certain race organisers, and it will help with progression,” he says. His words echo around the high-ceilinged stone room in which we’re sat, the acoustics emphasising the statement.
Then the most trailblazing move of all – they’re supporting women through pregnancy. In July 2018, when Trek announced they were building a new women’s team for the next season, their first signing was Lizzie Deignan. The 2015 world champion hadn’t raced for ten months after announcing her first child was due in September.
It was a massive gamble. Trek-Segafredo saw the line in the sand, depicting where women’s cycling had previously been, and wanted to not just gingerly step over it, but hurdle it, Fanny Blankers-Koen style. “The idea was to support women in all parts of their lifestyle; pregnancy is a big part of a woman’s life and she demonstrated perfectly what we set out to do,” Guercilena says.
From the team’s inception to its public announcement was a matter of months, Deignan recalls. “It was a case of ‘right, we’re doing it,’” she says. “And then they put the team together really quickly, I think from the initial talk with them to signing was about six weeks.”
In many team sports, we see a direct correlation between budget and success. If you have the money, you might as well go ahead and spend it – and Trek-Segafredo did, with an approximate €1.2 million at their disposal.
After the announcement of their pregnant protagonist, they gradually revealed more stellar team-mates in former world time-trial champion Ellen van Dijk, Olympic road race medallist Elisa Longo Borghini, veteran all-rounder Trixi Worrack, star sprinter Lotta Lepistö, Audrey Cordon-Ragot, Tayler Wiles and Anna Plichta, along with up-and-coming talents Ruth Winder, Letitia Paternoster, Jolanda Neff, Lauretta Hanson and Abi Van Twisk.
To lead this super-team, comprising of ten different nationalities, newly-retired Giorgia Bronzini and sprinting legend Ina-Yoko Teutenberg were set to be a good cop/bad cop directing duo.
But as we stand around, surrounded by sun-warmed bird of paradise flowers, all the bad cops seem to be off duty. The blue and white bikes of the women line up side-by-side to the red and black men’s Treks. A symbol of connectivity, that the team is a whole. One moment a mechanic is working on Elisa Longo Borghini’s set-up, the next he’s swapping to check over that of Jasper Stuyven.
Physios mingle, securing appointments with riders for saddle fitting, shoe insoles and kit measurement. Winter camps have a full schedule, even more so with the addition of an extra 13 riders. “We are one team,” Guercilena explains. “So the staff is the staff, they need to be ready to do races for the women’s and men’s team. I don’t want the girls to have the idea that the people working with them are less professional than the ones working with the men.”
Once back from the training ride, a typical Mediterranean lunch is served at the bottom of a stone staircase that sweeps down into a whitewashed restaurant. A variety of tomato, white fish, calamari and octopus salads are laid on long tables. But even the good grub and grandeur of the resort doesn’t stifle the first-day-at-school atmosphere. Staff and riders alike look a little sheepish, introducing themselves to one another.
When a new team is formed, there are so many little working parts to fit then finetune: kit, equipment, a way of working, finding out each other’s strengths and weaknesses, managing the egos of a star-studded cast. They need to do it quickly because they have lofty expectations. “The goal is to be ranked in the top three teams in the world and take enough Classics and stage race victories,” Guercilena says.
As the team’s roster dribbled out in the summer of 2018, the peloton whispers were about buying domination, with their €1.2 million budget. At that year’s Giro Rosa, Boels-Dolmans DS Danny Stam revealed an air of trepidation about the potential that “super-teams” like this might have on his own squad’s ascendancy. The Dutch outfit, winners of the women’s WorldTour team ranking for the last three years, just don’t have the riches, with a budget that is reportedly €300,000 lower, or the experience that running alongside a men’s squad can provide.
“There will be jealousy and all that, it’s normal,” directeur sportif Teutenberg says. “It doesn’t help other teams looking [at us] when you have other riders going for the win.”
Meanwhile, former world champion Giorgia Bronzini was facing one of the biggest changes. She ended her racing career in September 2018 by winning the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta. But that fairytale ending didn’t guarantee a smooth transition to the team car.
Having raced head-to-head with Bronzini for a number of years, and knowing her strength of character as well as her confidence to question things, Teutenberg wanted her by her side. They needed to complement one another’s personalities.
“I’ve always seen Ina as my idol as I was growing up,” Bronzini says. “And when I entered into the elite category, it remained that way. Working alongside her is kind of the dream.”
It’s easy to sense Bronzini’s anxiety about the season: one moment the enormity of retirement and stepping into a directeur sportif role appears overwhelming to her; the next, her hunger to pursue something new rages through.
“For me, this adventure is akin to putting kids on a fairground ride, it’s all a bit too exciting. I’ve never been a part of such a big team before. I’m really enjoying working with the men and looking at everything they do. Even the small stuff – these things probably seem obvious to them, but I just want to learn as much as possible from them,” she explains.
Her biggest challenge is using the maps. “Honestly, we have a thousand different things with the iPad, the phone, the map in the car, the map for what a sprint will look like. When I was a rider it was not so detailed; here, you’re expected to know the map with your eyes closed. “I never had a director that had all these kinds of details,” she says. “It’s not that they were bad directors, that’s not the point. There just wasn’t the money for resources like this.”
This is an extract of an article that was originally published in Rouleur 19.7