Monday, July 27, 2009

Triple Exclusive - An Interview with PROMAN's Nicola Cranmer


At the highest level of the sport, the Directeur Sportif, or sporting director, manages the daily operations of the cycling team. Often times you will see them following their riders in the team car, communicating with them about tactics, race situations, or upcoming terrain, and even provide some mechanical assistance. But at the lower levels of the sport, the responsibilities of the sporting director, or team manager, can run the full gambit of things, from pinning race numbers on jerseys or filling water bottles to sending out newsletters or even being the team masseuse.

Such is the life of Nicola Cranmer, Team Manager for the PROMAN Hit Squad. Since founding the California based women’s cycling team in 2006, Nicola has taken it from regional amateur team to national elite professional team, and now to UCI track team. In doing so, she has helped foster the dreams of the individuals she has worked with as well as precipitated the agenda of all women in cycling.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Nicola to discuss PROMAN’s newly formed Junior Development program, garner her perspective on women’s cycling, and explore her own passions as a cyclist.

Granny’s 30 (G): From your bio, you stated that you were previously an apprentice jockey, did you grow up around horses?

Nicola Cranmer (NC): Yes, you could say that in a sense, the horses were mostly on television; it certainly wasn’t a glamorous poetic introduction to them.

My dad is a huge horse racing fan, so I grew up with him jumping up and down on the edge of the sofa screaming ‘go on my son, come on come on! Betting on horses is legal everywhere in England and its quite common to pop down to the local bookies on a Saturday morning, get some fish and chips and a few pints and either watch racing at home or at the pub. My dad would bet a few pounds on a horse for himself and for me. Mostly I picked horses for their name back then, later on form. I was one of those girls that had every inch of her bedroom wall covered with pictures of horses; most of my friends had pictures of Duran Duran, Starsky and Hutch or the Human League, horses most certainly kept me out of trouble [that came later].

My mum when she was younger used to baby-sit for one of the leading thoroughbred trainers in England – Sir Gordon Richards; she stayed in touch with him and occasionally rode his horses. I remember one day I must have been about seven or eight I watched my mum riding, she was challenged by the man she was riding with to a race, they galloped across a field neck and neck it was very exciting, my Mum won the ‘race’ and it left quite an impression on me. I was then hooked. We were quite poor growing up although I didn’t realize it at the time, so I could never afford to have a horse of my own. I worked in a riding school on the weekends in exchange for free riding lessons; I knew I wanted to make a career out of it. My grandparents lived in a village where there was a training facility, so when I finished my secondary modern school, I moved in with them and worked for one of the leading trainers in the UK.

G: Were you ever into equestrian riding or was it purely racing? If racing, what type, flat or steeplechase?

NC: I competed in gymkhanas at about age 12 and a little cross-country; I went straight into thoroughbred racing at age 16. I was fortunate enough to work in the top yard in the country for a trainer, David Elsworth. In my first year in horse racing, one of the horses I took care of, Melindra won at Royal ascot, I got to meet the queen mum, that’s where the glamorous side of horse racing came in. Melindra was a very sassy two year old filly that was rescued by a police woman from a knackers yard, (slaughter house) turns out she was a really good sprinter, of course it was a rags to riches story that the media loved. It’s sort of the equivalent of an unknown rider winning Flanders.

It was a mixed yard, both flat and steeplechase.

G: How did you get into the sport of cycling? Did you ride prior to your move to California…before your mountain biking days?

NC: The only bike riding I ever did in England was a way of avoiding drinking and driving, although you could still get arrested for being drunk on a bike. The good thing was the local police man rode a bike and I was pretty sure I could out ride him if I needed to

There is a huge pub culture in England and it’s just what you do, if you weren’t paralytic by 11pm (pub closing) it just wasn’t a good night out. It’s weird thinking about it now, but it’s part of life there. I was 17 at the time. I lived in a little village and would ride my bike to the pub – skirt, heels and all. I think my bike had 3 gears but I didn’t really ever use them. It also had a dynamo light which was really tricky when riding home from the pub at night, struggling up the hill with the light getting dimmer and dimmer and finally stopping at the top, the first few feet of the descent it was pitch black until the dynamo got working again! Once in a while my skirt would get sucked into the oily chain, I mostly wore black then so it didn’t bother me much. It would have been far too sensible and not very fashionable to put trousers and trainers (sneakers) on.

I moved to California in 1986, primarily because I needed to take some time off from riding horses due to an injury, I decided to move to California for six months. While I was here I met a guy, Dan Lewbin, then expert National XC Champ, in the local bike shop – Planeaway Bikes, formerly the Koski Brother’s Cove Bike Shop in Tiburon (The Koski Brothers are the less known pioneers of mountain biking), who asked if I would like to go riding one day. I actually purchased a road bike first and would go on long rides by myself. I had no clue as to what I was doing. I would pack a lunch; slices of cheese, ham or salami and weird things like that…sometimes I would be out there all day.

I eventually borrowed a mountain bike and went riding with Dan and his friends who belonged to a sort of renegade outlaw team, DFL - "Dead Fucking Last," I quickly became a ‘member.’ At that time, mountain bike racing was so fun with classic races like Shasta Lemurian, Revenge of the Siskyous, TNT, Rockhopper, etc. These were more point-to-point or big epic loop races, which have now been replaced in favor of more spectator friendly lap races. It was good times, with bands and kegs at the finishes. I was naturally quite good and progressed quickly from sport to expert cross country, then to pro downhill. I raced for WTB and later PROFLEX. WTB now sponsors my team with tires and saddles.

In 1997, my life abruptly changed and so did my bike racing career, which I hesitate to call a career as I wasn’t getting paid. While riding my mountain bike on a Mount Tam fire road, I got a speeding ticket (yes, the state park rangers would literally hide behind trees on fire roads with radar guns), which led to a refusal of entry back into the US due to an over stayed visa. As I was not allowed to be let back into the US for over two years, I moved back to London, and signed with Lennox Lewis’s sports agency as a mountain biker.

My three years back in the UK were pretty incredible though. I met some wonderful people; one of them would eventually be the title sponsor of the team that I was to start 8 years later. It’s quite a long story, but a fascinating one for another day!

I moved back to the States in 2001 and then found myself back on the bike again. Simon Andalib, former Village Peddler employee/bike racer, was responsible for getting me back into racing, and pro mountain biker Chris Greene was a huge support and training partner.

G: What was your motivation behind starting up a cycling team?

NC: My main motivation…racing on a co-ed team I noticed that the men got more support than the women. This was frustrating so I decided to form a women’s team. I quickly found a shop sponsor, Paradigm Cycles, which at the time was owned by Julia Violich. Julia who is also the current 40+ national XC champ and 2nd placed finisher at Masters Worlds, has since sold the shop, and assists as our sponsorship director. It would be impossible running the team without her support.

Our title sponsor came to us very quickly too, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. PROMAN – PROject MANagement is a German engineering company, one of the biggest in the world, they certainly don’t need the advertising. They sponsor the team solely to assist its athletes attaining their goals and dreams; a very unique situation. I am eternally grateful for their support.

