The women's WorldTour peloton at Strade Bianche. The pack is racing over white gravel roads with rolling Tuscan hills in the background.

Wheel Talk Newsletter: What year is it??

Your weekly dose of women's cycling news and perspective.

Hello all and thank you for reading this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter. I had a really fun topic planned for this week, but alas, we have to discuss some things I really wish I didn’t have to write about.

Before I dive into it, a reminder that you can get this as a newsletter straight to your inbox, weekly! It’s a convenient way to get the most important news and perspectives about women’s cycling.

Unfortunately, I have to start out by talking about last weekend’s Gravel World Championships. Not unfortunate in regard to some incredible racing (I’ll get to it) but unfortunate because the main topic of conversation around the women’s race on Saturday was the audacity of the UCI who chose not to provide live coverage of the race … in 2023. I naïvely thought the days of banging my head against a wall trying to figure out what on earth was going on via Twitter X was over, but here we are.

And as if it wasn’t frustrating enough, the fact that Kasia Niewiadoma finally won a race and we didn’t get to see it was like dumping lemon juice over some road rash.

Kasia Niewiadoma attacks during the 2023 Gravel World Championships.
Niewiadoma powers away from the rest of the race.

It was a course that suited the Polish rider like a well-fitting pair of socks. Niewiadoma has always been great at Strade Bianche, where she has been on the podium four times. In three of those occurrences in a row, she was second behind Lizzie Deignan, then Elisa Longo Borghini, and finally Anna van der Breggen.

To not see her finally, FINALLY take a win after four years of aggressive hunting stings, but it doesn’t diminish what a big deal it is that Niewiadoma is a World Champion. She used her impressive technical skills and pure strength to power to victory solo and was followed 33 seconds later by Silvia Persico and Demi Vollering, who finished second and third, respectively.

Kasia Niewiadoma in a particularly technical section near the end of the 2023 Gravel World Championships.
This section looked super fun for the moto…

If you want to listen to three former professional riders be thoroughly disgruntled about the viewing situation (and more … keep reading) you should give the Wheel Talk Podcast a listen! It’s quite good if I do say so myself. We woke up and chose violence this week.

? Let’s discuss ?

More and more we are seeing these big, flashy men’s WorldTour teams add a big, flashy women’s program, but is that always a good thing?

The last handful of years have seen a boom in men’s teams adding or acquiring women’s teams to round out their programs. There have been joint men-women teams before, and sometimes the outcome is not ideal, like in the case of the Cervelo Test Team who cut their women’s team first thing when their budget dipped after the merger with Garmin, but sometimes the women’s team benefits from the exposure and sponsorship opportunities a men’s team can bring.

One of the most successful in recent years is undoubtedly Lidl-Trek, which affords their women every benefit available to their men. They even matched their women’s prize money when races like Strade Bianche failed to provide equal prize purses, a step above and beyond that they kept quiet until Elisa Longo Borghini won Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift in 2022 and the news leaked.

But some teams do not afford their women equal treatment, equipment, and resources as their men. In the hunt to figure out what on earth was going on at Jumbo-Visma recently, a few troubling stories came to light. I spoke with several sources connected with the team (we’re keeping them anonymous to prevent possible repercussions for speaking freely) who told me stories of a team with the outward appearance of unity while internally their women are treated as “second-class citizens.”

One story, in particular, was of a team camp, early in the year, where the men and women were both in attendance. One day the weather was pretty bad so the women set themselves up on trainers to ride. According to two sources, the women were told that as soon as the men wanted the trainers they would have to leave. That same week the men’s team was fed by a private chef, while the women ate food provided by the hotel. The men had a fancy coffee machine for their caffeine needs that was literally roped off so the women couldn’t use it.

I was assured the team has not always been this way; it was only this year that the division started, but the team only formed in 2021 so … that’s not a great record.

Another problem highlighted in my piece was that management hired a man with no previous experience in cycling – let alone women’s cycling – to run the women’s team alongside Esra Tromp, a woman with extensive knowledge and experience successfully building women’s programs. Rutger Tijssen joined the team at the end of 2022 and was placed immediately in a high role within the organization. Now, it doesn’t matter how nice a person is, you can’t just hire someone with no knowledge or experience straight into management. Would that ever happen on a men’s team? It’s doubtful. But I digress.

The unravelling of what looked to be one of the strongest programs in women’s cycling can be traced back to the new hire, according to our sources. A year later several riders cut their contracts short, some with more success than others, and the entirety of the team’s female directorial staff left to be replaced by men. I’m not saying a man can’t direct a women’s team; of course they can. We’ve watched Magnus Bäckstedt completely reform the Caynon-SRAM women’s team this year. But even Canyon-SRAM has female directors alongside Bäckstedt.

In one instance, a source said, Tijssen was driving the car behind a race when multiple Jumbo-Visma riders went down. He drove right past them, leaving them to rely on neutral support and effectively removing them from the race, as they then had to spend the day chasing, according to the source.

