After grabbing the leader’s jersey following the time trial at the Exergy Tour, Amber Neben stated “really it doesn’t matter who goes up the road as long as it’s Specialized-lululemon.” Though sounding cliché, the sentiment, echoed by all the women on the Specialized-lululemon, was obviously heartfelt.
On the final day, actions spoke louder than words when Neben watched her teammate Evelyn Stevens escaped in a late breakaway to ultimately win the overall. On the podium, all the riders celebrated the victory.
What makes this team so special? “I think when you get a group of people that are team first and that care about each other and just want to see us succeed. We’re grateful for our awesome sponsors, we want to put Specialized-lululemon out there and really, we know how good it feels to win and that’s what it’s about. Whether you’re helping somebody do that, that feels good or whether winning yourself, it feels good.” Neben told podiuminsight.
During the five-day race, the riders on the team swapped roles, from leading out sprinter Ina Teutenberg to chasing breaks for the GC hopefuls. Throughout it out, domestiques Ally Stacher, Emilia Fahlin and Loren Rowney worked for their teammates.
“I love working for the team.” Stacher stated. “Everyone is really grateful for the amount of work that we do. Everyone just slays, all three of us, Loren, Emilia and I, we all ride really hard at the front. It’s one of the most rewarding things because our team is always really thankful for it. Not only is our team but the staff too. They know that when one rider wins, the entire team wins, they couldn’t do it without everyone’s effort. It’s pretty great.”
“I think we have a very special thing here in team Specialized-lululemon.” agreed Stevens who wondered if the team being saved in extremis when the sponsor pulled out was a factor in bringing the riders closer together.
“I think [Team owner] Kristy [Scrymgeour] is pretty much responsible for saving this team. We recognized last year when it almost fell apart how special it was, to kind of be brought together last minute, I think we realized the talent.”
Respect is key for reigning USA time trial champion Stevens. “We’re different, we come from different countries, we come from different background, but more than anything, I respect every woman on the team. And I know that they’re the most talented women and so, I think that probably is what is the root of it.”
The team doesn’t only celebrate the victories but also examine everything that they do wrong. These kinds of debriefs can only be done in the presence of respect.
“Believe me, we do a lot wrong and we give each other shit for it.” laughed Clara Hughes. “For example, the first road stage I totally screwed up the leadout for Ina and she lost because she wasn’t fast enough but I also made it harder for her. We talked about it and went over it.”
Two days later, Hughes had the leadout working for Teutenberg who won the stage. “So I learned a lot by screwing it up but I only learn because we talk about things and we try to make it better every single time. What we did right, we go over what we did wrong and improve ourselves as a unit.”
Hughes, who medaled at both the Winter and Summer Olympics continued, “It’s a really awesome environment to be in. I can compare it to speed skating, that I did the last ten years. I trained with my training partners every single day, twice a day, nine months out of a year. We don’t train together, we only race together but we have awesome leadership with Ronny [Lauke] with our directeur sportifs, with Kristy and within our team, I feel like we’re all leaders.”
Chicken or egg? What comes first? The team continues to rack up victories but is the winning that leads to a great team atmosphere or the reverse?
“I think the atmosphere leads to the winning.” replied Neben. “When everything is good off the bike, behind the scenes, then it just feeds off each other, we feed off each other, the momentum grows, it just makes it more fun to race, you’re not thinking as much on the bike. You’re just enjoying it out there. And then, the winning adds to the fun. I think it starts with the chemistry off the bike and the time we spent together at camp building that, the leadership we have within the team to just make sure that everybody is comfortable and can be themselves. I think that’s a big part of it. Nobody is afraid of who they are, everybody is unique and everybody is different and we appreciate the differences. Different is different, it’s no better or worse, it’s just different and when you can appreciate that in each other, then it makes it a lot easier to get along.”
For Stacher, the team chemistry is unique. “We have a lot of really strong personalities but it’s great that we can all come together and ride together as a unit, we’re all really excited for each other when we have success. I think it’s something that’s just special.”
Not only does the team have riders hailing from Canada, the United States, Germany, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK but they also have some very strong personalities. Yet it all works for the 13-rider squad with ages ranging from the 21 to 39.
So how does it work? “I think what makes it work is the amount of professionalism that women can show. I think that they’re just true champions and they’re true professionals.” Stacher answered.
Neben thinks that such team chemistry is “pretty rare”. “I haven’t raced on a lot of teams, so it’s not like I’ve been team hopping so much but I think from just looking around and watching and just talking to other people, I think it’s a race thing. And I think when you have it, it’s special and you enjoy it and you don’t take it for granted.”
“We’re all really lucky. All of us are really talented and so we just use our talents differently.” concluded Stacher.