December 30, 2011 (Carlsbad, CA) – The Specialized lululemon women’s professional road cycling team is definitely pro. The squad has a roster chocked full of world-class riders, most of whom are vying in their respective nations for Olympic qualification. There are new black team vehicles, decaled with sponsors and the distinctive red, magenta, and teal team colours. The staff is comprised of the sport’s best, including top-notch mechanics, directors, soigneurs, and manger. Perhaps the one thing that screamed “PRO TEAM!” more than anything else about the new for 2012 Specialized lululemon women’s squad was the team camp and media launch, held by the beach in Carlsbad, California near San Diego in early December.
It came complete with the requisite long training rides and photo shoots, but there were some extras (stretch limos, champagne, catered meals, private house parties, individual BG Fit sessions, fancy dinners out), that showed the 13 riders will arrive in style at every start line and have legitimacy as a women’s team in its own right. Specialized’s Women’s Product and Marketing Manager, Rachel Lambert, made it clear that the company’s women’s line is just as big a focus as the men’s, a sentiment which was echoed by the enthusiastic representatives from Canadian co-sponsor lululemon.
One of the perks of being sponsored by a yoga-inspired athletic wear company is that every morning at team camp begins with an hour-long yoga class, something each of the riders emphasized was incredibly valuable. Some riders, like multiple World Cup winner Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, had practiced yoga many times, while others, like 2008 World ITT Champion Amber Neben, had never tried it before the camp. Canada’s multi-decorated Olympic medalist, Clara Hughes, said it was during the camp that she finally learned to love the Indian-born practice, which focuses on breathing, clearing the mind, and gently stretching the body.
Another benefit of the lululemon sponsorship was the scheduled team shopping trip to a local lululemon store, where the girls went wild as they were unleashed, madly rifling through different coloured and patterned wicking fabrics and curve-hugging athletic clothing.
Despite professional level athletes, management, and sponsorship, the vibe amongst the riders feels completely free of stereotypical women’s team tension, ego, or cattiness, and when it’s revealed how the team came to be, it’s clear why this is so. Most of the riders and staff are from the now defunct HTC-Highroad squad, including new Team Owner Kristy Scrymgeour. An Aussie native and former pro cyclist herself, Scrymgeour was involved in marketing with the HTC-Highroad men’s and women’s teams. When the women’s contingent of the squad heard their team was folding, they approached Scrymgeour and begged her to help them stay together.
They could have simply left and gone to other teams, but the core group did not want to separate, because they meshed so well. Scrymgeour was given a two-week time limit to secure enough sponsorship dollars to make the project happen for 2012. It was a stressful task, but, surprisingly it worked. Specialized was immediately receptive, as the brand had sponsored the HTC-Highroad riders with bikes the previous year. For lululemon, the timing was perfect – the Canadian company had been seeking a way to market its brand outside of North America, explained lululemon’s Eric Petersen during a road ride with the team along the coast.
The team’s new additions include Hughes, Germans Charlotte Becker, Lisa Brennauer, and Trixi Worrack, but from watching the women’s antics, it’s impossible to tell they haven’t been part of the crew since its beginnings in the HTC-Highroad days. Other notables are Americans Evelyn Stevens and Ally Stacher, Sweden’s Emilia Fahlin, Australians Chloe Hosking and Loren Rowning, Ellen van Dijk of the Netherlands, and the UK’s Great Britain’s Katie Colclough.
The riders will be racing aboard Specialized Amira and Tarmac SL4’s (for the taller riders) equipped with HED wheels and Shimano DuraAce Di2, and on the Shiv for time trials.
In continuation of a legacy started with the HTC-Highroad squad, the women will to support Right to Play as their official charity. With Hughes now on board, it’s a no-brainer. She has worked with the organization for many years on a personal level and is still incredibly passionate about the project that aims “to improve the lives of children in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace.”
Hughes, who was admittedly unsure of what to expect in joining a pro team after a 10-year hiatus from competitive cycling, summed up her camp experience: “I feel like I’m a kid again,” she said.
Stay tuned to the Specialized lululemon riders as they debut at the Tour of Qatar in February and try to defend their title, which they won under their previous HTC-Highroad banner. Hughes is aiming to be one heck of a lead-out for Teutenberg, who took the sprint win in 2011, and we all know that when Hughes sets her mind on something, she usually does it. (more photos below)