G: When you decided to start up the team, what was the hardest thing about starting it up? What turned out to be easier than you thought?

NC: The title sponsor came very easily, that was huge! Starting the team was actually one of those serendipitous moments where everything flowed. Not saying anything was really easy, it’s always been hard work, which is something I am not afraid of. I think the hardest thing is being taken seriously. It seems you have to pay your dues in road cycling for people to respect you. The team is rolling into its 4th year and I think we are gaining respect both on and off the bike. The road scene is pretty tight knit and I would say much of the respect is gained off the bike; integrity and a good sense of humor go a long way. There have been times that have challenged me beyond what I thought was my capacity but I seem to be coming out of it all OK. I have certainly made plenty of mistakes along the way. I don’t pretend to be anything I’m not, I don’t pretend to even know what I am doing – I am just doing it to the best of my ability with what I know. I think it’s a continual learning process and I enjoy pushing myself to become better at what I do. I love the sport of cycling and intend to be here for a long time. It’s a wonderful community of people and I have forged friendships that will last a lifetime.

We are at a point in the team’s growth where we are outgrowing our title sponsor. Although PROMAN will continue to support us I need to generate more sponsor dollars to give the athletes what they deserve. There is just so much that I want to do. We rely on private donations from fans, family and friends, even cyclists from other teams have contributed in the past. Without this kind of support we would not exist. We are definitely a community effort.

G: As Team Manager for PROMAN Hit Squad what are your responsibilities?

NC: Well, this may take a while, I do everything from securing sponsorships, order clothing, take care of logistics, update the blog, write newsletter, fill water bottles, recruiting and even occasionally massages, I was a massage therapist for 11 years – you name it I do it. It wouldn’t be fair to say I am a one-woman show, but I do take care of the meat of the project and I couldn’t do it without the help of the team and friends. I definitely need to delegate more. I think most people have no idea what goes into running a team. I really almost have three teams to run, road, cross and track, which is split into two categories domestic and UCI. The UCI team has been a challenge; one of our riders Shelley Olds has excelled beyond belief and will continue to do so.


I formed the UCI team two years ago to enable Shelley to compete at the highest level of track racing, the World Cup circuit. Last year we were in Sydney, Beijing, LA and Copenhagen. This year Manchester and Melbourne, and she raced Copenhagen with the US National team. It’s been a great experience and an interesting one. I sit at managers’ meetings at these World Cup events and I am the only woman team owner in a room of about 150 managers and coaches, there are other women coaches and managers but very few (by the way, some assume I am the masseuse).

I would like to see more women in leadership roles in cycling especially in track racing. Working with former Saturn director, Giana Roberge has been instrumental in my growth and confidence. Her years of experience brought professionalism and high expectation to the team. I have learned a lot from her and take my responsibilities very seriously. Giana has since stepped away from her directing role with the birth of her first child. One of my biggest responsibilities is to the athletes on the team who not only show ability on the bike but passion loyalty, dedication and a trust in me to assist them with their goals.

Shelley Olds plays an important role as my partner on the team, her dedication and vision is so strong. Shelley has had opportunities to join other teams, and certainly get paid better, but she is determined to create the kind of environment that will allow her to follow her dream of the 2012 Olympics. She is a natural leader and has inspired me to reach for higher goals than I would have imagined. Her fiancé Rob Evans has also been a significant in developing a business strategy for the team for the future. Tim Brennan, team mechanic and sounding board, has also been a dedicated supporter of the team, taking care of everything technical and just basically being a good ear when times get rough. My ringtone on his phone is the pinball machine…I think that tells you a lot!


Julia Violich has also been a rock. She is a dedicated supporter of everything cycling, who I could not do without. We are also very fortunate to be joined by Cari Higgins, 4-time elite track champ. Cari fits well into our program, she has a strong track focus and dedicates much time to mentoring juniors in her hometown of Boulder, CO. Rachel Lloyd is another key member, she keeps things dirty with her Cross and Super D skills and is also a natural with the juniors. All team members contribute in one way or another and without the support of these people there would be no team.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention any and all of our sponsors: PROMAN, Violich Farms, Paradigm Cycles, BMC Bikes, Cane Creek Wheels, SRAM Bike Components, Enduro Bearings, Rudy Project, Voler Clothing, JL Racing Clothing, Skins, Northwave Shoes, WTB Tires & Saddles, Arundel Cage & Bar Tape. Sapim Spokes, Velocity Rims, Dumondetech Lube, Pure Swiss Water, Mez Design, CLIF Bar, Peet's Coffee & Tea, Whole Athlete, Marin Spine & Wellness, Larkspur Hotels, Northpoint Advisors, and Brake Through Media.

G: Some former band/orchestra members who have gone up front [of the band] with the baton have stated that it's hard to jump back in [for whatever reason], have you found that with your managing a team and racing for it?

NC: The first two years it was not a problem for me to manage and race as we were racing at a regional level and the team was smaller. Things changed; however, going into the third year when NRC races came into the picture, and now UCI. It’s very important to have a solid foundation by which to operate a team, and I have come to terms that I will be racing less. I am ok with that. I think racing with the team on occasion has its definite advantages. Although all the girls appreciate what I do as a manager there is nothing quite like sacrificing your personal race for another, it forms a deep bond and a different level of appreciation.

Managing has its own set of challenges to keep me focused. I will jump in a few crits this year to help my teammates but I will focus mostly on track racing. My goals will be at Masters Track Nationals and hopefully Masters Track Worlds. But the girls on the team are so dedicated and focused that they deserve more attention, although they constantly remind me to focus on myself. My priority as far as the team goes is them. If I can provide a situation where all they have to worry about is racing their bike I will be happy. That being said, most of the current team members are very active in the team’s growth off the bike as well. We do have a great support crew.

G: Mountain or Road?

NC: Mountain for the soul, the big drop offs and technical descents, road for the grace, sprints and team efforts

G: Road or Track?

NC: Track for the speed and tangibility and to increase power for the road

G: Crits or Stage Races?

NC: Crit slut all the way! I am starting to appreciate more and more the beauty and challenges of the stage race though.

G: With your title sponsor (PROMAN) in Dusseldorf, Germany has there been any talk/consideration of the team racing in Europe?

NC: Yes we have considered racing the road team in Europe, it’s very expensive to send a team but we certainly hope to, the Spring Classics would be a priority if we had the budget. The UCI track team has raced two World Cup seasons overseas. Since we first chatted, PROMAN riders, Shelley Olds, Rachel Lloyd & Megan Guarnier, Ashley Dymond and Coryn Rivera have raced for the US National team in Europe. Shelley competed in Italy on the track and was on the podium all three days of racing and was on the podium at a World Cup. Megan also competed in races in Italy, Belgium and France, including the Spring Classic – Tour of Flanders. Both Shelley and Megan also recently competed in the Giro d’Italia Femminile. Betina Hold also headed to Europe to race for the Canadian National Team.

