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Crowdfunding a women's pro cycling team - could it work?

Fan funding could help to bridge pay gap and support more women into racing

In the weeks following stellar Olympic cycling performances from both men and women, sports personalities have begun speaking out about the discrepancies between men's and women's pro cycling funding.

Sarah Storey, heroine of the Paralympic Games, said to us last weekend: "It's about giving people the opportunity to progress, get proficient and then eventually climb the ladder like we see in the men's sport.

"We just have to hope that with the London Games we can see that change and we can perhaps see a women's pro Tour and it would be as well covered as the men's."

Said Emma Pooley in the Guardian: "There is a lot of uncertainty every year over teams.

"You think you've got a contract, then the team decide women's racing is not of interest to main sponsors because it's not visible. It's a bit depressing – after a while you feel what you're doing is pointless because no one is interested.

"With a lot of women's teams you're lucky if they buy you a sandwich at the race." Her team, the AA squad, has folded, leaving her wondering whether it's time to retire.

Lizzie Armitstead has been equally outspoken, telling the Telegraph: "It can get overwhelming and frustrating, the sexism I’ve experienced in my career. It’s a big issue in women’s sport. It’s the obvious things: the salary, media coverage, the general things you have to cope with. If you focus on it too much you get very disheartened."

So, what's to be done?

Crowdfunding is the answer, says the manager of Matrix Fitness-Prendas manager, Stefan Wyman, and with that in mind he's going all twentyfirst century and introducing a hashtag, #fanbackedwomensteam.

Wyman told BikeBiz: "In the new world of social media and ease of information there is an opportunity for [funding such a team] to work.

"It need not be the primary source of funding. Salaries to riders would not be dependent on it. It would be run by a small, but perfectly-formed, committee.

"A large part of the fund would be used for promotional events for the good of growth and development, not racing cost."

It's not the first pro cycling team to go fan-backed; the Basque team Euskaltel Euskadi was born out of the Fundación Euskadi, created in 1993.

Business sponsors, the Basque government and Basque cycling fans contributed to the Fundación. With that money they founded a professional cycling team from 1994.

Nowadays it's mostly businesses and government that pay the way, and we all know what financial trouble the Spanish government is in.

But Wyman remains hopeful. He said: "We are looking to build a primary community of 500 people, with an initial funding target of £50,000. We believe that there will be ongoing opportunities to reward these partners with benefits, like VIP events, once our community is established."

Like with most crowdfunding ventures, there are rewards for people who pay up, beyond feeling a part of something.

A £100 pledge earns full 'community membership' - or those without the cash can offer 'sweat equity', such as help with photography or events organisation.

Would you pay to see women's cycling supported? Let us know in the comments below.

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