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How Canyon-SRAM wants to change cycling with its new development squad

U.S rider Alexis Ryan says cycling's white western ‘bubble’ needs to be burst so the sport can ‘join the real world.’

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We all have to start somewhere.

In cycling, future stars can come from many areas but development teams are the lifeblood of the sport. Without these teams, the barrier to become a professional cyclist – which is already pretty high – is unscalable for many.

Yet, there are so few devo teams in women’s racing.

Canyon-SRAM wants to change that with their recently announced — and yet to be named — development squad. Applications to the eight-rider team will open soon with a view to getting it on the road in 2022.

Also read: Canyon-SRAM to launch development team as part of diversity and inclusion program

“The main thing is to make professional women’s cycling accessible for women that currently don’t have access to cycling,” Canyon-SRAM’s diversity and inclusion expert Christine Kalkschmid told VeloNews. “What we want to prove is that if you provide a professional environment, people can succeed, including riders from countries that are currently not really represented in the women’s peloton.”

The squad will be the first of its kind among the top tier of women’s cycling, where many teams are tied to a larger men’s program. Of the nine  WorldTeams, five have an equivalent men’s team.

Many of those men’s teams run a development program, giving young male riders an opportunity to continue their development outside of the pressure cooker of top-level racing. Meanwhile, many female riders have to make the jump from juniors to elites in one go as there is no under-23 category for them.

“We believe women are powerful enough to have their own development team, and not only become an extension of the men’s team,” team manager Ronny Lauke told VeloNews. “In my opinion, it implies that women need help, which I don’t like. I’ve met so many strong and powerful women in my time in the sport since 2008, and so it was a logical as a next step to open new doors, that new athletes can walk through.”

A former professional, Lauke knows the challenges that young riders face in achieving their dream of making it to the highest level. Lauke began working with women’s teams for over a decade, At first with HTC Highroad, which later became Specialized-Lululemon, and he then started Canyon-SRAM in 2016 following the demise of the American squad.

During his time, he’s seen plenty of budding professionals burned out by the tough jump between junior and elite racing.

“You often see riders being dropped within the first five kilometers of a bike race. I cannot imagine this is motivating for this rider. There comes a point pretty quick where you’re not motivated anymore,” he said. “The aim is to identify riders who fit into this program, who have some talent, who want to make the next step, and give some guidance, supervision, and education on what pro cycling means.”

The squad will be based in Europe with riders staying in accommodation provided by the team. Riders will be able to apply for a spot on the eight-woman roster, with detailed criteria to be published in the coming weeks.

Successful applicants will get a full scholarship – a rarity on the women’s side of the sport where a growing number of riders receive no salary at all – coaching, mentorship, and a planned out race program. There will also be opportunities to take on stagiaire roles at the elite team with the aim of promoting at least one rider per year to the WorldTour.

Diversity and inclusion at the heart

While the new team is about giving young riders a stepping stone in cycling, it will also seek to give greater opportunities for regions that are underrepresented in the peloton. Riders from more traditional cycling countries will not be excluded but recruitment will be focused on nations within Asia, Africa, and South America.

American rider, Alexis Ryan believes that cycling needs to get out of its push for diversity if it is ever going to be equal.

“Equality is not about me having an opportunity, me having a voice, and me feeling equal to the men in the sport. It’s about all the women on this planet having the opportunity to race at the highest level and giving them a platform to get there,” Ryan told VeloNews.

“When that happens, we can truly call cycling a global sport because right now it’s not. The majority of the peloton is white, European, American, Canadian, or Australian and that’s about it. It’s not representative of the world that we live in, which is very diverse. A lot of people talk about the cycling bubble, and I think it’s about time that the bubble was burst, and we can become a part of the real world.”

Also read: Rapha slams Chloé Dygert over social media conduct: ‘An apology she issued was not sufficient’

The team is part of Canyon-SRAM’s diversity and inclusion program, which began in January after a controversy surrounding new signing Chloé Dygert and her use of social media. Dygert was heavily criticized after screengrabs of her Twitter account showed she had liked tweets featuring racist and transphobic comments.

Kalkschmid was brought on to lead the diversity and inclusion program and has since been working with the riders, including Dygert.

“I personally really enjoyed working with the team is that from with every discussion that we had around the topic,” Kalkschmid said. “You could really tell how the team members started reflecting on things and questioning things they thought were just normal.

“The discussions have got livelier and more open and that also showed me that this is a thought process that takes some time. All the team members are really willing to dive into this and to learn and grow.”

Not for show

After the controversy around Dygert, it could be assumed that the new team is for show and a way of deflecting the negative attention. Kalkschmid says that this is not the case and she hopes the project can have a real positive impact on the sport.

“I’m convinced we’re doing the right thing, and this is what we’re focusing on. We’re focusing now on what we’re doing right now, our plans for the future going forward,” she said.

“It’s not that everyone else has nothing to do. So, we’re putting in quite a lot of effort and we want the team to succeed. In the end, success speaks for itself, and if we’re successful we can help riders to step up in World Tour teams. Of course, ideally to Canyon-SRAM racing, but not limited to because our goal is to have an impact on the sport of cycling, not only on Canyon-SRAM racing.”

Lauke agrees that this new venture for the team, which will be financially supported by sponsor Canyon, is not for show. He that he has had his eyes opened to the discrimination and prejudice that people of color regularly have to face.

“We all take it very seriously because it’s about time that we do it. We don’t want to recruit athletes and bring them here and all of a sudden they recognize this just as the shell and inside there’s nothing,” Lauke said.

“When we met Christine, early on, she also explained to me from her perspective, about what she has to go through on a daily basis, which I was personally not aware of what she has to sometimes to deal with 2021. So, there’s a high demand for this and to educate people. Everybody, no matter of background, can race bikes and deserves an opportunity. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings and this is what is important.”