We have Jim Miller to thank for these opportunities internationally. These kinds of experiences are invaluable to our athletes and will add to the depth of our young squad. Jim has developed an outstanding women’s program and works very closely with developing domestic teams. He is very modest in regards to his achievements but I am very grateful for his focus on women’s racing.

I also want to mention two other people, Michael Engleman and Kristin Armstrong. Michael Engleman’s contribution to women’s cycling in the form of The U.S Women’s Cycling Development Program (USWCDP) is crucial to the maintenance & growth of the sport. Likewise, Kristin Armstrong's contribution to cycling as a whole and to women's cycling specifically is immeasurable. The newly formed Kristin Armstrong Academy is instrumental in the development of our young riders.

BMC bicycles, based in Switzerland and distributed by QBP, is working with the team for the second year. We had an opportunity to visit the facility last summer, and it is an amazing place. All the guys who work for BMC are a great. We are the first U.S women’s team that BMC has worked with and I am really grateful for their support, and the support of women’s racing.

G: Where do you see PROMAN/ Racing in the future…with a full U23 Development squad…as a UCI team racing both in the US and in Europe?

NC: My vision for the team has become apparent and crystal clear in the past couple of months. Creating our junior program is very exciting.

The junior development compliments our elite program offering accomplished riders an opportunity to pass along experience and wisdom. It is my hope that the team can offer the juniors an environment where they can develop their cycling skills, achieve their personal goals in competition and to encourage and maintain a healthy lifestyle as well as creating future ambassadors for women's cycling. It’s easy to talk the talk but we are truly walking it and have an international vision for our development program.

I feel that an investment in junior riders, girls in particular, is crucial to the growth of women's racing in the US. Recently appointed USAC athletic director, Jim Miller, has assured me that he will continue to focus on women's development. Miller has successfully developed the women's road endurance program that has resulted in world class contenders and Olympic gold.

It was an easy choice for us to include juniors in our program. You don't get the instant podium gratification that you would if I used the budget to hire elite riders, but PROMAN team members are in this for the long haul and we hope to contribute more to women's cycling than a win on any given weekend. Don't get me wrong, its fun to win and see the athletes achieve their performance goals but we are dedicated to taking this program well past the podium and helping secure the future of women’s cycling.


Although we are the USA’s premiere women's track team, our focus is definitely more diverse, spanning road, cross track and mountain. I feel it’s important to expose all of our juniors to every discipline defining a focus can come much later. It is my goal to get two of our juniors to World Cup level in the next two years. I would like to do it sooner but to compete at the elite World Cup level the rider has to be at the racing age of 18. Our riders range from ages 12 – 16 years old. The two I have in mind will be ready as soon as they are 17-years-old, so in 2010 and 2011 expect to see two of our juniors racing Track World Cups…the Road to 2016 Olympics is already being paved.


We currently have four junior girls from the Bay Area, where the team is based. We wanted to be very hands on in our first year in order to discover the needs of these young athletes. We plan on expanding it into a national program in the future. We have also added Coryn Rivera, who at 16-years-old holds 21 national titles, road, track and cross, to the roster. She will be focusing on Junior Worlds as well as some NRC races. On junior gearing, she has wins at this year’s Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, the San Rafael Twilight Criterium, and on Saturday she pulled off her biggest win in the Downtown Bend Criterium, which is part of the Cascade Cycling Classic.

Current National champions, Shelley Olds and Cari Higgins and I will be scouting for new juniors throughout the year. It’s our aim to establish more programs throughout the US over the next few years. Budget is our only limiting factor. I am finding many more companies, even industry sponsors, are keen to assist in the development of future athletes. I am hoping that this is an indicator of a promising future for our program; after all it secures their future consumer base! It is apparent that there is a need for more junior girls programs; this was evident by the number of resumes I received from many aspiring athletes, mostly from the USA but also from Australia, Ecuador and Mexico.

Our program is designed to take care of a rider from junior through elite. There are other junior programs as well as pro women's teams out there, but its in-between where lots of girls fall through the cracks. It’s my hope to bridge that gap. While focusing on juniors with world level potential, it’s my hope to offer a club program to young girls that just enjoy riding and competing at regional levels but will have a support system and resources to tap into. Again, the infrastructure for this is set and the wheels are in motion, it just requires a bigger budget.

Supporting juniors comes with a lot of responsibility, which we take very seriously, there are challenges involved. Of course there is a huge emphasis and encouragement on schoolwork.

The junior are an integral part of the team, their unbridled enthusiasm, is infectious and breathes vibrancy into it.

G: PROMAN won the NCNCA Women's Premiere Series in 2006 & 2007, had exceptional results at the 2008 US Track Nationals…what are the team goals this year…your personal goals?

NC: As far as team goals, a national jersey in every discipline wouldn’t be too farfetched: road, track, mountain and cross. And to see the team grow and succeed both on and off the bike, community is a big part of the plan for PROMAN Racing. I would also like to see continued development of women’s track and road racing in the US. A goal is to add more women’s stages to the Amgen Tour of California, and this could potentially happen. This year’s criterium, while a little early in the NRC calendar, was even more well received than last year. It’s very important for women’s racing to be associated with the rolling Amgen Tour of California media machine and other U.S tours.

Increased media exposure for Women’s racing is necessary to leverage more sponsorship dollars. Last year, PROMAN hosted the first International Style Omnium at Hellyer Velodrome. Because of its success, it will now be contested at the national level at the USAC Track Nationals in October.

G: What was your best moment on a bicycle…the worst?

NC: Best - Thousand Esses (Laguanitas fire break) it was a beautiful summer day or at least I remember it that way. I was riding with a few guys and we were going to poach some illegal single track, this trail was particularly challenging and there was a section near the top of the trail that very few people had conquered. That particular day I felt really confident dropping into the trail, I even said out loud that I was going to clean it today. It actually wasn’t even a trail but a firebreak; it was steep and loose. The guys I was riding with started ahead of me and they were waiting at the most difficult section as we were going to practice it. Well I was relaxed and happy and started in on the descent, I gracefully approached the difficult section with my eyes fixed on the trail ahead, it felt like I just floated over it and continued on, past my friends and just kept going. My friends were astonished, as was I. That was about 13 years ago and they still talk about it. The trail seems to have gotten steeper over the years and the drop off even bigger, but hey that’s the stuff legends are made of and that day, in my mind, I was one!

Worst moment had to be riding in the Mount Shasta area the day began clear and sunny but at about the 4th hour of riding a snow storm blew in and I had a long road descent, I was the most cold I had ever been, I could barely brake and my tears froze! I felt cold for days after.

G: Your most memorable race…your most forgetful?

NC: Let’s start with the worst. Worst race would have to be as a cat 3 on the road – Snelling road race. I was on third wheel going into the final half kilometer, with the field a few meters behind, this was a very rough road aptly named the cheese grater. I had a front tire blow out and went down immediately, after that it was carnage; the noise was something I will never forget, half the peloton rode over me. I ended up with some separated ribs, lots of road rash and tire burns on my neck and back where I had literally been ridden over. There were gals who were far worse off than me, including Tracey Ford who was racing for a rival team and she lost the tip of her finger. I felt really awful. Although it was an accident and no one blamed me, it was a tough time for sure. I personally contacted all involved that I knew were hurt.

