Nicola Cranmer on the state of women cycling in the US

Earlier this month, Nicola Cranmer, Managing Director of the PROMAN Women’s Cycling Team, was invited to speak with Bay Area Women Cycling members about the state of women cycling in the US.

The PROMAN Women’s Cycling Team is a Marin County, California based elite women’s cycling team comprised of race veterans and junior stars. Though currently still listing PROMAN as their main sponsor, there are rumors of a new lead sponsor for 2010. Gold Medalist and World Champion, Kristin Armstrong, has joined the PROMAN’s directing team.

Nicola Cranmer and Shelley Olds, with Junior riders Claire Jensen, Nikka Van Den Dries, Ruth Winder,Christina Yglesias

Why did you start Proman in 2006?
I left the sport of cycling for several years. I went to England and then came back to California where several of my friends persuaded me to start riding again. First it was just riding and but it quickly turned into racing. I raced on a co-ed team. Our team was doing really well. The men’s team was getting much more support than the women, though the women were doing far better than the men. It was then that I decided to start my own team. I had no idea of what I was doing….nothing whatsoever…as I had done nothing like this before. I called a few people to get an idea of proposals and was able to get the basics of how to start a team. I have had a couple men on our track team but I am interested in sticking to a women’s team. The men’s teams get more support than the women’s teams….they just do. I could see the battles that laid ahead.

It was rather serendipitous when I put the team together because the team just came together. I was really fortunate. It is not often that you can put a team together so quickly. I was lucky to get a lot of support.

How can the cycling community help women cycling?
I had a conversation with Steve Johnson of USA Cycling last week. He realized that they have been really focused on the cream of the crop. They have been quite successful with the Olympic Gold and the World Championships but the grassroots and the up and coming riders have not been taken care of. Now is the time, more than ever, to develop the club teams. Club teams develop Cat 3 and Cat 4 riders that jump to Cat 1 and Cat 2….but there is a huge gap there. There are not enough professional women’s teams for these women to go into. I would encourage teams and races to get the sponsorships to allow the riders to race. It’s important to keep the flow of riders, to put an effort into the club teams. I also encourage juniors to join. I strongly believe that every professional team should have juniors riding. We have juniors on our team who asked other teams if they could join and they were told that it was too much of a hassle to have juniors on a team. There is no hassle. It has breathed incredible life into my team. It added a lot more depth to what I was doing with the team. I think adding the junior component is extremely important. The junior riders are more energetic, enthusiastic.

What are the challenges of developing a local team into a national/UCI team?
The main challenge is financial. We are a UCI track team but not a UCI road team. That requires a lot more funding. When you have riders on your team who are driven and they are happy in their environment, like Shelley Olds. She has been with me since she was a Cat 4 rider. She has a really strong focus. It was my responsibility to grow the team with her. The team grew faster than I expected because she went from a Cat 4 to Cat 1 in one season. She discussed having a track team and taking the team to the World Cup. I realized that much like horse racing, soccer, and other sports, that track was very male dominated. I would show up to the meetings as the only woman manager of a UCI track team. They would ask me if I was the masseuse. It took us about two years to get some respect. That in itself was a challenge, but I have experienced it before in other sports. It can be a little daunting when you are not getting the respect you deserve. You have the challenge of the traveling, the UCI protocol, much like the men, but I have the added challenge of getting known and respected. I want to encourage more women into leadership roles. I am just a regular person, a regular bike racer. I am not a champion. I am driven by the women on my team to take it to the next level.

Shelley Olds at the Hellyer Velodrome in March 2009

The goal of PROMAN is to grow champions. How do you grow a champion?
Understanding a particular athlete like Shelley Olds or Rachel Lloyd is important. Rachel retired but I encourage her out of retirement to race and have fun. You have to be an exceptional athlete to take it all the way. The drive and determination of an athlete shows up really early. That’s an easy thing to spot. Identifying riders early and getting juniors to race is important. We need to mentor these junior riders.

Do you get riders recommended to you?
There are different systems out there. There is a national system where riders are identified and they do some national team races. I get a lot of resumes and phone calls. I also get friends telling me who to watch for. Since I get so many recommendations I will pass the information on to Jim Miller at USA Cycling. It’s sort of a vague process.

Next year our team will have a lot of new developments. Kristen Armstrong is joining the team. She is very involved in our program. At first she was only going to be directing, and then she said she would direct and consult, and now, she is very involved and very driven to help our program succeed. One of our goals is to have a log of riders…to identify and track riders.

Compare Northern California with other regions in the US.
Steve Johnson of USA Cycling informed me that about 12-14% of the registered national riders are women. We live in a very rich cycling area. We have races every weekend during the race season. There are also cyclocross races here. This does not happen in other parts of the country. This is very unique in Northern California. We are doing national clinics next year in areas where they don’t have a rich women cycling history. We did a test clinic in Louisville this year. There is no support system for women in many areas. Typically women need a lot more support than the men. Women racing is very different from men’s racing. Women are more interested in working with their mentors.

What advice do you have for women pursuing the Olympics or racing in Europe?
It takes a belief in yourself first. Having the goal is the first step. The riders I love to work with have a clear vision of where the want to go. It makes my job a lot easier. There are definite ways to get there. Yes, you have to be a talented athlete but positioning is huge. Find people that have been there like Kristen Armstrong or Jim Miller. Find successful athletes and align yourself with them. Try to connect with USA Cycling. Find teams that can support you. We don’t have the big Grand Tours. We do have the Olympics. Making the right connections and coach is important. You need to talk to the right before people.

What is the status of the Amgen Tour of California women’s race? (There has been talk of eliminating the Women’s Criterium at the 2010 Amgen Tour of California)
We have two and three sponsors we are speaking with and I am pretty confident there will be a race. There has been too much of an uproar for them not do something. It’s really important for women racing to be a part of the growing media machine of the Tour of California. It takes a lot of work but it’s worth it. Women need to have this type of exposure.

The evening ended quite interestingly with a question from a young male who wanted to know if Nicola Cranmer had a “real job”. A real job?….as if the hard work and countless hours Cranmer puts in to support her riders, her team and women cycling were not a real job. This question captures the double standard of cycling in the US. I am sure that Jonathan Vaughters, DS of Team Garmin-Slipstream, does not get asked if he has a “real job”. Many thanks to team directors like Nicola Cranmer, Lisa Hunt (Team VBF) and Linda Jackson (Team TIBCO) for working tirelessly at their real jobs. Cycling is better because of these women.

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