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After spending years at the helm of the Vitus Pro Cycling team, Cherie Pridham will change gears next season as she joins Israel Start-Up Nation as a sport director.
In so doing, she will break brand new ground in the sport: Pridham will be the first-ever female sport director for a men’s WorldTour squad.
Then again, for someone who has spent a decade in a leadership role at a pro bike racing team, moving into a DS role with a different organization does not seem all that out of the ordinary for Pridham. As she told CyclingTips, the significance of it all “is still sort of sinking in really,” following Israel Start-Up Nation’s announcement that it was bringing her aboard and the many phone calls she’s had since.
“I think, as we’ve had meetings, I’ve sort of realized the significance, because the other thing was, to me, I’m just doing what I love,” Pridham said in a phone conversation with CyclingTips. “Of course, I’ve been given a huge opportunity and a big responsibility in terms of being the first woman to knock on the WorldTour door as a sports director.”
It’s been an eventful few months for Pridham. Vitus, which she has owned, managed, and directed for years, found itself facing uncertainty this year amid a season derailed by COVID-19. Pridham spent months looking for potential sponsors for the British Continental team before also having to start thinking potentially finding a new job herself. As the year and the battle to try to keep Vitus going dragged on, she began reaching out to other teams about openings.
“I didn’t get any response at all bar one after maybe 30-odd jobs I’d applied for, but also, I thought well, why not?” she said. “It’s what I want to do, let’s put my name out there to a handful of WorldTour teams, and surprisingly, ISN was the first team to respond.”
Pridham had a long conversation with Israel Start-Up Nation manager Kjell Carlstrom that would later lead to a job offer that arrived on a roller coaster evening in November.
“A condensed version of what happened was we had a board meeting together about the future of Vitus Pro Cycling and I came back from that, sat down with the family and said look, there’s only one option here and I’ve got to close the doors on the team,” Pridham said. “But I wanted to be under my terms. I didn’t want to fail, not being able to take the team 100 percent through this year in particular, and I was very nervous about the whole COVID pandemic thing for 2021, and I also was concerned about the cost that we were going to incur trying to get a team aboard. That was basically the handful of decisions that led me to close the team down. It was a Wednesday, can’t remember the date, all happened in November, and then within an hour, I actually had an email, a contract offer from ISN, from Kjell. I can’t explain the emotions that had for me. I just cried like a baby.”
On the one hand, Pridham is making her way into uncharted territory as she moves over and up to Israel Start-Up Nation. On the other hand, she sees it as a continuation of what she’s been doing her entire career.
“When I started racing, all I could do was compete against the junior boys, because you could probably count on one hand the number of girls that were racing back in the day, 40 years ago or something,” she said. “It’s something I’ve done all my life really. And even when I came across to the UK, I still competed here. A lot of my top-end racing was with elite men here. And I trained with the men. When I got the opportunity to DS at Raleigh UK at Conti level, I was one of the first females then. But it isn’t until now that you actually realize that your whole career has been following the same path.”
As she makes the jump to the WorldTour level Pridham is looking forward to the chance to sharpen her skills working with the very best in the sport, particularly as she will now be able to focus entirely on one role after handling all the other aspects of running a team for so long.
“I’m really relishing the opportunity to get on with my DS job,” Pridham said. “I think the last three years, where I’ve had to constantly fight to look for sponsors, to worry about making sure the staff and the riders are paid every month, obviously that’s somebody else’s problem and I can do what I’m good at, which is what I’m really relishing.”
Indeed, there’s plenty to relish too, considering how many tools are available to sport directors these days. The job description has changed quite a bit over the past decade.
“The planning, the VeloViewer, wind direction, all that makes everything so interesting in the team car for us to be able to give riders information and tactics is something I’m looking forward to,” Pridham said.
“We’re fortunate now that we have very professional specific people, the coaches and performance staff that are absolutely on the button with the riders training, power numbers, health, and everything else. They do the main part of my job to make sure that my rider is fit when he comes to race. There’s a complete team behind a manager, a DS, that helps that rider get into tip-top shape for his race.”
Given the circumstances and the big changes going on at the team that has hired her for next year, Pridham can be optimistic about what’s ahead. After all, she’s jumping up to the WorldTour level with ISN just as some big stars are joining the squad; Chris Froome, Michael Woods, and Sep Vanmarcke were among the big names signing on to join ISN this transfer season.
Optimism is running high for the organization at the moment, on the heels of a strong 2020 campaign and with bona fide top talents coming aboard. Helping direct those proven talents toward achieving bona fide results in 2021 is what she and her colleagues will be working toward all season. With the team that Israel Start-Up Nation has in place both on the bikes and in the team cars, Pridham likes the squad’s chances of executing on its objectives.
“I think the team has come through remarkably with their first two WorldTour victories, one at the Giro and one at the Vuelta,” Pridham said. “That’s a really good indication of the level the team is stepping up to for sure. And then the significant signings of Chris Froome, Michael Woods, Sep Vanmarcke, those kind of guys, bolstering the already strong team. I say that because I think the team has to grow. It’s gone from Conti to Pro Conti to WorldTour in such a short space of time.
“I still believe, and I think we believe as a management group, that we’re still to some degree a sort of dark horse. There’s obviously going to be expectations but that’s up to us to manage and lead. And of course, we believe 100 %in Chris Froome and we will do what we can to back Chris and very much so the other leaders, whether in Classics or in the time trials or whatever. I believe we have a management group that’s well capable now of making that next step.”