Most memorable...I have won several races but somehow the moments that spring to mind are the races I have performed a solid lead out or bridged a team mate to a break or brought back a break. I do get great satisfaction out of team work, but yes its fun to win. One particularly memorable moment was helping Tracey Ford win the Fidelity Burlingame Criterium 2 years ago. Yes, the same Tracey who had lost the tip of her finger in the horrible Snelling crash!

Burlingame was a goal race for her. I had flown back the night before from my managerial duties at Nature Valley GP where Shelley Olds ended up 6th in the GC. I was feeling like crap, it had been a tough week. During the race I felt as though I could not hold my position, with three laps to go I could see that Tracey was not in a good spot, she was 2nd wheel and would find herself at the front much too early. I am not sure what happened in that moment but I knew that I was committed to helping her win, I went from the back of the field to the front, picked up Kristin along the way, leaving Tracey third wheel, I put the hammer down and went as hard as I could for over a lap to ensure no surge from behind, I pulled off with two turns to go leaving Kristin to finish the job for Tracey. Tracey won and was so grateful. It’s amazing where you can find strength when someone is depending on you. We have a lot of gals on the team that will bury themselves for the cause. It wasn’t a national level race but the satisfaction of helping a team mate achieve a goal was what mattered.

G: What did you think about Georgia Gould's petitioning the UCI for "Equal Pay"?

NC: I signed it and I agree that women should get equal pay but I am not sure if contacting the UCI directly on this is the only answer, although of course they have the power to implement the rule. It’s the race promoters who need to understand that women deserve equal pay – it’s a numbers game when you look at it from a business perspective and more men generally enter the races. But yes, absolutely women dedicate just as much of their lives to training and racing and in my opinion actually make more sacrifices so they deserve equal pay. This is different as it is salary but in a UCI track trade team contract, minimum wage (approx $12,000) is to be paid to both male and female racers annually.

G: You've stated that the team is somewhere in between a professional team and an amateur one. What are the unique challenges that you're confronted with "straddling both canoes," so to speak?

NC: The biggest challenge is man power. I want to be able to support a regional team as well as a pro team but it’s become apparent that I cannot do it all and will be focusing on a UCI track trade team and a small road team in 2009. This will allow me time to contribute in other areas of cycling, such as race promotion and to do a better job of managing. I am determined to make a stamp in the world of track racing, there needs to be more support for women also in road racing too but there are already some strong women ambassadors for the road.

G: You have two riders in Shelley Olds and Rachel Lloyd who have proven that they can compete on a world stage, how do you support their efforts while building that team of riders to support them?

NC: Both Shelley and Rachel’s disciplines; track and cyclocross are not so team oriented, it’s the road racing that brings the team together. They both enjoy being part of a team during the road season as it takes the pressure off the individual performance. Shelley’s goal was to podium at a track World Cup this year and to develop as a track racer with the ultimate goal of the Points race at the 2012 Olympics. She achieved the first goal. I have decided to put a strong focus in this area; it is something I love to do.

Rachel had similar goals for this year, which perhaps will be her last at the World Cup level of cyclocross. It was a difficult decision for me, but this season, so Rachel could get the level of support she deserves, she will be racing on another team with a very strong cross identity. With an already stretched out budget with increasing costs of international travel it seemed like the best thing for Rachel. It was a tough choice for both of us as she is very loyal and we are also great friends. She has rejoined us for road races in 2009.

G: Riders and teams come and go, but women’s cycling seems to be getting hit fairly hard with sponsors pulling out for the 2009 season. First, what is appealing about women’s cycling relative to men’s cycling? What do you think should change in women's cycling to get people, and sponsors, more interested and excited about it?

NC: This is a question that quite honestly bewilders me. I see the massive marketing potential in women athletes but it seems to be a sentiment that is not shared. There is a fine line between exploiting women's sexuality and women’s athleticism in cycling...it seems to be defined as one or the other, I think marketing strategists are confused by this. I recently spent time at the Amgen Tour of California and I was reminded of how the cycling industry is run primarily by men who show very little interest in women's cycling. Yes, some companies dedicate a few sponsorship dollars and product to a couple of teams for PR purposes, but in large part most companies are not very interested in the true development of women’s cycling. Men's teams get far more. There are a few industry companies; however that have put thought into women’s products. I have always been incredibly grateful for all the support but this gratitude can easily turn into frustration.

I believe women are far better ambassadors for the sport and the products they represent, for example, whenever the team travels internationally we take an extra few days to visit sponsors or dealers where their products are sold or we visit local schools. Team members will make time for shop rides or rides with local clubs. We are always well received wherever we go. Team members constantly reach out to the public to promote their sport. I can honestly say this is true of most women’s teams.

Women’s racing is exciting, I know that the top women’s teams in the U.S are very conscious of the comparisons to men's racing and race aggressively and hard to keep it exciting.

There are many parallels between the cycling industry I am now immersed in, and the world of horse racing and soccer that I grew up in. The struggle for women is very apparent. I am not one for sugar coating and there is a lot of smoke and mirrors in women's cycling and I certainly don’t want to sound bitter but it’s a sport that is struggling to gain the attention and exposure it deserves. The women racers and team managers make incredible compromises and sacrifices to ensure that their teams are out there on the circuit. Demographics show that women purchase more bikes than men and support the sport financially.

So what's the problem?

I wish I knew the answer. Surely it cannot all be a focus on the Tour de France and other grand tours? I notice in certain popular online cycling magazines that the men and the women can compete in the same NRC event and the men's headline is always first and in bold and the women's underneath in a smaller font!

I do know that the bigger races in the USA should all include a women's event; it helps to be a part of a big media machine like Amgen Tour of California or Tour of Missouri as both of these races are working hard to include a women's event, it my hope to see an extension of the criterium at ATOC. A three day stage race would be a good start.

That being said, we are forging ahead with a new program model that will ensure longevity and continued growth in the sport. We have a team of very bright future stars, I used to love the expression, "sky’s the limit," but I think we can go further.

Photos: Rob Evans (first through third, fifth and seventh); Bob Cullinan, CycleTo (fourth and sixth)

3 comments:

k2 said...

Wonderful interview! with teams like this... Women's Competitive Cycling is on the up swing, props!

velogirl said...

Nicola is working hard to promote women's cycling. I hope all the women out there ca appreciate what she's doing for the sport!

Pulverized Concepts said...

Only in the last couple of years have I paid any attention to women's cycling and have found it to be an amazing sport. It's one of the few where the ladies compete at pretty much the same level as the men. Additionally, the competitors seem to be dedicated, physically fit, attractive people that are also intelligent and well educated. In men's cycling it's often difficult to tell one racer from another but the women are more easily recognized as individuals, a big advantage. Superstars like Kristin Armstrong, Shelley Olds, Brooke Miller and Laura Van Gilder are great ambassadors for the sport. While the print and electronic media have ignored cycling for years, the internet has made it easy to follow. I'm looking forward to watching more ladies race and wish my athletic daughter would move from running to cycling.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Triple Exclusive - An Interview with PROMAN's Nicola Cranmer


At the highest level of the sport, the Directeur Sportif, or sporting director, manages the daily operations of the cycling team. Often times you will see them following their riders in the team car, communicating with them about tactics, race situations, or upcoming terrain, and even provide some mechanical assistance. But at the lower levels of the sport, the responsibilities of the sporting director, or team manager, can run the full gambit of things, from pinning race numbers on jerseys or filling water bottles to sending out newsletters or even being the team masseuse.

