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An interview with Giana Roberge, December 4, 2003
Higher and higher
After retiring from professional cycling in 1999, Giana Roberge began another successful career as a team director. Now, after Saturn's decision to discontinue sponsorship of their pro cycling team, Roberge is moving on to a new venture - actually, make that a few new ventures…
In June next year, she plans to participate in the 2,980 mile RAAM (Race Across America). If she finishes, Roberge will become one of only a handful of women to complete one of the world's most grueling endurance events. She also plans to continue promoting women's cycling in numerous ways. Cyclingnews' Kristy Scrymgeour caught up with the lady who is about to embark on a new era in her life.
Roberge changed her role in Team Sports in 1999, moving from a rider in the women's Timex team to director of the team, after being told by doctors that she had a heart condition and should stop racing professionally. From there, she went on to directing the Saturn team from 2001 until 2003 during which time they became the number one women's team in the world. The fact that Saturn is no longer has forced Roberge to make some changes in her life.
"When Saturn pulled out we found out that our last pay checks would be November 30th," explained Roberge. "It got to be the end of October and I thought, 'what am I going to do?' This summer, Tom [Schuler, General Manager] agreed to fit the Women's Task Force on Cycling into my schedule. As the task force was developing, I was asking myself, 'What is it that I really enjoy doing?' The answer is that I really enjoy promoting cycling for women, and so I have decided to continue in that vein."
During 2003, Roberge, with the help of David La Porte and others, started the Women's Task Force on Cycling in an attempt to improve the conditions for female cyclists and promote cycling as a sport for women throughout the country. This year, she will continue on that path, introducing a series of races for women, a women's cycling magazine, women's cycling camps and will be available to coach women on how to get into cycling.
"There are three sections to the Women's Task Force: we have the grass roots group, the racing group and the media group. All of these will work together for the cause.
To start with, the task force has developed a series of six races in an attempt to get women's teams to commit. Each promoter will put in money and it will be divided equally between the participating teams to help them get to the races. The series will have a U25 jersey, a sprint jersey, a leader's jersey and a teams' jersey. "We have got it organized pretty well," said Roberge. "Teams will get the support in terms of housing and all they have to do is be committed to do a school visit or a hospital visit in return."
So far Roberge has 12 teams committed to the series and the Bermuda GP organization has agreed to supply to final prize. "They are going to pay for four riders from the top 10 teams to go to Bermuda for the race in September," explained Roberge. "We really want to encourage the young riders who support the top riders during the year. So the points system will work in such a way that points from the top four riders from each team and points from the best young rider in the team will go towards the overall standings."
The races will not be new races, but races that already exist and race organizers are coming on board to support the cause. "We have all the races confirmed except for the Threshold events", she said, "because they have to have the idea approved by their board. Chance Regina at Maxxis is a huge supporter of women's cycling and has been working with us on the women's series. We really needed a representative from within the industry so this has worked out well.
As part of the women's task force, Roberge and La Porte have assigned a media advice team who will help women's teams with their media strategy so that they know how to deal with the media and promote their team. "At Saturn we were very good with the media, but we were lucky. We had access to a fantastic PR group and we could afford it. But even without a budget, it is important that teams have bio's and know how to promote themselves, so our media component will be working at that. I believe that this will be good for all of cycling, women's especially."
The other thing Roberge is working on is putting a magazine together for women in cycling. It will be a free annual publication that we will distribute to places including fitness centers and bike shops. "I have always thought that there is really nothing out there to help women get into cycling and give them advice about how to start. There is also no advice for shop owners about how to sell a bike to a woman. I got frustrated. There is a lot going on in women's cycling, but not one piece out there specifically for women," she said.
The magazine will have articles from riders like Kimberly Bruckner about 'saddles and how they make a difference', 'how to prepare to race a tour' from Kendra Wenzel, 'Life after pro cycling' from Karen Bliss and advice and tips from mechanics about how to pack a bike and how to check and maintain a bike. "I'm really excited about this," said Roberge. "I am funding it from my savings and no-one is getting paid, but I have people willing to donate their time for the cause."
By now, you must be all thinking, 'OK, enough is enough', but Roberge also has a few more things going on… and I haven't even got to talking about the RAAM.
"With Eurocycle tours, we are going to hold women's camps. There will be two in March in Spain and we will be treating it like a professional cycling training camp. We will have talks about products and we will do a lot of skills clinics and a lot of teaching," said Roberge. "One of the things I find is that there is a complete distinction between women who consider themselves athletes and those who don't. There are so many women around who go to the gym every day or train every day but don't consider themselves athletes. If we can get more of these women to consider themselves as athletes, it will help them look after themselves as an athlete should."
Related to this, Roberge is working with Velogirls as their strategy coach and coaching others on the side. "Velogirls are a group of cyclists from juniors to women of 50 years of age. All of them race and all are cat 3 and 4 riders. We meet during the week for a group rides.
"I'm also doing coaching on the side; it's actually more lifestyle as well as what people normally think of as training. For example, I will help women with things like how to find a bike shop that will help you out, how to put together your resume, and fit people to their bikes."
Finally we get to RAAM and the side of Roberge that has returned to the life of an athlete. "It's scary to think that I will be a professional athlete again," said Roberge of her fears for her new goals. "The doctor has given me the go ahead. Actually when I go back to the doctor now, my heart is 100 per cent fine. The thinking is that may have been a virus that settled in my heart. The good news is that I'm fine and Dr. Eaton who worked with the Saturn team is going to work with me along the way and help with RAAM."
Roberge's new business and the RAAM team will be called "Team Speed Queen", a nickname Roberge picked up when riding with the guys. "I guess they didn't like being dropped by a woman," laughed Roberge. She will be working with a few of the staff that she worked with at Team Sports, including Ian Sherburne and Maripage Grubic. "It takes up to 10 staff to do RAAM. You need a day crew and a night crew. It's about 300 miles a day and 85,000 feet of climbing. I will start in San Diego on June 20 and I have until July 2 to get to Atlantic City."
"I have had a lot of support from within the industry from companies like Shimano, Louis Garneau, Headsweats, Michelin, Reynolds, Athlete Octane, Independent Fabrications and Mavic. Everyone has encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I am very fortunate to have created good alliances and worked with people passionate about cycling."
"I don't have a title sponsor yet, but I am working on that now," added Roberge. "I was trying to keep it clean cut between Team Sports and trying to find a sponsor for myself. I didn't want to cross over into that territory. I think I will approach women's products from a fitness angle, for example a company that is interested in women's sports. However, I can't be too picky at this point. I'm also scared as hell. Right now I have no money coming in and we are moving to Santa Rosa which is of course is a more expensive place to live than Wisconsin, but all in all, I feel very fortunate. I have a lot of support. The women's team is really understanding of me leaving Team Sports and encouraging towards my goals. I will miss working with, laughing with, and managing some of the best women in the world, however, I am very excited about this new chapter in my life."
Of course, this is all going to consume a lot of time for Roberge. "I will train during the day and work at night. Right now I'm riding about 16 hours per week and in January I will be doing long days," said Roberge. "I will do the Olympic trials because I think it's a good race to support and the time trial fits in perfectly for a good hard hit out before the RAAM. I will also do Gila for training in May. I'll race in the morning and train in the afternoons, and of course Masters World's and the nationals are important to me. I'm really bummed that I got silver at Masters World's last year - I really wanted to get gold."