A major problem with new hires at Jumbo-Visma’s women’s team was a lack of understanding of females, and how they have different requirements from men. I was told that riders and staff on the women’s side have struggled in 2023 under management, especially after the departure of Tromp, who at first acted as a kind of buffer between the team and management.

One rider told me that the expectations put on her by management were unrealistic and caused her to feel she couldn’t make mistakes. She didn’t feel comfortable in the program. Riders were thrown into races they weren’t suited for and chastised when they didn’t perform to expectation, shattering their confidence.

Being a professional athlete, and a professional cyclist, is hard. But it’s the team’s job to make things easier, to guide and assist their riders for the betterment of the team and the riders themselves. That starts with basic respect. At team camp, when the women weren’t allowed to eat the same food as the men or use the same coffee machine, it demonstrates a lack of care for a women’s team that is honestly baffling in 2023.

Sponsors would perhaps be better off backing existing women’s teams, or men’s teams that demonstrate an equitable approach to their women’s programs. And for the love of cake, make sure people know how to do a job before you hire them, this isn’t 2015.

Anyway, this wasn’t something I thought I would have to write about, or wanted to, in 2023, the year of our lord and saviour Taylor Swift. But it’s something people should know because teams (and the UCI) need to be held accountable.

? The joys of social media ?

Phew ok, that was a lot. Here’s some quality dog content to lighten the mood:

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Team SD Worx (@teamsdworx)

?️ A picture worth a couple words ?️

Gravel Worlds had me reminiscing about Strade Bianche, one of my favourite races on the calendar. So I was looking through some Gruber Images galleries of past editions and came across this gem of the one and only Hannah Barnes. My former teammate, and a 10/10 person, Barnes raced her last race last weekend and is now riding into retirement.

Hannah Barnes of Canyon-SRAM during the 2020 edition of Strade-Bianche.

I want to tell you a story about Miss Barnes. So in 2015, we were teammates at UnitedHealthcare. It was my first year pro, and my parents, who were huge supporters of me and every teammate I ever had, came to a few races in the US. One day our race was late in the afternoon so my dad came to the hotel, set up a camp stove in the parking lot, and made everyone pancakes for breakfast. Hannah ate a pile of them, more than anyone on the men’s team, and my dad was shook. He has since referred to Hannah as the Pancake Queen. To make matters sweeter, she won the race.

So congratulations to Hannah on a glittering career, she will definitely be missed in the peloton, but boy is she going to have fun in the real world!

? Your weekly dose of Taylor Swift ?

We are in the final countdown to 1989 (Taylor’s Version). The album will be released on October 29th, so just a few weeks from publishing this. It’s the fourth of Swift’s re-records. If you aren’t familiar, there was a whole thing with her masters being sold to this dude who sucks and in retaliation (and a brilliant business move) Swift vowed to re-record all her former albums so she owns them. In doing so she changed the music industry. As much as I would love to really dig into this … I do have to keep myself in check at this point in the newsletter, but here is some homework if you want to dig into this more:

Taylor Swift Plans to Re-Record Her Hits. Here’s What She Might Be Facing – Rolling Stone

Taylor Swift Is Halfway Through Her Rerecording Project. It’s Paid Off Big Time – TIME

Taylor Swift’s Re-Recorded Albums Are Huge Successes–But They Were A Real Risk – Forbes

Every time Swift has released a Taylor’s Version album it always comes with some bonus tracks previously unheard by fans but written at the same time as the original album. Songs that were left “on the cutting room floor,” according to Swift. Or in the case of Red (Taylor’s Version), songs that she sold to other artists at the time, like Better Man, which was written by Swift but originally performed by Little Big Town. It won Best Country Duo/Group Performance at the 2018 Grammys and Group Video of the Year at the 2017 CMT Music Awards along with Song of the Year.

The most anticipated, most impressive, and probably the best thing to date has been All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault) (10 Minute Version), released on Red (Taylor’s Version) in November of 2021. The original version of the track was 5:29 but legend told of when Swift stormed into the studio during the writing sessions and blurted out a 10-minute version of the song. It’s become a cult favourite over the years, and when the re-record was announced fans were immediately in an uproar about the possibility of the 10-minute version.

Suffice it to say, Swift delivered. The song is a masterpiece.

She also directed and wrote a mini-film for the song starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien. I highly recommend it.

? Until next time! ?

Thank you so much for reading this week’s Wheel Talk Newsletter. We will be back next week after a bit of WorldTour racing in China. The women line up on Thursday for three days of sprinter-friendly races. Expect to see some interesting racing as it is the final chance for a few nations to bag some points before the Olympic selection period ends.

In case you missed it, I spoke with Deena Blacking last week about The Cyclists’ Alliance and their new TCAMP Pre-Career x Strava Grant program. It’s a super-cool thing TCA is doing to directly help develop up-and-coming talent.

And finally, please consider signing up as a member of Escape Collective! We’ve got a pretty incredible community over on Discord, with channels for anything from kids to baking to music and of course the Wheel Talk Podcast has its own little club. We’ve been chatting a bunch about books over there, and how good they smell. Quality discussions, to be sure.

Until next week!

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