Such is the life of Nicola Cranmer, Team Manager for the PROMAN Hit Squad. Since founding the California based women’s cycling team in 2006, Nicola has taken it from regional amateur team to national elite professional team, and now to UCI track team. In doing so, she has helped foster the dreams of the individuals she has worked with as well as precipitated the agenda of all women in cycling.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Nicola to discuss PROMAN’s newly formed Junior Development program, garner her perspective on women’s cycling, and explore her own passions as a cyclist.

Granny’s 30 (G): From your bio, you stated that you were previously an apprentice jockey, did you grow up around horses?

Nicola Cranmer (NC): Yes, you could say that in a sense, the horses were mostly on television; it certainly wasn’t a glamorous poetic introduction to them.

My dad is a huge horse racing fan, so I grew up with him jumping up and down on the edge of the sofa screaming ‘go on my son, come on come on! Betting on horses is legal everywhere in England and its quite common to pop down to the local bookies on a Saturday morning, get some fish and chips and a few pints and either watch racing at home or at the pub. My dad would bet a few pounds on a horse for himself and for me. Mostly I picked horses for their name back then, later on form. I was one of those girls that had every inch of her bedroom wall covered with pictures of horses; most of my friends had pictures of Duran Duran, Starsky and Hutch or the Human League, horses most certainly kept me out of trouble [that came later].

My mum when she was younger used to baby-sit for one of the leading thoroughbred trainers in England – Sir Gordon Richards; she stayed in touch with him and occasionally rode his horses. I remember one day I must have been about seven or eight I watched my mum riding, she was challenged by the man she was riding with to a race, they galloped across a field neck and neck it was very exciting, my Mum won the ‘race’ and it left quite an impression on me. I was then hooked. We were quite poor growing up although I didn’t realize it at the time, so I could never afford to have a horse of my own. I worked in a riding school on the weekends in exchange for free riding lessons; I knew I wanted to make a career out of it. My grandparents lived in a village where there was a training facility, so when I finished my secondary modern school, I moved in with them and worked for one of the leading trainers in the UK.

G: Were you ever into equestrian riding or was it purely racing? If racing, what type, flat or steeplechase?

NC: I competed in gymkhanas at about age 12 and a little cross-country; I went straight into thoroughbred racing at age 16. I was fortunate enough to work in the top yard in the country for a trainer, David Elsworth. In my first year in horse racing, one of the horses I took care of, Melindra won at Royal ascot, I got to meet the queen mum, that’s where the glamorous side of horse racing came in. Melindra was a very sassy two year old filly that was rescued by a police woman from a knackers yard, (slaughter house) turns out she was a really good sprinter, of course it was a rags to riches story that the media loved. It’s sort of the equivalent of an unknown rider winning Flanders.

It was a mixed yard, both flat and steeplechase.

G: How did you get into the sport of cycling? Did you ride prior to your move to California…before your mountain biking days?

NC: The only bike riding I ever did in England was a way of avoiding drinking and driving, although you could still get arrested for being drunk on a bike. The good thing was the local police man rode a bike and I was pretty sure I could out ride him if I needed to

There is a huge pub culture in England and it’s just what you do, if you weren’t paralytic by 11pm (pub closing) it just wasn’t a good night out. It’s weird thinking about it now, but it’s part of life there. I was 17 at the time. I lived in a little village and would ride my bike to the pub – skirt, heels and all. I think my bike had 3 gears but I didn’t really ever use them. It also had a dynamo light which was really tricky when riding home from the pub at night, struggling up the hill with the light getting dimmer and dimmer and finally stopping at the top, the first few feet of the descent it was pitch black until the dynamo got working again! Once in a while my skirt would get sucked into the oily chain, I mostly wore black then so it didn’t bother me much. It would have been far too sensible and not very fashionable to put trousers and trainers (sneakers) on.

I moved to California in 1986, primarily because I needed to take some time off from riding horses due to an injury, I decided to move to California for six months. While I was here I met a guy, Dan Lewbin, then expert National XC Champ, in the local bike shop – Planeaway Bikes, formerly the Koski Brother’s Cove Bike Shop in Tiburon (The Koski Brothers are the less known pioneers of mountain biking), who asked if I would like to go riding one day. I actually purchased a road bike first and would go on long rides by myself. I had no clue as to what I was doing. I would pack a lunch; slices of cheese, ham or salami and weird things like that…sometimes I would be out there all day.

I eventually borrowed a mountain bike and went riding with Dan and his friends who belonged to a sort of renegade outlaw team, DFL - "Dead Fucking Last," I quickly became a ‘member.’ At that time, mountain bike racing was so fun with classic races like Shasta Lemurian, Revenge of the Siskyous, TNT, Rockhopper, etc. These were more point-to-point or big epic loop races, which have now been replaced in favor of more spectator friendly lap races. It was good times, with bands and kegs at the finishes. I was naturally quite good and progressed quickly from sport to expert cross country, then to pro downhill. I raced for WTB and later PROFLEX. WTB now sponsors my team with tires and saddles.

In 1997, my life abruptly changed and so did my bike racing career, which I hesitate to call a career as I wasn’t getting paid. While riding my mountain bike on a Mount Tam fire road, I got a speeding ticket (yes, the state park rangers would literally hide behind trees on fire roads with radar guns), which led to a refusal of entry back into the US due to an over stayed visa. As I was not allowed to be let back into the US for over two years, I moved back to London, and signed with Lennox Lewis’s sports agency as a mountain biker.

My three years back in the UK were pretty incredible though. I met some wonderful people; one of them would eventually be the title sponsor of the team that I was to start 8 years later. It’s quite a long story, but a fascinating one for another day!

I moved back to the States in 2001 and then found myself back on the bike again. Simon Andalib, former Village Peddler employee/bike racer, was responsible for getting me back into racing, and pro mountain biker Chris Greene was a huge support and training partner.

G: What was your motivation behind starting up a cycling team?

NC: My main motivation…racing on a co-ed team I noticed that the men got more support than the women. This was frustrating so I decided to form a women’s team. I quickly found a shop sponsor, Paradigm Cycles, which at the time was owned by Julia Violich. Julia who is also the current 40+ national XC champ and 2nd placed finisher at Masters Worlds, has since sold the shop, and assists as our sponsorship director. It would be impossible running the team without her support.

Our title sponsor came to us very quickly too, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. PROMAN – PROject MANagement is a German engineering company, one of the biggest in the world, they certainly don’t need the advertising. They sponsor the team solely to assist its athletes attaining their goals and dreams; a very unique situation. I am eternally grateful for their support.

