The official poster for the Team Argos-Shimano this year shows a full team. Thirty eight riders in total. Looking more closely, you can see that the rows alternate between the men and women, all wearing the same white jersey. The detail reveals twenty eight men for the team that has just achieved a place at UCI WorldTour level, and 10 female athletes making up the UCI womenâ€™s team.
The two divisions naturally do not participate in the same competitions, but the General Manager of the Team Argos Shimano, Iwan Spekenbrink, insists on the unity of his project, initiated in 2011. "We have a Classics' group, a stage races' group, and so a women's group. There are always differences in a team and the difference between women and men riders is just one of them. For us this is an advantage, not an issue."
At the January training get together, Lucy Garner, the double World Champion, a new recruit in the team, was part of both the womenâ€™s group and the sprinters. Her alter egos in the menâ€™s team, both masters of the charge in the final sprint for the finish, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, threw her a challenge while training on the roads around Altea, on the Costa Blanca. "They wanted to sprint against me, but I didnâ€™t dare, laughs Lucy Garner. Maybe next time !"
The young Brit was immediately hooked on this mixed approach. "I now have the opportunity not to be part of a women's cycling team but just a cycling team, a big team", she underlines. "The staff share the same knowledge and provide the same help as they do for men's riders. It's nice to feel equal."
The ten riders in the womenâ€™s team benefit from the same technical and humain support as the men ; two trainers, six Sporting Directors and specialists recognised in several different domains, from nutrition to equipment science.Â
"We use the same philosophy and the same standards and this combination makes both teams stronger", explains Cees-Jan van der Zweep, Sports Manager and Performance Coach, posted with the women for 80% of his time.
Team Argos-Shimanoâ€™s philosophy ? "Team spirit, inspiration, integrity, improvement, innovation", according to the team motto. The managers, as a priority, take on young talent to work with them over the long term and to transmit their ethical values. The January transfer of Lucy Garner is the womenâ€™s equivalent of the signing, at the same time, of the French rider Warren Barguil, winner of the Tour de l'Avenir 2012, both assigned the task of learning first, winning later.
Three years after the addition of a womenâ€™s branch in the team, the athletes have already progressed. "We needed firstly to connect all our riders' talents with our staff's expertise and thus create a culture", analyses Iwan Spekenbrink. "Once you've a culture in the team, you can start thinking about results. This is besides how to create a men's team too".
The womenâ€™s team at Team Argos-Shimano is now making clear their ambitions from here on. A place in the top five of the UCI World Cup and good placements in the Dutch events, the Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile or in the Team Time Trial at the World Championships.
"But our priority remains training", points out Cees-Jan van der Zweep. "We initiate our riders to a large number of situations and types of competition, for example the cobbles".
This season, three UCI WorldTour teams have made the decision to bring together their men and women under the same banner : Lotto-Belisol, Orica-GreenEdge and of course Argos-Shimano.
The results are proving to be rewarding, in ethical matters and even sponsoring, Iwan Spekenbrink explains : "We show we pay the same respect for women and men, which is fair and good for the women customers of our sponsors, and creates a lot of publicity exposure. This is activation, as we say in marketing".
WithÂ spirits riding high, Team Argos-Shimano have distinguished themselves right from the seasonâ€™s start with Kirsten Wild taking three stages of the Tour du Qatar. A highly symbolic success as the event has decided to give their attention as much to the women as the men.