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The UCI should increase the number of allowed Women’s WorldTeams, according to former pro turned DS Jolien D’hoore.
The top tier of women’s cycling is almost full with 14 of the 15 available slots taken, and at least two teams, including D’hoore’s AG Insurance-NXTG squads, are looking to step up next year.
Rather than creating a middle tier, as is currently the situation for men’s teams, D’hoore believes that the UCI should allow more squads to gain entry into the WorldTour.
“I think [a middle tier] would be necessary maybe in a few years from now on. At the moment, there are 14 WorldTour teams and maybe that should be more,” D’hoore told VeloNews. “I think we can go to 16 or 17. Now the spots are a bit expensive, also for us, but the bunch is growing, the women’s peloton is growing, and I see a good evolution.”
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Women’s WorldTeam licenses were issued for the first time in 2020 with those that secured a spot in the top tier being required to deliver certain minimum assurances. Those included a minimum salary — which is set at €27,000 ($29,200) for this season and due to rise to €32,100 ($34,700) for next year — maternity leave, and health insurance.
Along with confirming its new headline sponsor, AG Insurance, and its intentions to apply for WorldTeam status, the Belgian Continental squad announced its tighter relationship with the men’s Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl squad. Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere had backed the team through a sponsorship agreement over the winter.
“It’s really exciting, Quick-Step is one of the biggest men’s teams and Patrick Lefevere is also a big name. Being part of the Wolfpack is also huge for us, especially in Belgium,” D’hoore said.
D’hoore believes that the growing number of men’s teams getting involved with the women’s side of the sport is a positive thing, so long as it is integrated properly.
“I think that’s a good evolution, as long as we also get the money from them and the know-how then it’s beneficial for everyone,” she said. “As long as it’s not a separate team between the men and the women, which wouldn’t be good. We’re part of the Wolfpack now and they’ve started to give us info and tips, which is nice.”
Big changes and U23 races
D’hoore retired from cycling at the end of last season, aged 31, after a career that spanned more than a decade. During her time in the peloton, D’hoore watched the sport progress and the changes that have come largely as a result of the influx of money has come into the women’s setup.
The developments have not only seen more riders able to challenge at the top of the sport, but the variety of skills and capabilities has changed.
“It is a huge difference from when I was still young we had Marianne Vos and she could win every race. She won Flanders and then a few months later the Giro. Now you have specific riders like sprinters, we have climbers, so it’s getting more and more professional,” D’hoore said.
The changes have been positive for the sport, but the increase in talent at the top has made life a little more challenging for those just entering the sport. With no bridge between junior and elite ranks, young riders spend the early part of their career just trying to survive races.
It’s a topic close to her heart as one of the key focuses of the AG Insurance-NXTG squad is developing young talent. The oldest rider on the roster is 24 with most aged 20 and under.
“The gap between juniors and elites is now huge. When I was 19 or 20 years old, I could still race the bigger races and follow, but for them, it’s really hard and the level has been going up,” she said. “It’s really hard for them, but also mentally. As a junior, they were top level and now in the elite category they have to follow the bunch and that’s all they can do. Mentally, that’s quite hard for them.”
D’hoore would like to see more dedicated races on the calendar for younger riders so that they don’t always have to battle with the top elite riders.
“There are a lot of U23 riders so they would have a bunch. It would also be good for them to have some successful experiences so they could also go for the win or try and get a podium. For the motivation for them, it would be good,” she said.
“Now, every race and every week they just have to try and hang on and follow. A separate category would be good for them.”