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Tour de France Femmes

Tour de France Femmes: Le Col-Wahoo is ‘living a dream right now’

Once on the verge of giving up, the scrappy squad now has a Tour de France Femmes white jersey to its name.

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REIMS, France (VN) — It’s not lost on Tom Varney that the Le Col-Wahoo team van is often dwarfed by big buses in the team paddock at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

On Tuesday, it was parked between Movistar and Trek-Segafredo — two powerhouse Women’s WorldTeams with “probably 2 million more than us,” he told VeloNews at the start of stage 3.

Yet what the UK-registered squad may lack in budget, they more than make up for in fight.

Related: Team Drops hopes a Virtual Tour de France win leads to sponsorship and WorldTeam status

With 20-year-old Maike van der Duin in command of the best young rider’s jersey at the inaugural race, as well as title sponsors Le Col and Wahoo firmly on board this year, the Le Col-Wahoo of today is an example of what happens when the people in charge never give up.

“We’re living a dream right now,” Varney said.

Founded by Varney’s father Bob in 2015, Le Col-Wahoo has gone by various names in its eight years, most often including the ‘Drops’ brand.

Another constant in the squad’s history? Scrappiness and resilience.

The team has long struggled with getting the funds to give riders the high quality experience that the Varneys wanted to. Even funding a UCI continental team, which was the initial goal in the early years, was difficult, and Tom Varney resorted to crowdfunding to help keep the team afloat as early as 2018, when its then title sponsor Trek pulled out to start its own women’s team.

Then, the pandemic hit the small squad particularly hard; in 2020, the Varneys again found themselves without enough resources to fund the team.

Tom Varney said they almost gave up.

“We were one week away from doing that,” he said. We were starting to think we were becoming more of the problem than the solution in what we were doing, by not keeping the same level that we were pushing …whether that be infrastructure, support, all of that.”

In December 2020, the team’s clothing supplier Le Col stepped up to co-title sponsor the squad for the 2021 season after agreeing to double their investment. They were joined by American mattress and pillow manufacturer Tempur.

Read also: From Millie Robinson to Lizzie Holden: Connecting the history of Tour de France Femmes to its present

“When you’re in that position you need a bit of luck, you need a bit of … one conversation can change your whole world and that did,” Varney said. “We had three in the space of a week. Then you can start thinking longer term. You can give 2-3 year long contracts.

“It’s not that we look at our team ranking all the time, but the team ranking is a correlation to the team budget and when one’s up, they’re both up.”

Varney cited both van der Duin’s white jersey and Alice Towers’ British National Championship title as evidence of the rising tide.

He also said that simply being at the Tour de France Femmes will help elevate the status of the team.

With a budget well under the Women’s WorldTour average of €2.4 million, “we’re punching well above our weight,” Varney said. “But, you also look at all the teams that have non-endemic brands outside of the sport in their name and that’s the key for us. Having this race here is gonna be a game changer, it opens doors.

“We need to catch the momentum. We want more. We’re not satisfied. We want to keep going with the way we’re going.”