G: When you decided to start up the team, what was the hardest thing about starting it up? What turned out to be easier than you thought?

NC: The title sponsor came very easily, that was huge! Starting the team was actually one of those serendipitous moments where everything flowed. Not saying anything was really easy, it’s always been hard work, which is something I am not afraid of. I think the hardest thing is being taken seriously. It seems you have to pay your dues in road cycling for people to respect you. The team is rolling into its 4th year and I think we are gaining respect both on and off the bike. The road scene is pretty tight knit and I would say much of the respect is gained off the bike; integrity and a good sense of humor go a long way. There have been times that have challenged me beyond what I thought was my capacity but I seem to be coming out of it all OK. I have certainly made plenty of mistakes along the way. I don’t pretend to be anything I’m not, I don’t pretend to even know what I am doing – I am just doing it to the best of my ability with what I know. I think it’s a continual learning process and I enjoy pushing myself to become better at what I do. I love the sport of cycling and intend to be here for a long time. It’s a wonderful community of people and I have forged friendships that will last a lifetime.

We are at a point in the team’s growth where we are outgrowing our title sponsor. Although PROMAN will continue to support us I need to generate more sponsor dollars to give the athletes what they deserve. There is just so much that I want to do. We rely on private donations from fans, family and friends, even cyclists from other teams have contributed in the past. Without this kind of support we would not exist. We are definitely a community effort.

G: As Team Manager for PROMAN Hit Squad what are your responsibilities?

NC: Well, this may take a while, I do everything from securing sponsorships, order clothing, take care of logistics, update the blog, write newsletter, fill water bottles, recruiting and even occasionally massages, I was a massage therapist for 11 years – you name it I do it. It wouldn’t be fair to say I am a one-woman show, but I do take care of the meat of the project and I couldn’t do it without the help of the team and friends. I definitely need to delegate more. I think most people have no idea what goes into running a team. I really almost have three teams to run, road, cross and track, which is split into two categories domestic and UCI. The UCI team has been a challenge; one of our riders Shelley Olds has excelled beyond belief and will continue to do so.


I formed the UCI team two years ago to enable Shelley to compete at the highest level of track racing, the World Cup circuit. Last year we were in Sydney, Beijing, LA and Copenhagen. This year Manchester and Melbourne, and she raced Copenhagen with the US National team. It’s been a great experience and an interesting one. I sit at managers’ meetings at these World Cup events and I am the only woman team owner in a room of about 150 managers and coaches, there are other women coaches and managers but very few (by the way, some assume I am the masseuse).

I would like to see more women in leadership roles in cycling especially in track racing. Working with former Saturn director, Giana Roberge has been instrumental in my growth and confidence. Her years of experience brought professionalism and high expectation to the team. I have learned a lot from her and take my responsibilities very seriously. Giana has since stepped away from her directing role with the birth of her first child. One of my biggest responsibilities is to the athletes on the team who not only show ability on the bike but passion loyalty, dedication and a trust in me to assist them with their goals.

Shelley Olds plays an important role as my partner on the team, her dedication and vision is so strong. Shelley has had opportunities to join other teams, and certainly get paid better, but she is determined to create the kind of environment that will allow her to follow her dream of the 2012 Olympics. She is a natural leader and has inspired me to reach for higher goals than I would have imagined. Her fiancé Rob Evans has also been a significant in developing a business strategy for the team for the future. Tim Brennan, team mechanic and sounding board, has also been a dedicated supporter of the team, taking care of everything technical and just basically being a good ear when times get rough. My ringtone on his phone is the pinball machine…I think that tells you a lot!


Julia Violich has also been a rock. She is a dedicated supporter of everything cycling, who I could not do without. We are also very fortunate to be joined by Cari Higgins, 4-time elite track champ. Cari fits well into our program, she has a strong track focus and dedicates much time to mentoring juniors in her hometown of Boulder, CO. Rachel Lloyd is another key member, she keeps things dirty with her Cross and Super D skills and is also a natural with the juniors. All team members contribute in one way or another and without the support of these people there would be no team.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention any and all of our sponsors: PROMAN, Violich Farms, Paradigm Cycles, BMC Bikes, Cane Creek Wheels, SRAM Bike Components, Enduro Bearings, Rudy Project, Voler Clothing, JL Racing Clothing, Skins, Northwave Shoes, WTB Tires & Saddles, Arundel Cage & Bar Tape. Sapim Spokes, Velocity Rims, Dumondetech Lube, Pure Swiss Water, Mez Design, CLIF Bar, Peet's Coffee & Tea, Whole Athlete, Marin Spine & Wellness, Larkspur Hotels, Northpoint Advisors, and Brake Through Media.

G: Some former band/orchestra members who have gone up front [of the band] with the baton have stated that it's hard to jump back in [for whatever reason], have you found that with your managing a team and racing for it?

NC: The first two years it was not a problem for me to manage and race as we were racing at a regional level and the team was smaller. Things changed; however, going into the third year when NRC races came into the picture, and now UCI. It’s very important to have a solid foundation by which to operate a team, and I have come to terms that I will be racing less. I am ok with that. I think racing with the team on occasion has its definite advantages. Although all the girls appreciate what I do as a manager there is nothing quite like sacrificing your personal race for another, it forms a deep bond and a different level of appreciation.

Managing has its own set of challenges to keep me focused. I will jump in a few crits this year to help my teammates but I will focus mostly on track racing. My goals will be at Masters Track Nationals and hopefully Masters Track Worlds. But the girls on the team are so dedicated and focused that they deserve more attention, although they constantly remind me to focus on myself. My priority as far as the team goes is them. If I can provide a situation where all they have to worry about is racing their bike I will be happy. That being said, most of the current team members are very active in the team’s growth off the bike as well. We do have a great support crew.

G: Mountain or Road?

NC: Mountain for the soul, the big drop offs and technical descents, road for the grace, sprints and team efforts

G: Road or Track?

NC: Track for the speed and tangibility and to increase power for the road

G: Crits or Stage Races?

NC: Crit slut all the way! I am starting to appreciate more and more the beauty and challenges of the stage race though.

G: With your title sponsor (PROMAN) in Dusseldorf, Germany has there been any talk/consideration of the team racing in Europe?

NC: Yes we have considered racing the road team in Europe, it’s very expensive to send a team but we certainly hope to, the Spring Classics would be a priority if we had the budget. The UCI track team has raced two World Cup seasons overseas. Since we first chatted, PROMAN riders, Shelley Olds, Rachel Lloyd & Megan Guarnier, Ashley Dymond and Coryn Rivera have raced for the US National team in Europe. Shelley competed in Italy on the track and was on the podium all three days of racing and was on the podium at a World Cup. Megan also competed in races in Italy, Belgium and France, including the Spring Classic – Tour of Flanders. Both Shelley and Megan also recently competed in the Giro d’Italia Femminile. Betina Hold also headed to Europe to race for the Canadian National Team.

We have Jim Miller to thank for these opportunities internationally. These kinds of experiences are invaluable to our athletes and will add to the depth of our young squad. Jim has developed an outstanding women’s program and works very closely with developing domestic teams. He is very modest in regards to his achievements but I am very grateful for his focus on women’s racing.

