Riding is Life


Alison Jackson sings Celine Dion into a water bottle

Wheel Talk Newsletter: New year, new team, same goal

A conversation with EF Education-Cannondale's Esra Tromp.

Last year Alison Jackson’s time at team camp delivered this legendary video…what will we get this year?

Hello and thank you, as always, for opening this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter! Hopefully, everyone is enjoying these last few weeks of 2023, getting in some miles virtual or outdoors and enjoying some time with loved ones or with a really good book.

I myself have finally given in to reading from the world of Brandon Sanderson, thanks to a push from a friend, and it is now my personality. I’ve even subscribed to his updates as it seems like he releases a new book every year. Speaking of subscribing …

When I was racing this was always my favorite time of year to ride. Before the stress of the season really took hold, when the days were focused more on spending hours and hours out on the bike, hopefully with a good group of buds and a quality bakery somewhere mid-day. If I was lucky, I got to escape the cold Colorado climate and run off to California to see some teammates and get our inside jokes of the season going early.

Seven women in cycling kit stand on the beach.
One such winter was spent with the Rally Cats in Ventura, California. We were staying beachfront, and when we got our new threads decided to take them for a spin (not on the bike, but in the sand). From left to right: Sara Bergen, Katherine Maine, Heidi Franz, Gillian Ellsay, Kirsti Lay, Summer Moak, Abby Mickey.

It’s one of the only times of the year I truly feel the loss of being part of a cycling team. A handful of the girls in the above image remained in my life, some for life, but friendship isn’t the same thing as a teammate. There’s a bond in being part of a women’s cycling team that is hard to explain, one that can’t be found on the men’s side of the sport. Perhaps because, for so long, cycling was a passion for women instead of a job. You couldn’t make a living, you were sacrificing in order to compete instead of gaining. The women you rode alongside were in it with you, they were there for mental support as much as literal support in a race.

Not that men aren’t buds with their teammates on WorldTour teams; it happens, but it’s kind of the exception to the rule. And a lot of the guys that are really close grew up racing with each other.

I keep mentioning “team camp season” because this time of year is when bonds are formed that will impact the rest of the season. A good group of people make for a more tight-knit cycling team or women willing to ride their hearts out for those around them. It’s the beginning of the season in many ways: new gear, and new fitness, but on a deeper level, it’s the start of how the team will take shape for the upcoming racing year.

Anyway, sorry for the unconventional start to this week’s newsletter. Really I just wanted to reminisce about some of the perks of being a racer (lifelong bonds that you couldn’t shake if you wanted to).

πŸ’¬ Let’s discuss πŸ’¬

Building an elite women’s team.

As you read this the women of EF Education-Cannondale are pulling their new kits out of compostable bags, hopefully marvelling at whatever new design Rapha has delivered for the 2024 season. They are meeting new teammates and old, fitting new cleats to new shoes and putting in the first kilometres to determine their 2024 season.

But building a team is a lot more than the kit design, finding riders and staff, organizing the camps, and laying out the goals for not only the year but many years to come. The job of a general manager is less of a job and more of a lifestyle. It doesn’t stop when the sun goes down, especially with a fresh team like EF Education-Cannondale.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Esra Tromp, the brain behind the team, about the process of putting the team together. The full conversation can be found on the Escape Collective Member’s Only podcast feed, but here is a snippet of the conversation. Enjoy.

Abby Mickey: Did you approach Jumbo-Visma about starting the women’s team? How did that happen?

Esra Tromp: The Netherlands is quite small and the cycling world as well. I heard that there was some interest in starting a women’s team and yeah, I reached out to first the commercial manager of the team, Sander Kruis, and later also, with with Richard Plugge and Merijn Zeeman. We had a few talks about potentially a women’s team.

In the first moments, we had talked about if that was already good timing, so yeah, it took a little bit longer. But in the end, they really wanted to have a women’s team and yeah, I got the opportunity to build it, which I was really happy about because after a few years with the Parkhotel Valkenburg team, I thought, “Okay, I’m ready for the next step.”

Of course, [Jumbo-Visma] is one of the best teams or the best team in the world. Especially in men’s cycling, the organization is really impressive, so I thought “Okay, it will be amazing to learn from them to see how they work.” And yeah, if we can set up a women’s team on the same level that will be amazing for the girls that race in the team, but also for women’s cycling in general.

Abby: When you build a team from scratch, because now you’re in the process of building your second team from scratch with EF Education-Cannondale, what’s kind of the first thing, the first thing you do?

Esra: I think it’s really important to see what is the DNA of this team, the DNA of the organization, and what is the overall racing style and goals of the organization you are building a team in. Because in the end, I think you can really fit riders and a race program that [will fit] into the philosophy of the team.

In the case of EF Education-Cannondale, I think it’s a team that’s really out there. They show themselves and race aggressively, out of the box, and dare to be a little bit different sometimes. Especially how they present themselves, market themselves, and also in their race style.

I had several talks with Jonathan Vaughters and he really explained what the teams look like and what the goal is for for the first year, so and we were really on the same page.

I was immediately really happy with the overall idea and the philosophy of the team and then immediately, some riders came to my mind. Who has that aggressive racing style, who will have that character? I think Alison Jackson is a really good example there.

Abby: What have been the biggest challenges for you, starting Jumbo-Visma versus starting EF Education-Cannondale, because the two situations are similar in that you can’t get a WorldTour license for the first year of the team?

