Podium Ambition Pro Cycling powered by Club La Santa Women’s Team will cease to race as a UCI women’s professional team at the end of 2016. Team manager’s Dame Sarah Storey and Barney Storey have sighted a lack of financial support as the key reason.
They say this struggle has been exacerbated by changes in UCI requirements for race organisers affecting budgets available for rider accommodation and the fall of the pound.
They will be able to race outside of the UCI Women’s World Tour and to accept Wild Card entries to those prestigious races – but will need sponsorship to be able to do so.
Podium Ambition of 2016
Last year the team made their move to become a UCI professional team for 2016. Doing so requires registration costs and the Storey family have had to foot the bill in many cases. The timing for the registration deadline meant they had to plunge in – feet first – before negotiations with potential sponsors could be completed, thus underwriting costs themselves.
As well as turning pro in 2016, Podium Ambition also developed a ‘Boot Out Breast Cancer’ club which worked as a pathway for aspiring riders. A selection of scholarship riders headed up the club, and they were given bikes and support – but anyone could join and ride or race as part of the community. This was a unique way of operating a pro cycling team and one TWC was keen to support and cover in depth.
Over 2016, the pro team supported the preparations of Dame Sarah Storey to 3 gold medals at the Rio Paralympics and secured 26 victories on home soil alongside impressive results at UCI level including 8 visits to the podium. They also discovered and developed new talent at international level in EJay Harris and supported Sharon Laws in her final year at UCI level, whilst seeing Claire Rose take on her first year in a few as a full-time rider. They have held jerseys at the Tour of California, Bira Stage race and Tour of Brittany.
Dame Sarah explained: “We were happy to be the financial difference that allowed the team to step up to UCI level whilst we proved it was possible to have a UK based UCI team that allowed riders to live at home and still pursue a career on the road. Our equipment sponsors are incredibly generous in their support, and their cash input alongside the goods they provide is obviously at the level we would hope to achieve, but it takes more than that to fully fund a season long programme and ultimately this year we were only active for about half of it due to the low budget ceiling and Rio 2016."
She added: “12 months ago we were faced with the option of taking a risk to give a group of riders who had dominated UK racing for 2 years, the opportunity to race consistently at UCI and Women’s World Tour level or to play it safe and wait until the financials were secured for more than 1 year. Of course in an ideal world the sustainability would come first, but if you don’t take any risks you are likely to miss a lot of opportunities. Given our time again, I would do everything the same."
Rising costs of running a team and competition for sponsors
Sports Director Barney Storey explained that rising costs in running a team coupled with competition for sponsorship in women’s sport are responsible for the demise of the squads UCI status. He said: “We know we can run a bigger and even more successful team, but the rising costs to teams and the competition for sponsorship within women’s sport, makes it incredibly tough as a small team to grow."
He added: “Support from organisers [of races] for teams attending their races has been reduced as they are required to do more to meet UCI criteria for event promotion, so obviously they can’t pay as much in travel and accommodation expenses and still have a budget for TV broadcast and live streaming. It is a catch 22 because I think there are a number of smaller teams struggling with the bigger financial demands."
Brexit and the fall of the pound in value has also played a role for a team racing largely in Europe: “The value of the Pound has fallen too, so travelling with the team has increased, which is another challenge for a team like ours trying to create a viable UK based alternative for riders who don’t want to have to live abroad."
The differences in budgets available to UCI Women's World Tour teams are huge - and so are the gaps in experience and performance. This discrepancies were highlighted by Stefan Wyman when he told us that the UCI Women's World Tour had come a year or so too early.
Podium Ambition are not the first team to step away from UCI Pro status after just one year - Wyman's outfit Matrix Fitness did the same. They raced as a UCI pro team in 2015, withdrawing to complete a successful European season in 2016.
What does the future hold?
It’s not too late for the Podium Ambition programme to secure sufficient funding to race at UCI level through wild card applications, as Club teams are always offered the spare slots in a race if they cannot be filled by UCI registered teams and many of the organisers of events the team have done in 2016 would be keen to see the pink and purple colours back on the start line.
The only competitions the team won’t be able to race, by not being UCI, are the Women’s World Tour events.
Barney explained: “Back in 2014 and 2015 we were a UK based Club team that dipped in to UCI racing and it was the success when we did this that led us to the decision we made to register as a UCI team for 2016. We can work on that basis again in 2017 but still need to secure sufficient funding to do so, as although the team registration fees will be lower, the other costs won’t change and could in fact rise as we are entitled to even less support from UCI organisers because we are not UCI registered."
Over the coming weeks both Sarah and Barney will be working with sponsors who have pledged their continued support and will formulate a plan to create something worthwhile for their riders for 2017 – though they won’t be able to offer the same level of support for riders as they did over 2016.
Dame Sarah comments: “I have started to formulate a few ideas as it is important we stay on the pathway we have created. Our programme will have race opportunities for Internationally established riders as well as something for the development riders, and we will use this change of direction to include para-cyclists as was always the plan for 2017. The exact details are yet to be confirmed but we will continue to support riders who wish to invest in their two-wheeled future."
We're sad to hear we won't see the team racing at UCI Pro level consistently over 2017. However, we know from following them over the years that they're a tenacious squad with an attacking nature - and we know we'll see them fighting hard to race at a high level. Of course, if you're a potential sponsor who might want to have your brand associated with a bunch of fearless ladies - get in touch.