The close of the 2022 season will mark the end of an era for one of the most successful development teams in women’s cycling.
Valcar-Travel & Service is still planning to race in 2023, but it will be starting from scratch as this winter has seen more than half its team fly the coop and sign contracts elsewhere.
UAE Team ADQ has taken on more riders from Valcar-Travel & Service than any other team with five of its 15 riders from the 2022 roster heading there, as well as the sport director Davide Arzeni. Other riders are heading to Trek-Segafredo, Israel-Premier Tech Roland, and Ceratizit-WNT.
Among the riders stepping up for next year are its top riders Silvia Persico, Chiara Consonni, Ilaria Sanguineti, and Canadian Oliva Baril. They follow in the footsteps of some other big names that had cut their teeth at the Italian squad, including Marta Cavalli, Elisa Balsamo, Teniel Campbell, and Vittoria Guazzini.
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It is a roll call of riders that most teams would dream of having, and few — in the men’s and women’s pelotons — can match. For soon-to-be departing rider Persico the closeness of the team has been one of the key aspects in creating the environment for so many to flourish.
“Before being teammates we are friends and I think that, for me, Valcar is like my second family because I grew up there,” Persico told VeloNews. “For me, the secret there was that before being teammates we were friends. When we must work for the other person, you do it because you trust the other girls. When they say you must work for Chiara, I am really happy to work for her because I trust her and I know that if I work she can do good.
“In general, I think also that sport directors helped to build one team. We were not one big team like Jumbo or Trek, but we really worked together and we were united to win. That’s important for us and I think that this is the secret of Valcar.”
Valcar-Travel & Service is a team that has found a niche for itself within the Italian cycling set up at a time when development teams within women’s cycling are still a relative novelty. While a growing number of teams have been aiming to step up into the Women’s WorldTour, it has stuck to its guns.
The team was created in 2017 with a roster of riders that was all U23, with many only just out of the junior ranks. Persico, Balsamo, Cavalli, and Consonni were all part of that first roster and grew alongside the team.
New young riders have been picked up and mentored along the way with the likes of Sanguineti and Guazzini joining later on. After starting up as an entirely Italian team, it began taking on foreign riders in 2020, with Campbell among its first non-Italian signings. The 2022 season saw Valcar field its most international roster to date with a third of the team coming from outside of Italy.
While many young riders take the massive leap from the junior ranks right into top teams, Valcar has acted as a bridge for many riders to learn the ropes before diving into the deep end.
“It’s not easy to create a development team because now I think the youngest girls prefer to pass from junior to a WorldTour team but for me, for my career, it was really important to pass before in a development team,” Persico said. “When you are young you don’t know how the race can go and if you go in one WorldTour team you must always work for the other girls. It’s like you miss that one step and, for me, it’s really important to do this step before allowing someone to turn professional.”
As the riders at Valcar have grown, so has the team, and the 2022 season saw it competing alongside many of the top WorldTour squads. The team finished the year in eighth place in the world rankings, beating the likes of BikeExchange-Jayco and Jumbo-Visma.
With so many riders graduating out of the team ahead of the 2023 season, it’s unlikely to be able to match that performance next year. While there is still a solid base of riders still set to ride with the team for next season, it is going to take time for it to get back to what it achieved this year.
However, it’s not just about the riders — the environment that the team created will play an important role.
“Valcar was really one of the top teams in the world — if you see the ranking and everything — but it took a few years to get there,” Guazzini told VeloNews. “I think they can start again and build a new generation of riders and eventually, maybe in a few years, they will reach the same level. We started with Valcar, and we grew with the team and now I think they have to do the same with the new generation of Italian riders.
“I think it depends on the people who are in the team, like the team manager and sport director, which was also our coach. They cared about the person and we had a really good relationship with the riders and the staff and everyone, so it was really like a family. This is the secret of the team.”