A peloton on women race their bikes.

Natascha den Ouden to step away from AG Insurance-Soudal, AG take over ownership

AG steps in as sponsor and owner of the WorldTour women's team.

Justine Ghekiere leads AG Insurance – Soudal teammates at Trofeo Alfredo Binda earlier this year.

Natascha den Ouden, founder and manager of the Women’s WorldTour AG Insurance-Soudal team, will leave the team with immediate effect. AG Insurance, the Belgian insurance company and current title sponsor, steps in as the main shareholder for the team.

In 2021 it was announced that Patrick Lefevere’s company Experza was coming in to co-sponsor the existing NXTG women’s U23 program; a program built by Den Ouden in 2018 with an emphasis on developing the base of women’s cycling. Since then the team has developed with additional funding. For the 2023 season, they picked up experienced riders Ashleigh Moolman Pasio and Lotta Henttala to help steer the team towards a new goal: becoming WorldTour. They kept both the U23 and U19 programs, making the only three-tier team in women’s cycling.

“In 2018, we started building this cycling project with six juniors,” Den Ouden said in a statement. “It grew along with the development of women’s cycling: more media attention, equal prize money, a salary and much more. Those six junior women became an organization with a junior, U23 and a WorldTour team.”

Lefevere’s involvement in the women’s program followed repeated comments from Lefevere disparaging women’s cycling, including stating that he would not start a women’s team alongside his men’s because he’s “not a welfare centre.”

In March of 2022, the women’s team announced Lefevere would become a co-manager alongside Den Ouden, with AG Insurance coming in in the hopes the team would secure a WorldTour license. From 2023 the team became AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step (now without the Quick-Step), with former professional Jolien D’Hoore as their head director sportif.

“Over the past few years, I have done my utmost to share my vision and mission with tremendous dedication and passion for the sport,” Den Ouden said. “From the beginning in 2018, I have stressed that the base of women’s cycling must be broadened so that the top of cycling becomes bigger. Building a house does not start with a roof but with a solid foundation.

“The result was an organization where a 16-year-old junior rider can now grow into a full-fledged WorldTour rider. The focus on the person behind the athlete: in harmony at a pace appropriate for her, is very important to me. The support from our sponsors, both in financial and professional ways, was indispensable in building this structure.”

The multi-structure program, including a WorldTour team that’s home to Moolman Pasio, Ally Wollaston and now Sarah Gigante, flourished and earned a spot in the Women’s WorldTour for the 2024 season. Their year started with a bang when new signing Gigante won a stage and the overall at the Tour Down Under.

Even with his involvement now firmly in women’s cycling, Lefevere’s comments on women in general haven’t changed. In fact, the UCI recently slapped him on the wrist for his statements. He is also known for going after his own riders, most recently former World Champion Julian Alaphilippe.

“Over the past year, an insurmountable difference of vision and insight arose that were at the basis of this project,” Den Ouden said in her statement about leaving the team. “I have therefore decided to withdraw as owner and team manager.

“I do not take this decision lightly. It is a farewell with pain in my heart. I want to thank riders and staff for their trust over the past years, the fans for their enthusiasm and sponsors for their contribution. Without your commitment, this team could never grow into the realization of my motto ‘unlock your potential’.”

With Den Ouden exiting the team, the women’s and men’s programs will have even more crossover. Jurgen Foré, COO of Soudal Quick-Step, will step into the role of Team Manager for the women’s program. D’Hoore will become the Sports Manager of the team.

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