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From living on a shoestring budget to making the WorldTour, the EF Education-TIBCO-SVB team is going places.
The American-registered squad started as the passion project of Canadian former racer Linda Jackson, who set it up 17 years ago. Throughout its existence, the team has proved a consistent springboard for North American talent into the top tiers of cycling.
When the UCI launched the Women’s WorldTeam licenses back in 2020, Jackson started to dream that her team could join it one day. In July of 2021, the team announced it would finally make an application to step up.
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Though they had been in some sort of talks since 2020, funding from EF Education was not yet certain. However, Jackson was determined and hers was one of five squads to be awarded a WorldTeam license for 2022.
“I was going go one way or another. I could go with TIBCO and SVB and we would have been a much smaller world tour outfit. It would have been WorldTour on a shoestring,” Jackson told VeloNews. “I’m kind of tired of being on a shoestring but I was going to go one way or the other because I was determined to.
“I’ve been doing this for 17 years, this is really my baby. It’s something I’ve devoted a large chunk of my life to, and the right partner is really important. It was important that a partner appreciated that this is my team and shared the same vision for equality for women, and EF does. They’re very much about equality for women.”
Jackson and her band of determined staff were ready to take on the WorldTour with a slim budget but the addition of EF Education to TIBCO and Silicon Valley Bank as co-sponsors has changed things drastically for the team.
Over the winter, she has increased her staffing numbers six-fold and been able to match the riders’ salaries to that of the men’s WorldTour minimum. In the past, some of her riders have maintained side-jobs alongside their racing careers, but that has all changed for 2022.
“Bringing EF into the fold has just given us a much better budget has enabled us to do so much more for our riders,” she said. “We’ve got a proper budget, we can hire all the staff that we need for the riders. We can bring on a nutritionist, all those details that the top teams have we can now provide.
“It was really important to EF to pay the riders the men’s minimum salary, in terms of equality for women. It’s one thing to be WorldTour but paying your riders women’s minimum versus men’s minimum is a huge difference for the riders.
“Our riders all are paid really well and can focus on being the best that they can be and not have to worry about working a second job in the winter to make ends meet. Prior to this year, some riders have had to work part-time in the winter. Now, they can all focus now on being the best that they can be.”
Jackson’s team is one of five known teams matching rider salaries with the men’s WorldTour minimums, with Trek-Segafredo, BikeExchange-Jayco, Roland Cogeas Edelweiss, and UAE Team Emirates all confirming that they’re doing the same.
At this time, the men’s WorldTour minimum wages have been nearly double what has been on offer for the women’s peloton. This year, the gap has closed significantly with the new minimum being set at €27,000 but there’s still a big disparity in the imposed minimums set by the UCI.
Though her team has been able to pay far above the lower limit, Jackson believes that the current one set by the governing body is good enough, for now. She also believes that the opportunities posed by having a Tour de France Femmes this season will help push team budgets and salaries higher.
“I don’t think the UCI is behind, I think they need to be careful how far they push,” Jackson told VeloNews. “We need to see success from a commercial perspective to push much further and I think looks like a woman’s Tour de France this year. I think it’s a big step towards equality for women. It’s something I can’t believe we’ve done 30 years without but the fact it’s here now really marks a turning point in women’s cycling and the success of it.
“I think it will drive further capability for teams to provide more for their athletes, and maybe they can talk about further mandatory increases. If you look at how many teams applied for licenses last year, there were a total of 15 available but there are only 14 teams. So, there wasn’t a crush for World Tour licenses because that’s reflective of the money out there on the sport right now.
“I’m proud that we’re World Tour, but I think right now that the UCI has got us up against the limit. If there were further mandatory pressures for wages and things, I’m not sure we’re ready. I think we will be in a few years, but we’re good where we are right now.”
The team with its striking new pink kit made its racing debut at the Setmana Ciclista Volta Comunitat Valenciana last week with Veronica Ewers taking 12th overall. It is racing in Belgium this weekend before hitting up its first WorldTour race at Strade Bianche next week.
With some big changes over the winter and several new riders, Jackson is looking to the long-term for bigger successes. She wants her squad to gain experience of racing at the top level, to begin with, and the extra cash flow will hopefully help her retain more of her top riders than she has been able to do in the past.
“I have hired a lot of athletes with potential,” she said. “Some of them are definitely the future of the sport but I don’t have any real results expectations for this year. In other words, I don’t want to put pressure on the riders to get results this year. We’ve always done a good job of finding the diamonds in the rough and that’s our strength.
“We’ll continue to do that but now we have the infrastructure and the budget to hold on to those riders. We’ve lost so many talented women over the years as they’ve grown up and out of our team. That doesn’t need to happen anymore. People will always be attracted to the top team in the world and you’re not going to be able to prevent that. We now have the support that we can provide these girls not only to get started but to achieve the top of the sport on our team.”