Amanda Spratt: Women’s WorldTeam system has worked better than anyone thought in beginning
The Australian would like to see TV coverage continue to grow and more races for U23 riders.
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As the Women’s WorldTeam system enters its fourth season, Trek-Segafredo rider Amanda Spratt says that it has worked way better than she could have imagined.
Following the creation of the WorldTour series for the women in 2016, a top-tier structure for teams was finally introduced for the 2020 season. It brought in a minimum wage for the riders on WorldTeams, as well as other protections such as maternity leave and insurance.
This season the 15th and final WorldTeam spot was snapped up by Fenix-Deceuninck and the end of the season will see the first-ever promotion and relegation fight play out. Spratt, who has been a professional since 2012, has seen the changes happen from the box seat of the peloton.
“I feel like it’s worked better than what everyone maybe thought in the beginning,” Spratt told VeloNews. “When they first put out the minimum salary requirements, a lot of people initially thought ‘oh, there’s no way teams are going to be able to make that and we’re only going to have couple of teams’ and this and that. In that respect, it has worked really well, and we’ve seen multiple teams have been able to satisfy that requirement and we’ve had more teams every year. This year, there was a fight for those last spots.”
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When it introduced the WorldTeam licenses, the UCI had hoped to fill out the 15 places by the 2022 season but it was one short last year. However, there were three teams duking it out for the final place for this season, setting up an exciting battle for places at the end of this year.
With over 200 riders now guaranteed a minimum salary, while a few more non-WorldTeam squads have been able to afford liveable wages for their rosters, there is a solid pool of riders that can train and compete full-time. The result has been a blossoming peloton that is growing in strength.
“That’s been an amazing thing to see and you really have seen that we’ve got more riders, and I think it’s also reflected in the racing in terms of how we turned up to World Tour races,” she said. “Even five years ago, you could pretty much say the top three riders in most races, whereas now you turn up and there’s a list of 10, 15, or 20 riders that could all feature. We’re seeing also in the final of the races, so many more riders are there. I think that’s all a reflection of know the world tour racing, and these requirements have really helped women’s cycling grow.”
The push in women’s racing has seen an unprecedented influx of new races on the calendar and the Women’s WorldTour calendar will be bigger than ever at over 80 race days, even with the demise of the two Vårgårda WestSweden races.
More WorldTour race days means more guaranteed broadcast coverage, thanks to the UCI rules, but the increase is challenging teams.
“The really important [requirement] has been the requirement for television coverage, or coverage, I think that’s been a really big one, because you’re seeing sponsors are now finally getting money back for what they’re putting in in terms of coverage,” Spratt said. “It’s been pleasing as well, to see some races not be given WorldTour status [when they haven’t met the requirements].
“With so many races becoming WorldTour, with the team rosters at the moment, I think most teams are on 15 riders, and if you have more races, you do need more staff, more equipment, more vehicles, more riders. At the moment, we’re a little bit on the edge in terms of being able to satisfy all of that.”
Unlike in the men’s WorldTour, the top-tier teams are not required to enter every race in the series. That allowance has been exercised several times already with few races seeing a full complement of WorldTeams on the start line.
Spratt believes that the riders will be able to sustain the increase in racing, but that it’s going to be tougher on team budgets and staff.
“We’re capable of racing more, that’s fine, but it’s probably more in terms of just the infrastructure of teams. It will be difficult for all World Tour teams. Maybe you need two mechanic trucks, two buses, or camper vans, whatever it takes. It requires more money.”
Supporting rider development
While women’s cycling has taken some massive strides over the past decade, and even five years, there is still a way to go and Spratt would like to see race coverage grow even further than it has. Ensuring the lower levels of the sport are well supported is also another thing on her wish list.
“I’d love to see the calendar progress the way it has and to increase the coverage. We still have that one hour of coverage of races, but it is nice to see the full thing, so people don’t miss the racing and, you know, they get to learn the personalities and the riders that during all the work at the start. I think would be a really important thing,” she said.
“It would be nice to see some more development. If teams can start creating development teams or have development riders come in for some races and more stagiaire options, that would be a great way to sort of give experience to younger riders as well.”
Development teams were made official by the UCI ahead of the 2023 season and the result has been three WorldTour squads creating a new feeder squad, in addition to the Canyon-SRAM Generation team that was set up for the 2022 season.
Pathways for younger riders is still an area that is largely underserved for female riders with many jumping into the WorldTour before they may be ready for it. With the changing of the rules, that is beginning to change, but Spratt would like to see more on offer for U23 riders — who only got their own world championships category last season and still have to compete against the elite riders until 2025.
“I feel like teams are starting to get ahead and build those development teams, which has been really pleasing. And when we finally have and under 23 worlds — don’t get me started on the fact we don’t already have it — but I feel like that’s also another step that just can’t come soon enough,” Spratt said. “That really should already be happening this year, and next year, because I really think that will be another key way to reduce that gap and will keep the younger riders in the sport with a goal.
“It’d be really nice to see like a U23 series where maybe there’s only six races and one tour or something where it is just U23. It doesn’t have to be a lot of races, but that’d be a really nice way to just small under 23 series where you can get a lot of racing against each other and have good goals.”
While there are a growing number of development teams that can mine the smaller racers for experience, that’s still a fledgling aspect of the sport. Meanwhile, elite women’s races have been getting longer and tougher and the gap to bridge for young riders coming out of the junior categories is widening.
Spratt believes that jump is even bigger for non-European riders, who have access to far fewer races to build their strength than their European counterparts.
“As a junior, you do around 70 kilometers at worlds and then you’re going straight into World Tour races. One-day races are more commonly about 140 K, or so, and all of a sudden you’re doubling the distance. You go from racing the juniors to racing Marianne Vos and Annemiek van Vleuten,” she said. “The gap is huge, so it would be nice to see, you know, just something in the middle to help that progression.
“As an Australian rider, and non-European, that gap even becomes bigger. If you’re a Dutch or Belgian rider, you still have access to the kermesses, and you know, some of those smaller 1.2 races or those sort of races, whereas as Australian it makes that gap even bigger than what it was before.”