I also want to mention two other people, Michael Engleman and Kristin Armstrong. Michael Engleman’s contribution to women’s cycling in the form of The U.S Women’s Cycling Development Program (USWCDP) is crucial to the maintenance & growth of the sport. Likewise, Kristin Armstrong's contribution to cycling as a whole and to women's cycling specifically is immeasurable. The newly formed Kristin Armstrong Academy is instrumental in the development of our young riders.

BMC bicycles, based in Switzerland and distributed by QBP, is working with the team for the second year. We had an opportunity to visit the facility last summer, and it is an amazing place. All the guys who work for BMC are a great. We are the first U.S women’s team that BMC has worked with and I am really grateful for their support, and the support of women’s racing.

G: Where do you see PROMAN/ Racing in the future…with a full U23 Development squad…as a UCI team racing both in the US and in Europe?

NC: My vision for the team has become apparent and crystal clear in the past couple of months. Creating our junior program is very exciting.

The junior development compliments our elite program offering accomplished riders an opportunity to pass along experience and wisdom. It is my hope that the team can offer the juniors an environment where they can develop their cycling skills, achieve their personal goals in competition and to encourage and maintain a healthy lifestyle as well as creating future ambassadors for women's cycling. It’s easy to talk the talk but we are truly walking it and have an international vision for our development program.

I feel that an investment in junior riders, girls in particular, is crucial to the growth of women's racing in the US. Recently appointed USAC athletic director, Jim Miller, has assured me that he will continue to focus on women's development. Miller has successfully developed the women's road endurance program that has resulted in world class contenders and Olympic gold.

It was an easy choice for us to include juniors in our program. You don't get the instant podium gratification that you would if I used the budget to hire elite riders, but PROMAN team members are in this for the long haul and we hope to contribute more to women's cycling than a win on any given weekend. Don't get me wrong, its fun to win and see the athletes achieve their performance goals but we are dedicated to taking this program well past the podium and helping secure the future of women’s cycling.


Although we are the USA’s premiere women's track team, our focus is definitely more diverse, spanning road, cross track and mountain. I feel it’s important to expose all of our juniors to every discipline defining a focus can come much later. It is my goal to get two of our juniors to World Cup level in the next two years. I would like to do it sooner but to compete at the elite World Cup level the rider has to be at the racing age of 18. Our riders range from ages 12 – 16 years old. The two I have in mind will be ready as soon as they are 17-years-old, so in 2010 and 2011 expect to see two of our juniors racing Track World Cups…the Road to 2016 Olympics is already being paved.


We currently have four junior girls from the Bay Area, where the team is based. We wanted to be very hands on in our first year in order to discover the needs of these young athletes. We plan on expanding it into a national program in the future. We have also added Coryn Rivera, who at 16-years-old holds 21 national titles, road, track and cross, to the roster. She will be focusing on Junior Worlds as well as some NRC races. On junior gearing, she has wins at this year’s Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, the San Rafael Twilight Criterium, and on Saturday she pulled off her biggest win in the Downtown Bend Criterium, which is part of the Cascade Cycling Classic.

Current National champions, Shelley Olds and Cari Higgins and I will be scouting for new juniors throughout the year. It’s our aim to establish more programs throughout the US over the next few years. Budget is our only limiting factor. I am finding many more companies, even industry sponsors, are keen to assist in the development of future athletes. I am hoping that this is an indicator of a promising future for our program; after all it secures their future consumer base! It is apparent that there is a need for more junior girls programs; this was evident by the number of resumes I received from many aspiring athletes, mostly from the USA but also from Australia, Ecuador and Mexico.

Our program is designed to take care of a rider from junior through elite. There are other junior programs as well as pro women's teams out there, but its in-between where lots of girls fall through the cracks. It’s my hope to bridge that gap. While focusing on juniors with world level potential, it’s my hope to offer a club program to young girls that just enjoy riding and competing at regional levels but will have a support system and resources to tap into. Again, the infrastructure for this is set and the wheels are in motion, it just requires a bigger budget.

Supporting juniors comes with a lot of responsibility, which we take very seriously, there are challenges involved. Of course there is a huge emphasis and encouragement on schoolwork.

The junior are an integral part of the team, their unbridled enthusiasm, is infectious and breathes vibrancy into it.

G: PROMAN won the NCNCA Women's Premiere Series in 2006 & 2007, had exceptional results at the 2008 US Track Nationals…what are the team goals this year…your personal goals?

NC: As far as team goals, a national jersey in every discipline wouldn’t be too farfetched: road, track, mountain and cross. And to see the team grow and succeed both on and off the bike, community is a big part of the plan for PROMAN Racing. I would also like to see continued development of women’s track and road racing in the US. A goal is to add more women’s stages to the Amgen Tour of California, and this could potentially happen. This year’s criterium, while a little early in the NRC calendar, was even more well received than last year. It’s very important for women’s racing to be associated with the rolling Amgen Tour of California media machine and other U.S tours.

Increased media exposure for Women’s racing is necessary to leverage more sponsorship dollars. Last year, PROMAN hosted the first International Style Omnium at Hellyer Velodrome. Because of its success, it will now be contested at the national level at the USAC Track Nationals in October.

G: What was your best moment on a bicycle…the worst?

NC: Best - Thousand Esses (Laguanitas fire break) it was a beautiful summer day or at least I remember it that way. I was riding with a few guys and we were going to poach some illegal single track, this trail was particularly challenging and there was a section near the top of the trail that very few people had conquered. That particular day I felt really confident dropping into the trail, I even said out loud that I was going to clean it today. It actually wasn’t even a trail but a firebreak; it was steep and loose. The guys I was riding with started ahead of me and they were waiting at the most difficult section as we were going to practice it. Well I was relaxed and happy and started in on the descent, I gracefully approached the difficult section with my eyes fixed on the trail ahead, it felt like I just floated over it and continued on, past my friends and just kept going. My friends were astonished, as was I. That was about 13 years ago and they still talk about it. The trail seems to have gotten steeper over the years and the drop off even bigger, but hey that’s the stuff legends are made of and that day, in my mind, I was one!

Worst moment had to be riding in the Mount Shasta area the day began clear and sunny but at about the 4th hour of riding a snow storm blew in and I had a long road descent, I was the most cold I had ever been, I could barely brake and my tears froze! I felt cold for days after.

G: Your most memorable race…your most forgetful?

NC: Let’s start with the worst. Worst race would have to be as a cat 3 on the road – Snelling road race. I was on third wheel going into the final half kilometer, with the field a few meters behind, this was a very rough road aptly named the cheese grater. I had a front tire blow out and went down immediately, after that it was carnage; the noise was something I will never forget, half the peloton rode over me. I ended up with some separated ribs, lots of road rash and tire burns on my neck and back where I had literally been ridden over. There were gals who were far worse off than me, including Tracey Ford who was racing for a rival team and she lost the tip of her finger. I felt really awful. Although it was an accident and no one blamed me, it was a tough time for sure. I personally contacted all involved that I knew were hurt.

