Specialized owner Kristy Scrymgeour is driven to eliminate the financial uncertainty that forced her out of the sport
FARO, Portugal (VN) — When the world-beating HTC-Highroad program folded in 2011, the team’s press officer, Kristy Scrymgeour, stepped in to keep the women’s team on the road.
Her efforts resulted in the birth of the Specialized-lululemon women’s team, which finished 2012 with a stack of race victories. In person, Scrymgeour has a low-key, down-to-earth demeanor. Quietly efficient in pursuit of her ambitions, Scrymgeour does not even have a Twitter account. All the same, she is passionate about women’s cycling and determined to raise the profile of the sport.
Scrymgeour’s commitment to women’s cycling is inspired in part by her own experiences as a professional. She raced at the elite level for five years, including two seasons on the North American circuit with Saturn. At the time, Saturn had one of the bigger budgets in women’s cycling, but a career as a bike racer still meant a financially precarious existence.
“I was lucky that I was racing with one of the best teams. Saturn was amazing,” she said. “At the time, there were some great races in the U.S. that had some prize money, but it still wasn’t much. You could just get by.”
Financial considerations figured significantly in Scrymgeour’s decision to end her career in 2002 at the age of 29.
“Sometimes in hindsight, I think I stopped too early. I didn’t race that long, but it’s fine. It is what it is,” she said.
She loved the sport, but the financial insecurity weighed on her. Scrymgeour was also living half-a-world away from her native Australia in order to race.
“You’re living on the other side of the world,” she said. “You get to the point, where you’re like, ‘I really need a job.’ Finally, I just decided.”
With her career at an end, Scrymgeour expected to return to Australia and teach science. A call from close friend Gerry Knapp, at the time the owner of cyclingnews.com, changed Scrymgeour’s plans. She remained in the United States to run the North American side of the website, which was expanding beyond its Australian roots. In that role, Scrymgeour met valuable connections, many of which are now involved in supporting the Specialized-lululemon team.
Cycling is a tight-knit community and Scrymgeour proved adept at building lasting relationships. Scrymgeour’s experience selling advertising and directing editorial projects at cyclingnews.com created an essential foundation for her current role as a team owner.
“It’s not just true of cycling, it’s true of all walks of life. It’s about building relationships,” she said. “That was very valuable, because I wouldn’t call myself a very good salesperson.”
Scrymgeour’s trajectory changed again when Bob Stapleton took over the troubled T-Mobile team in 2007. Stapleton needed a manager for the Highroad women’s team and hired Scrymgeour. Halfway through her first season at Highroad, Scrymgeour’s role shifted after Stapleton convinced her to take on the marketing/communications role for the men’s and women’s teams.
“He kind of dragged me away from just working with the women’s team,” she said.
Despite her expanded responsibilities, Scrymgeour continued to work closely with the women during the Highroad years.
“It was a passion of mine to make sure the women’s team was well looked after,” she said. “We were lucky, because Bob was very supportive of that, and the men’s staff was really supportive.”
The HTC-Highroad women finished the 2011 season — its last — as the top-ranked team in the world.
Despite its successes on the road, the Highroad folded due to lack of sponsorship at the end of 2011. Determined to continue racing together, the women turned to Scrymgeour for help. The London Olympics added urgency to the project, because no one wanted to be without a team in the all-important Olympic year. With the clock ticking, Scrymgeour called on her contacts throughout the sport. Specialized signed on immediately, and helped bring in lululemon as co-sponsor. Faster than she expected, Scrymgeour had sufficient sponsorship to create a team.
During its first season, the Specialized team won 65 races, including a career-first World Cup victory for American Evelyn Stevens at Flèche Wallonne, and a world championship in the team time trial. The initial sponsorship agreements ran only one year, but the team’s success meant Scrymgeour had few doubts that it would continue. There was no last minute scramble for sponsorship for the 2013 season.
Scrymgeour now owns one of the most successful women’s teams in the sport, but she remains characteristically modest about her accomplishments.
“It’s not like we’ve done anything special,” she said. Those 65 victories might argue otherwise, but Scrymgeour has her sights set on a bigger target. “We’ve got a team and it’s great and we’ve got great women and a great staff and great partners, but the big goal is to grow women’s cycling.”
As a rider, Scrymgeour faced financial obstacles to continuing her career and that experience motivates her to ensure that her team is well supported. Many riders in women’s cycling require outside jobs to support their athletic careers. Scrymgeour wants to see more riders able to devote their full energies to racing.
“What we need to do now is create sustainability in women’s cycling,” she said. “We try to pay our riders really well, but a lot of riders still need to put in hours in other jobs. It’s hard.”
The common thread running through Scrymgeour’s career in the sport is her passion for women’s racing. She views the success of her Specialized team as a building block in her bigger project of raising the profile of the sport. It would be easy for her to sit back and celebrate her team’s many victories, but Scrymgeour is not content to wait for someone else to do the work of building the sport. It’s a job she is determined to do.
“The big goal is to grow women’s cycling,” she said. “That’s what we need to do. I keep reminding myself that. It’s hard; it’s not an easy thing. Sometimes you wake up and think, ‘are we going to get anywhere with this?’ But there’s a lot of positive energy around it, and that’s definitely what we have to focus on.”