SAINT MARTORY, France: As the women’s Tour de France departs from Paris on Sunday, an American second-tier team is quietly settling in at a luxurious location in southwestern France, looking to kick-start a revival in US women’s cycling.
Cynisca Cycling, named after the Spartan princess who became the first woman to win an Olympic title in 396BC in chariot racing, will start competing in 2023 after recruiting a dozen riders, including eight Americans.
Backed by a wealthy entrepreneur from Indiana, Jeff Jones, the team will be based at the Chateau de Saint Martory, at the foot of the French Pyrenees with the aim of developing young talent after US women’s cycling was hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis .
“For American bike racers being in France is the actualization of a dream,” said Brendan Quirk, CEO of USA Cycling.
“This is the epicenter of global cycling. Everything that makes it such a beautiful sport. All of the romance around the sport. This country is what American bike racers dream about.
“And so to have the opportunity for this team to come together for our young women is an incredible opportunity to kickstart our development program.”
The team will be managed by Chris Gutowsky, with twice Olympic silver medalist and six-times world champion Marion Cliget, an American-born French rider, as their main sports director.
“COVID was so devastating that our developmental programming … pretty much went dead in the water,” Quirk added.
“So what’s happened is our nation’s ranking for women with the UCI, we were historically a top three nation. We’re at an all-time low.”
After two years without races and no opportunities to travel for the US-based riders, France will provide the young women with the opportunity to race and study – mostly online.
“Some of the riders are 18, 19, they’re in university. And so they will do programs that are maybe more based in the US particular the early in the year,” Gutowsky told Reuters.
“And then they’ll come to Europe for major blocks in the middle of the season. And some riders who are a little bit older out of university, they will come here and live.”
While paying the women’s Continental team female riders is not mandatory under UCI regulations, Cynisca Cycling has set a minimum yearly wage of $ 20,000 for their recruits – the minimum for the elite being 30,000 euros a year in 2023.
“Most women only get a one-year contract and they have to go. We want to do two-year contracts so they have security for the next year,” said Jones.
It will represent a big part of the team’s budget, which is estimated at $ 500,000 to 1,000,000 a year.
Cynisca Cycling does not yet have a title sponsor, but Jones said the money was there for the first two years as he tries to find a main sponsor.
Trek-Segafredo is a registered American team riding in the World Tour (top tier), but their 14-rider roster only boasts two Americans.
“One big difference with our team is that we are founded as a women’s team. There is no men’s team. We’re looking to create a platform for women exclusively,” Gutowsky said.