Esra: I think an advantage after a few years in Jumbo-Visma is that I really needed to focus first on what is the DNA of this team. And really understand, okay, what is the vibe of this team? And what do we need in the women’s team, so we are completely aligned there? For example, at the first weekend of my contract, I went to the Tour de France start in Spain with the guys and met a lot of people from the team to really see about the organization, but really see it in person and see, okay, what’s going on in the biggest race.

The biggest challenges, I think, in some ways, they’re quite the same. I think when starting to search for riders it was quite late in the season. So you have some limitations of riders that are available. Especially with the Olympics coming up a lot of riders don’t want to change teams before which I can really understand.

I don’t know if it really is a challenge or it’s a negative thing. I see it more as a positive that there’s an opportunity to really build a new team, a new organization.

Of course, we needed to explain a lot of times that this is a new [EF Education] team and not the current team going forward with a new sponsor. I see it really as an opportunity to bring something else to the women’s peloton.

Abby: Looking at the roster, there are riders on there like Coryn [Labecki], for example. She’s such an underrated rider in that the way she reads the peloton is like nothing I’ve ever seen anyone do before. And I know she’s had a couple a couple hard years and I am so excited to see her back on an American team where she can really feel at home and she can really have people around who her who understand her culture in a way. I’m so excited to see how she handles being on this team; it’s cool that she jumped over with you from Jumbo-Visma.

Esra: I’m really happy with Coryn as well. She’s an amazing bike rider and indeed she can read the peloton and the races so well. But also she can read her teammates and coaches them in a race, she’s really a natural leader so I hope she can be on the top level again where she was a few years ago. I really think she can do that. I trust her in that completely.

What she brings to the team is not only on the physical side but more on the personal side. I think she’s amazing and I’m so happy to have her on the team as well.

We really have a good mix of experienced riders but also new talented riders that need a little bit of help here and there from riders like Coryn for example to read that race.

Hear the full interview on the Member’s Only Wheel Talk Podcast or Escape Collective podcast feeds.

🐣 The joys of social media 🐣

Nice to see our Gravel World Champ sharing some tips and tricks with her road teammates at Canyon-SRAM’s first team camp of the year in the USA.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Katarzyna Niewiadoma (@kasianiewiadoma94)

πŸ–ΌοΈ A picture worth a couple words πŸ–ΌοΈ

Looking back, Annemiek van Vleuten’s La Vuelta a EspaΓ±a Femenina victory was definitely one of the season’s highlights. It was the first time in quite a few years we’ve seen Van Vleuten in real danger, on that final stage when Demi Vollering and Gaia Realini really tested the then-world champion, the first time in a long time we’ve seen Van Vleuten dropped on a climb. It set the scene for the Tour de France Femmes, marking Van Vleuten as the old guard and Vollering as the new.

Annemiek van Vleuten gasps for breath, seen through her bike frame.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get that battle at the Tour, but throughout the season Van Vleuten again showed what her absence will do to the peloton next year. Vollering only got better as the season went on, and as we look ahead to 2024 it’s hard to see anyone really challenging the Dutch national champion, especially in the week-long stage races.

This photo of Annemiek, atop Lagos de Covadonga on the final stage of the Vuelta, when she narrowly clung to overall victory, was the moment the world shifted, when Vollering knew she would not only be able to take Van Vleuten on the Col du Tourmalet but that she had the upper hand. Perhaps Van Vleuten also knew her time as the top climber in the peloton was nearing its end, but at this moment I doubt she was thinking much about anything at all except catching her breath and ignoring the pain in her legs.

πŸ’– Taylor Swift trivia πŸ’–

Last week I wrote about artists whom Taylor Swift has influenced, but there are a lot of artists who inspire Taylor’s work as well, none more so than Lana Del Rey. Del Rey’s impact can perhaps be heard most in Taylor’s 2017 album reputation, but it wasn’t until Midnights, released in March of this year, that the two finally worked together. They share a producer in Jack Antonoff, and Antonoff brought the two together to make the vault track Snow on the Beach (feat. Lana Del Rey).

The reception was pretty mixed, with many people joking they couldn’t even hear Del Rey on the song. In response, a few months later, Taylor released Snow on the Beach (feat. More Lana Del Rey) (From the Vault) in which Del Rey gets a whole verse and then some. Funny enough, after the release, Del Rey revealed in an interview that Taylor had asked her to sing throughout the entire song but she had dismissed the request, not knowing she was the only feature on the album.

The song is potentially not the best on the Midnights album, but with More Lana Del Rey, it’s an interesting melding of two very different vocal performances, and an apt song for this time of year (if you’re in the northern hemisphere or, say, Latvia, where snow literally falls on the beach).

πŸ‘‹ Until next time! πŸ‘‹

Thank you, again, for reading the Wheel Talk Newsletter. Surprisingly, I quite enjoy these opportunities to dive into something I wouldn’t normally get to write about, and it’s all thanks to you all.

And I’m not the only one who gets to dive into fun topics. Definitely check out Down Under Digest by Matt de Neef for all things Australia, Jonny Long’s Spin Cycle for twice weekly Jonny Long style fun and finally for the geeks Dave Rome’s Threaded.

I will return next week, let me know in the comments if there’s anything in particular you’d like to hear about.

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