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News feature, April 20, 2007
Building success in the women's peloton
The growth of women's cycling in North America has been tremendous in recent years, and the success is due in part to the US Women's Cycling Development Program (USWCDP), which was founded by Michael Engleman in 2006. Engleman, a former world-class cyclist for Coors Light and former director of T-Mobile has been the face of women cycling development for over a decade. Cyclingnews' reporter Kirsten Robbins talked to Engleman to find out how the USWCDP's growth became so rabid over the previous year.
In just two year's the USWCDP has flourished beyond anyone's imagination, as witnessed by the quality of racing in the recent Redlands Bicycling Classic. On every stage there were several riders that have come out of Engleman's development program in the top ten and on the podium. The riders can easily be picked out in their black USWCDP hats in support of the program.
Mara Abbott, Katherine Carroll and Katheryn Curi are three of the women who had success at Redlands. Abbott and Curi are teammates racing for Webcor-Builders and finished on the podium of several stages of the race, along with second and third placed overall. Aaron's new rider Katherine Carroll finished fifth place in the five-kilometer prologue after racing in her second season as a professional rider.
The USWCDP main goals are to scout and develop talent, answer questions and provide a network for female cyclist to grow. While the program is not involved with the US national team, its ultimate goal for riders sign contracts with professional teams or to be funneled into the national team ranks. "I spend all year on the road looking for the talent," Engleman said. "We accept resumes too. What we also do is match a rider with a team based largely on their talent and personality because it is important for a rider to fit into a team well."
Engleman has rallied volunteer support from seasoned female cyclists in the peloton who come together as mentors, advisors and fundraisers for the program. This year's overall winner of Redlands Classic, Amber Neben, feels so strongly about the program that she donated her prize money from Redlands to the USWCDP.
Neben, a two time winner of the women's Tour de France who lives overseas and races for Team Flexpoint, mentors younger riders in the US. "I didn't start with the program but I am a huge supporter of what Michael Engleman is putting together," Neben said. "When I found out about the USWCDP, I offered to mentor the younger riders and donate my prize money as part of the Amber Neben Scholarship Fund."
Engleman is not surprised at the amount if support he is receiving from outside the rider talent pool. "We offer our riders scholarship, travel money, and free coaching (limited)," Engleman said. "We try to help riders that contact us and we try our best to answer questions to anyone. If we can pay a developing rider's four hundred dollar ticket that is a big deal."
2007 Colavita/Sutter Home's Alison Powers, a former Nordic skier, was scouted by Engleman as a one of the US next great cyclists. Powers was a guest rider with Advil-ChapStick in 2006, and won the prestigious Tour de Toona prologue, which earned her a professional contract with Colavita/Sutter Home. "We knew Alison was a great rider and wanted to compete in the Tour de Toona last year," remembered Engleman. "She had no travel money so as a rider of our program we funded her expenses to that event."
There are almost US forty riders in the women's peloton that had been identified by Engleman, and the numbers keep growing each month. Engleman noted that is next to impossible to take on every rider who calls, but that he never turns away a question. The program is becoming identified around the world with cyclists from Asia and Europe asking to be a part or the development process. "Right now we only take US riders," Engleman said. "We did pick up our first Canadian rider, Alex Wrubleski who races for Colavita/Sutter Home."
With the numbers on the rise there has been a need for further mentor support from the women's peloton. Along with Neben, the mentors this year include US Olympian Dede Demet-Barry and Colavita/Sutter Home's Dotsie Bausch. Riders who are scouted by Engleman are paired up with a mentor who answers questions about training, travel, nutrition, equipment and anything else related to racing. "The biggest question we get asked is, if I have a question who do I call?" Engleman said. "Or how do I get on a team, or how do I guest ride, or how do I train. We want to give honest and straight answers to women who want to race. The men have more infrastructure and knowledge and we are trying to coordinate that with women's cycling."
Not only has there been an influx of rider who want to help, the equipment sponsors and support of the USWCDP is an irreplaceable asset to the development of every rider. Industry sponsors such as Time Bikes and Shimano donate equipment to the program for new riders to start out with. Time USA also donated two all team limited edition world championship bikes to the program in a fundraising effort. "Doug Knox from Time USA has a heart of gold and he saw that we needed equipment support," Engleman said. "There are a lot of good athletes that need help and he wanted to play the part in that."
Engleman added, "We do not make much money off of our sponsors, it is all based on donations support. We would like to see more non industry companies come on board in the future."
Elite riders also donate their equipment to the program throughout the season with the theory that if it doesn't cost the program dollars it doesn't cost the rider dollars.
Growth of women's cycling in the US is highly depended on people like Michael Engleman and programs like the USWCDP. "I think there is a story being missed in the women's peloton that we need to get out there," Engleman reiterates. "We should be promoting our talented riders and helping the network grow. For example Amber has won the Tour de France two times and most people don't know that. I think we are on our way to bringing women's cycling to light."