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The pathway from racer to backroom staff is a relatively new but increasingly popular move for retired female riders, but few choose to take up a role on the men’s side of the sport after their own careers and fewer still are as young as 25.
Speaking to CyclingTips from the inaugural UAE Tour Women – where she was working as one of a team of two brand new directors for the Jayco AlUla women’s WorldTour team – British former pro, Megan Chard, outlined her journey.
“I stopped racing in 2020 but, mentally, I stopped quite long before that,” she said.
“Randomly, I was coaching a bit and then I got offered an opportunity to go to a small continental team in the UK, so I got a bit of experience there. And then I went to the St. Piran men’s continental team, so it was also great to work with the men.”
For many women, directing a men’s team would be a daunting prospect, did Chard experience this? “At first I was for sure thinking like that. And I was like, ‘why would they ever listen to me? I’ve got no experience with the men’s’ and things like this. But I learned a lot from when I used to live in Belgium [and] I used to be around a lot of pros for a while. And I always heard their stories when they came back…I didn’t realise at the time, I was just like ‘ah that’s bike racing.’ But now I look back. And I’m just like, ‘oh, no, I understand this process now because we talked about it before,’” she explained.
Indeed, although she is keen not to stereotype, Chard believes that the approach she brings to the role as a woman offers a more open environment for the riders to voice their needs and concerns.
“I always thought that the boys would maybe never listen to me. But then actually, it worked really well, because they felt like they had someone to talk to that was less abrupt or less – stereotypically – how a man might be,” she says.
“So I actually thought it worked really well. I go into a men’s race next week, my first one with Jayco, just as some experience with Whitey [Matt White, Jayco AlUla’s Director of High Performance & Racing]. So I think it’d be great to see if it carries on from the Continental team last year into the men’s team next week.”
Of course, as well as having personal experience, Chard also has the requisite qualifications from the UCI. It was on the DS training course where she met her now-colleague, fellow new director Shawn Clarke: “so we already had the relationship before we came into the team,” explains Chard. “And now we’re fortunate enough to work together. And that relationship’s just improved massively. And I’m super grateful to be working with him with, also the experience of Martin [Vestby, fellow DS] as well.”
Only a few months into the 2023 season, Chard and Clarke, in their new positions, found themselves entrusted with directing the women’s team at the UAE Tour. For Chard, though, it wasn’t her first experience at a Women’s WorldTour race after having joined the team in 2022 for Simac Ladies Tour and the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta.
“I was just there to get experience, learn a bit more about the girls, how the team worked,” she explained. “So then when we came into this year, I sort of knew the staff, the riders, how the team worked, which has been actually really beneficial because we took on Shawn as a new director.”
Far from being daunted at the prospect of taking charge of the team at a WorldTour race while still relatively new to the role, Chard expressed her confidence: “I think it’s a great opportunity. And I have a really good relationship with the team as well,” she said.
Although she has worked with men’s teams in the past, Chard soon realised that the dynamics in the women’s peloton can be vastly different.
“I’ve always thought – and maybe this is a bad way to think about it – by having an experience with the men’s you can then bring it back to the women’s and sort of have a better approach to things,” she said. “But they’re so different and they also communicate very differently as well.”
How does her own racing experience play into her role as a DS? “For sure, it’s been beneficial. But the peloton is changing every day, like you always just have to stay on top of trends and it’s become very apparent that we always have to better ourselves, we always have to work on our development.”
Part of that development involves reading and listening to outsider’s analysis of races in the form of articles and podcasts, as well as watching races back. “In the men’s racing and women’s racing, if we can take one thing from every race and learn something, then we’re always going to become better and this is such a great environment to learn from as well,” she said.
Working in the Women’s WorldTour, Chard says, “was a big goal of mine. I didn’t think I’d get it at 24 at the time, but here I am. And I can only go up from here, fingers crossed.”