Most memorable...I have won several races but somehow the moments that spring to mind are the races I have performed a solid lead out or bridged a team mate to a break or brought back a break. I do get great satisfaction out of team work, but yes its fun to win. One particularly memorable moment was helping Tracey Ford win the Fidelity Burlingame Criterium 2 years ago. Yes, the same Tracey who had lost the tip of her finger in the horrible Snelling crash!

Burlingame was a goal race for her. I had flown back the night before from my managerial duties at Nature Valley GP where Shelley Olds ended up 6th in the GC. I was feeling like crap, it had been a tough week. During the race I felt as though I could not hold my position, with three laps to go I could see that Tracey was not in a good spot, she was 2nd wheel and would find herself at the front much too early. I am not sure what happened in that moment but I knew that I was committed to helping her win, I went from the back of the field to the front, picked up Kristin along the way, leaving Tracey third wheel, I put the hammer down and went as hard as I could for over a lap to ensure no surge from behind, I pulled off with two turns to go leaving Kristin to finish the job for Tracey. Tracey won and was so grateful. It’s amazing where you can find strength when someone is depending on you. We have a lot of gals on the team that will bury themselves for the cause. It wasn’t a national level race but the satisfaction of helping a team mate achieve a goal was what mattered.

G: What did you think about Georgia Gould's petitioning the UCI for "Equal Pay"?

NC: I signed it and I agree that women should get equal pay but I am not sure if contacting the UCI directly on this is the only answer, although of course they have the power to implement the rule. It’s the race promoters who need to understand that women deserve equal pay – it’s a numbers game when you look at it from a business perspective and more men generally enter the races. But yes, absolutely women dedicate just as much of their lives to training and racing and in my opinion actually make more sacrifices so they deserve equal pay. This is different as it is salary but in a UCI track trade team contract, minimum wage (approx $12,000) is to be paid to both male and female racers annually.

G: You've stated that the team is somewhere in between a professional team and an amateur one. What are the unique challenges that you're confronted with "straddling both canoes," so to speak?

NC: The biggest challenge is man power. I want to be able to support a regional team as well as a pro team but it’s become apparent that I cannot do it all and will be focusing on a UCI track trade team and a small road team in 2009. This will allow me time to contribute in other areas of cycling, such as race promotion and to do a better job of managing. I am determined to make a stamp in the world of track racing, there needs to be more support for women also in road racing too but there are already some strong women ambassadors for the road.

G: You have two riders in Shelley Olds and Rachel Lloyd who have proven that they can compete on a world stage, how do you support their efforts while building that team of riders to support them?

NC: Both Shelley and Rachel’s disciplines; track and cyclocross are not so team oriented, it’s the road racing that brings the team together. They both enjoy being part of a team during the road season as it takes the pressure off the individual performance. Shelley’s goal was to podium at a track World Cup this year and to develop as a track racer with the ultimate goal of the Points race at the 2012 Olympics. She achieved the first goal. I have decided to put a strong focus in this area; it is something I love to do.

Rachel had similar goals for this year, which perhaps will be her last at the World Cup level of cyclocross. It was a difficult decision for me, but this season, so Rachel could get the level of support she deserves, she will be racing on another team with a very strong cross identity. With an already stretched out budget with increasing costs of international travel it seemed like the best thing for Rachel. It was a tough choice for both of us as she is very loyal and we are also great friends. She has rejoined us for road races in 2009.

G: Riders and teams come and go, but women’s cycling seems to be getting hit fairly hard with sponsors pulling out for the 2009 season. First, what is appealing about women’s cycling relative to men’s cycling? What do you think should change in women's cycling to get people, and sponsors, more interested and excited about it?

NC: This is a question that quite honestly bewilders me. I see the massive marketing potential in women athletes but it seems to be a sentiment that is not shared. There is a fine line between exploiting women's sexuality and women’s athleticism in cycling...it seems to be defined as one or the other, I think marketing strategists are confused by this. I recently spent time at the Amgen Tour of California and I was reminded of how the cycling industry is run primarily by men who show very little interest in women's cycling. Yes, some companies dedicate a few sponsorship dollars and product to a couple of teams for PR purposes, but in large part most companies are not very interested in the true development of women’s cycling. Men's teams get far more. There are a few industry companies; however that have put thought into women’s products. I have always been incredibly grateful for all the support but this gratitude can easily turn into frustration.

I believe women are far better ambassadors for the sport and the products they represent, for example, whenever the team travels internationally we take an extra few days to visit sponsors or dealers where their products are sold or we visit local schools. Team members will make time for shop rides or rides with local clubs. We are always well received wherever we go. Team members constantly reach out to the public to promote their sport. I can honestly say this is true of most women’s teams.

Women’s racing is exciting, I know that the top women’s teams in the U.S are very conscious of the comparisons to men's racing and race aggressively and hard to keep it exciting.

There are many parallels between the cycling industry I am now immersed in, and the world of horse racing and soccer that I grew up in. The struggle for women is very apparent. I am not one for sugar coating and there is a lot of smoke and mirrors in women's cycling and I certainly don’t want to sound bitter but it’s a sport that is struggling to gain the attention and exposure it deserves. The women racers and team managers make incredible compromises and sacrifices to ensure that their teams are out there on the circuit. Demographics show that women purchase more bikes than men and support the sport financially.

So what's the problem?

I wish I knew the answer. Surely it cannot all be a focus on the Tour de France and other grand tours? I notice in certain popular online cycling magazines that the men and the women can compete in the same NRC event and the men's headline is always first and in bold and the women's underneath in a smaller font!

I do know that the bigger races in the USA should all include a women's event; it helps to be a part of a big media machine like Amgen Tour of California or Tour of Missouri as both of these races are working hard to include a women's event, it my hope to see an extension of the criterium at ATOC. A three day stage race would be a good start.

That being said, we are forging ahead with a new program model that will ensure longevity and continued growth in the sport. We have a team of very bright future stars, I used to love the expression, "sky’s the limit," but I think we can go further.

Photos: Rob Evans (first through third, fifth and seventh); Bob Cullinan, CycleTo (fourth and sixth)

3 comments:

k2 said...

Wonderful interview! with teams like this... Women's Competitive Cycling is on the up swing, props!

velogirl said...

Nicola is working hard to promote women's cycling. I hope all the women out there ca appreciate what she's doing for the sport!

Pulverized Concepts said...

Only in the last couple of years have I paid any attention to women's cycling and have found it to be an amazing sport. It's one of the few where the ladies compete at pretty much the same level as the men. Additionally, the competitors seem to be dedicated, physically fit, attractive people that are also intelligent and well educated. In men's cycling it's often difficult to tell one racer from another but the women are more easily recognized as individuals, a big advantage. Superstars like Kristin Armstrong, Shelley Olds, Brooke Miller and Laura Van Gilder are great ambassadors for the sport. While the print and electronic media have ignored cycling for years, the internet has made it easy to follow. I'm looking forward to watching more ladies race and wish my athletic daughter would move from running to cycling.