Is women’s cycling in crisis?
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Monday, December 07, 2009

Is women’s cycling in crisis?

by Ben Atkins at 6:25 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 

The eleventh hour withdrawal of Skyter as a new sponsor for the current Nürnberger Versicherung team was the latest blow to hit the women’s sport in this close season. The team may be forced to fold, leaving the prospect of both the road and time trial World Champions from 2008, not to mention the Swiss national champion and the German time trial champion struggling to find a ride for next season.

The lateness of the timing makes it all the more difficult, but this is just the latest in a line of sponsors lost and teams folding this year.

Jennifer Hohl, the reigning Swiss champion affected by the Skyter debacle, has already been forced to change teams once after the Bigla team that she has ridden for since 2006 folded. It was long known that the office furniture company was going to pull the plug at the end of this year, but even with plenty of notice the team was unable to find a new sponsor. Nicole Cooke, the 2008 World and Olympic Champion, also came to the team after being unable to secure enough sponsors for her own Vision1 team this season; it seems almost inconceivable that Cooke could be left teamless for 2010.

Like Bigla, the end of Flexpoint’s sponsorship of the powerful Dutch team was known a long time in advance but again, like Bigla, the team was unable to secure a replacement. The decision was taken to end the team that has existed since 2005. Most of Bigla and Flexpoint’s riders have managed to find teams for 2010 – like Noemi Cantele heading to Columbia-HTC, and Mirjam Melchers and Iris Slappendel heading to the Cervélo TestTeam  – but many have been forced to ride for lower level teams.

More teams to fall?

In Italy there are rumours of more bad news. The Selle Italia-Ghezzi team of Fabiana Luperini may well be about to fold with the retirement of the five-time Giro d’Italia winner. Many of the team’s best riders have already moved on to other teams, but there is no official news as to the fate of the others. Another team that may well be on the way out is SAS-Dila-Kuota, which has been rumoured to be suffering financial troubles all year. The team has also seen the departure of the vast majority of its riders.

Another team to go is the Russian team Petrogadgets. The vast majority of this team has been picked up by Svetlana Bunbenkova’s Fenixs team though, which itself is undergoing an almost complete personnel change.

Dutch champion – and World cyclocross champion – Marianne Vos is still confident about finding a sponsor to replace DSB Bank, which was a victim of the World banking crisis. Like Cooke, it seems unbelievable that Vos could be without a team.

Races follow teams down the river

The Grande Boucle Feminine – once one of the biggest women’s races and formerly called le Tour Feminin – is to end after hitting a number of financial and organisational problems over the last few years. Another race to disappear is the Tour de Berne (Berner Rundfahrt) World Cup race in Switzerland. The race was very much linked to the Bigla team and its sponsors, and has suffered a similar fate. There also remains a certain amount of uncertainty around the future of the Rund um die Nürnberger Altstadt as its main sponsor – Nürnberger Versicherung – has dropped it as well as the team.

The Tour de Berne will be replaced by two races though, as the World Cup goes up to eleven events. Its spot in the calendar is to be filled by an upgraded Tour of Chongming Island in China, and the new GP Comunidad de Vallodolid will be run on the first weekend in June. It’s not likely that too many teams will be pleased to make the trip to China though as it comes just a week before the Tour de l’Aude – one of the biggest stage races – which itself is just before the week-long Tour and World Cup race in Montreal, Canada. The expectation to travel to three continents in as many weeks will put undue strain on riders; not to mention the teams’ budgets, which are miniscule when compared to the men’s sport.

Some good news on the way though

There is some positive news though in the middle of all the doom and gloom. The glut of available quality European riders is good news for a number expanding US teams, and so fields in the US domestic calendar should see an increase in size and quality next year.

Also, with all the teams folding and having problems finding new sponsors, a new team has been created around World champion Tatianan Guderzo and Italian champion Monia Baccaille. Cycling Team Valdarno Umbria has taken on a number of riders from other struggling Italian teams, as well as new Oceania champion Bridie O’Donnell of Australia, and so should prove to be a very powerful outfit.

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