By Nigel Wynn
British rider Jessie Walker has decided to take a break from cycling after what she describes as a 'frustrating' and 'demoralising' experience on Italian women's team Servetto Footon.
Walker, 22, joined the squad in mid-2015 from the British based RST Racing Team. She moved to Italy to train and race with the squad on the continent, but says that she received little in the way of support from the team.
"Due to a frustrating year with my Italian team I have decided to take a break from racing," Walker wrote on her personal website.
"This hasn’t been an easy decision to make and it’s been playing on my mind for the majority of the season. I received little support from my team; at times I’ve even thought that the DS was against me and doing everything he could to make the situation even more difficult."
Walker rode for the Great Britain team at the 2016 Women's Tour, and said that the experience with them highlighted the perceived shortfalls on the Italian team.
"I’ve seen how other teams operate and even experienced the better side whilst being part of the GB team this year at the Aviva Women’s Tour and at the World Championships in Richmond last year which only added to my frustration with Servetto Footon."
Walker – the daughter of ex-professional cyclist Chris Walker – says that although the women's cycling scene is growing and becoming more popular, there are still many teams who are 'below par'. She says that she was not paid by the team, instead relying on money from the British-based Dave Rayner Fund.
"I’d say from personal experience on the WorldTour level only the top 10 teams are acceptable to call themselves ‘professional’," Walker wrote. "As soon as you get further down the rankings including my team Servetto Footon (ranked 15th WT) the teams are well below par. I’ve seen much more professionally run British amateur teams."
She continued: "I’ve never had any financial support from any team so racing is basically a full time hobby for me which has been a big part in me realising if I’m only doing this for fun then there’s something missing in the fact that racing has become a chore for me. To be treated with no respect is truly demoralising."
Walker also says that she received little support and encouragement from the team staff, writing: "Most on the outside think that riders are living the dream racing on the continent but I know in many cases they aren’t. My environment was so controlled on and off the bike by people who don’t have a clue of what they are talking about."
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"Even easy days I wasn’t allowed café stops and told that all rides must be over four hours, and we were never allowed a day off the bike."
"No food was provided after races, in one case water was denied to riders from the car due to the DS deciding ‘they don’t deserve it’ maybe because we’d missed the break or something similar."
Walker says that she will remain in cycling, but will not be racing in 2017 – she said that she will announce her plans soon.
"I really don’t want this to just sound like one big moan. I want this to be an honest blog of my personal experience so other girls in the future are more aware of the reality of these teams."
The Servetto-Footon team has been contacted for comment.
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