Brian Cookson, beaten by David Lappartient in September in his bid to secure a second term as president of the UCI, has outlined plans to set up a UCI Women’s WorldTour team.
The 66-year-old, who said in a statement published on his website yesterday that he was “not quite ready to disappear altogether from the world of cycling” says preliminary discussions have been held with potential backers and partners of the team, which could start racing in the 2019 season.
He added that ultimately, a men’s under-23 development team as well as a men’s WorldTour outfit could be added to the structure – something he said would “reverse the usual process” which has seen a number of male teams, such as Lotto-Belisol and Team Sunweb, set up female equivalents.
Cookson, who succeeded Pat McQuaid to cycling’s top job in 2017, said that the proposed Women’s WorldTour team would “meet or exceed the new high standards that are likely to be put in place by the UCI for the new two-tier structure for Women’s Teams that was developed during my term as UCI President.
“I am not just talking about a top-level team in the traditional sense,” he said. “There has never been so much interest in women’s sport, fitness and health generally, and this is clearly reflected in the interest in women’s cycling, not just at the elite level, but in terms of general participation.
“It seems to me that we are at a moment of real opportunity for women’s cycling. We are at a pivotal point, a sea-change in attitude towards women’s sport in the media and amongst the public is taking place, and we should seize this opportunity.
He said he believed that companies associating their brand with elite cycling and thereby encourage women around the globe to take it up, whether as a sport or a pastime, “could benefit tremendously.”
He envisages the team being registered in Great Britain, but with riders drawn from around the world, with Women’s WorldTour events expanding to 23 in number next season, mostly in Europe but with two in China and one in the United States.
Underlining that the project is in its infancy, Cookson said: “I am putting this idea out there because I want to stimulate the decision-makers in those companies, many of whom (men and women) enjoy cycling themselves, to start to think about the possibilities.
“The potential return on their investment could be very substantial, but I want to make it clear that it will need innovation, creativity, and a major effort from their side to make that happen.
“I am not looking for a company to simply underwrite the team, I am looking for partners who want to invest in an initiative that will make a real difference to people’s lives, potentially right around the world.”
He continued: “I envisage bringing together, with a title sponsor, a unique combination of equipment and clothing manufacturers, universities and health organisations, vehicle and logistics suppliers, all of the necessary partners to make this the most successful, most effective and most popular team in the world.
“It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that the team will have the highest ethical standards, too, in every respect.”
Acknowledging that currently “there is no budget and no funding” for the project, Cookson said: “At this stage, I’m not looking for people who are looking for a job, or a place on the team – all that will come later.
“Here and now, I am interested in talking to companies who might want to share this vision and help me make it happen.”
Cookson also said that he plans on “writing a book about my lifetime of experiences in the sport.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.