Could signing Pauline Ferrand-Prévot convince Ineos Grenadiers to invest more in women’s cycling?
The French rider is the first female rider to sign for the British team. Is it the beginning of something bigger or will it be a one-off?
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Ineos Grenadiers made its first tentative steps into women’s cycling when it announced the signing of Pauline Ferrand-Prévot.
Since its inception as Team Sky back in 2010, the team has been resolutely men’s racing focused. Indeed, it was entirely road racing focused until the talented multi-discipline rider Tom Pidcock came along at the beginning of last year and convinced the squad to branch out.
Despite a growing number of sponsors keen to invest in both women’s and men’s racing, across the various cycling disciplines, and almost all the men’s WorldTour squads on the road having a women’s team, Ineos Grenadiers has not joined the flurry.
The team, which was created with the intention of guiding the first British rider to win the Tour de France, has had a pretty singular approach to cycling in its 12 years of racing. Though it has expanded its remit a little in recent years, its primary focus is to be a team that wins the men’s Tour de France.
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Events such as Filippo Ganna’s hour record attempt are nice publicity stunts, but the men’s Tour de France remains the main focus. Without the signing of Pidcock in 2021, who is a serious road talent for the squad too, it’s unlikely that the team would have branched out further into off-road racing.
However, the waters have been tested in that world, and the team — and sponsor — has finally seen the value in it. Step forward Ferrand-Prévot.
The French woman has been one of the top multi-discipline riders of her generation, even before her epic run of four world titles at the end of this season. She became the first rider to hold road, cyclocross, and mountain bike world titles at the same time when she won the 2014 road worlds before going on to take the MTB and CX titles in 2015.
Injury and, more recently technical restrictions, hampered her in the years following that epic run but she appears to be as strong as ever. Ineos Grenadiers approached her in May and that belief in her paid off when she went on to win three mountain bike titles in short track, cross country, and marathon, before going on to claim the first-ever gravel world title.
Her overarching aim of riding to Olympic success in 2024 is an ambition that fits well into the Ineos state of mind. Last year, the team gave Pidcock plenty of scope to balance his road and mountain bike calendars in the buildup to the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“Signing a world-class rider like Pauline is a huge boost as we grow the number of multi-disciplinary athletes racing as Grenadiers,” deputy team principal Rod Ellingworth said earlier this month when Ferrand-Prévot’s signing was announced. “Pauline is a unique talent. Her palmarès speaks for itself, especially after just winning four world titles in the space of two months. But what sets her apart and makes her a great addition to the Grenadiers is her drive and grit. She loves the sport and is a natural born racer and that comes through in the way she rides.
“Pauline is on her own journey to try and win gold at her home Olympics and this is an area where we thrive and have proven success. We are excited to support that ambition and help her achieve her goals over the coming years.”
With her versatility and her star status, Ferrand-Prévot is a good fit for this new Ineos Grenadiers venture. It almost guarantees the team some big success that will garner plenty of attention.
For now, she is the lone female rider on the team and there has been no indication that management plan to add more riders around her just yet. Ineos Grenadiers is only dipping its toes into the water of women’s cycling.
How the next year or two goes with Ferrand-Prévot could be a turning point for the team and its outlook on women’s racing. Should things go well, it could see further investment into off-road disciplines.
Thus far, Pidcock’s off-road adventures have remained centered around the main road team, and little had been done to expand the MTB and cyclocross setups. However, with no women’s road team to gather around, there’s no reason why Ineos couldn’t focus its nascent women’s racing arm on off-road.
With Pinarello currently creating a mountain bike to add to its stable of models with the hope of it being ready for the 2024 Olympic Games, this opens the door further for a larger off-road set-up. Pinarello recently added a cyclocross model to its roster of bikes, spurred on by Pidcock’s exploits.
The signing of Ferrand-Prévot does also provide a prime opportunity for Ineos Grenadiers to finally join the legion of teams creating a road team, too. If it wants to do that.
Speaking to the press earlier this week, Ferrand-Prévot indicated that she would be interested in returning to the road following the 2024 Olympic Games. With a bigger calendar than ever and the lure of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, it could be enough to tempt her back after a lengthy break.
Ferrand-Prévot’s contract with Ineos will run out at the end of 2024 and she could swap to another team if she wants to, but would the team want to lose her? Would Ineos set up an entire women’s road team to keep her — provided she’s still keen on racing road?
It’s no surprise that Ineos hasn’t invested into women’s racing sooner, the brand of the sport has not been big enough for a team that focuses on prestige. But with the introduction of the Tour de France Femmes this year, it could be a tantalizing target that could finally bring the team on board.
If two years with Ferrand-Prévot isn’t enough to convince them to invest more into women’s cycling, then perhaps nothing will.