The effects of the Lance Armstrong scandal, which has rapidly unfolded since the release of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s case file against the embattled Texan on October 10, are spilling over into the women’s peloton, and two of the sport’s top team bosses are urging their contemporaries to differentiate themselves from the men.
The highly-publicized scandal gripping the men’s side of the sport is scaring sponsors away from women’s cycling, according to Nicola Cranmer, general manager of Exergy-Twenty12, home to Olympic time trial gold medalist Kristin Armstrong.
Last week, before Rabobank’s announcement that it would discontinue title sponsorship of both its men’s and women’s road teams in 2013 due to concerns over the UCI’s handling of doping in cycling, Cranmer wrote on Twitter:
I’m gonna say it… Men’s cycling you are making my life very challenging.”
The next day, as news of the Dutch bank’s announcement spread, Cranmer followed up, writing:
I know few people actually care what impact this all has on women’s cycling but its (sic) really bad.
“Well, it makes my job much more difficult,” Cranmer told VeloNews. “I mean, I face challenges every day running a women’s team as it is. This doesn’t help.”
According to Cranmer, whose Exergy squad is one of the most successful women’s teams in the U.S. and a regular feeder program for the U.S. National Team, USADA’s announcement has disrupted her two-year courtship of at least two secondary sponsors.
“We were getting really close to bringing them into cycling,” she said. “They were just keen to support our team, but I think that they’re definitely very put off by what’s going on in the media.”
The problem, according to Cranmer, is the public perception of men’s and women’s cycling as one and the same.
“It’s really difficult to explain to people how women’s racing is separate from men’s racing,” she said. “I mean it’s, we’re all under the same governing body, but it’s different,” she said.
Kristy Scrymgeour, owner and general manager of Specialized-lululemon, winner of the team time trial at the world championships in September, voiced a similar observation, telling VeloNews, “We need to look at [women’s cycling] as a separate entity.”
That said, Scrymgeour says her team has been insulated from the rocky times hitting men’s racing.
“[The scandal] hasn’t really affected me,” she said. “You know, my partners are still very positive about our team and women’s cycling.”
With a major endemic sponsor filling the lead sponsor role for her team, Scrymgeour’s sponsorship standing is arguably less reliant on non-industry brands more easily scared from the sport by controversy. Meanwhile, Cranmer’s title sponsor, Exergy Development Group, has battled tough economic times in 2012 since coming into the sport as a major backer beginning in 2011.
That Cranmer’s lost secondary sponsors had no previous involvement in cycling highlights what both women feel is a need for women’s cycling to develop its own identity, rather than piggy-backing on men’s races such as the USA Pro Challenge and the Amgen Tour of California, and men’s teams such as Rabobank and Orica-GreenEdge, which both backed top-level men’s and women’s team in 2012.
“I think what people in the industry on women’s cycling have realized is that we need to grow women’s cycling a little on its own, rather than relying on the men’s sport of cycling to grow it for us,” said Scrymgeour.
Cranmer noted the media divide in how women’s racing is covered and a lack of stories that outlets — including VeloNews — are developing around the sport’s personalities.
“I mean people are drawn to men’s cycling, and whether that’s industry or non-endemic, people are drawn to men’s cycling,” she said. “And it’s largely because of the media, and the stories that are being created around athletes over a number of years, and the races that they race. It’s a thing that could be done for women, but it’s not being done for women.”
While Scrymgeour’s squad, which includes American worlds TT silver medalist Evelyn Stevens and veteran sprinter Ina Teutenberg, is comfortable, Cranmer says that many in the peloton are barely holding on.
“I feel pretty bad for the individual athletes… and for them to even ever be suggested or get lumped in with the men’s teams and what’s going on is really appalling, and really upsetting,” she said. “We’re all hanging on by a thread anyway (financially) to really make women’s cycling happen, and we just don’t need this.”
Cranmer says she doesn’t yet have the answers on how to proceed post-Armstrong in women’s racing, but the permanently altered cycling landscape is one that may be open to the change she and Scrymgeour want to see.