Rapha has added new female athletes to its roster, sponsoring ultra-endurance athlete Lael Wilcox as well as adventure racer Sarah Sturm.
The pair join Rapha rider and Canadian Cyclocross champion, Maghalie Rochette, who was signed in September 2020.
Asked what exactly the support included, Rapha told us: “Our athletes receive monetary support, personalised Rapha Custom kit, as worn in the WorldTour, and receive a royalty from sales of their kit. We will tell their story to elevate their mission to a wider audience and to inspire others, and support them with projects that reach our shared vision of inspiring more people to ride, more often.”
This new sponsorship exists alongside the brand’s commitment to Canyon-SRAM UCI WorldTour women’s race team and the US elite domestic outfit, Legion of LA – which has gained female riders including Kendall Ryan, Skylar Schneider, and Avry Howes.
The support for Wilcox and Sturm, whose racing palmarès exist in a world outside of the traditional road and cyclocross spheres, aligns with Rapha’s move into the “alternative calendar adventures” which it supported via EF Education First’s campaign to take part in races outside of the UCI calendar.
Wilcox won the 2016 Trans Am Bike Race, and also set the women’s record for the 2,750 mile Tour Divide in 2015. Sturm’s 2019 achievements include a podium finish at the Sea Otter Classic and she’s also two-time US Single Speed Cyclocross National Champion.
The commitment to these riders comes alongside The Rapha Foundation’s annual $1.5 million spend, which is earmarked for supporting underrepresented cycling communities, with cash going on incentives such as the Helen100 Foundation which paid for entries to allow 100 under-23 women into the British National Cyclocross Championships.
As well as organising its annual Rapha Women’s 100 ride, encouraging women to ride together (physically or virtually), launching the majority of its clothing options in both male and female fit, as well as women’s only ranges, the brand has set up a ‘Rapha Women’ Instagram feed to help showcase women in cycling and “facilitate conversations on important issues relating to the world of women’s cycling.”
What might those “important issues relating to the world of women’s cycling” be?
Well, a 2020 survey by The Cyclists’ Alliance found that 25 per cent of professional female riders received zero wage – an alarming increase from 17 per cent in 2019. There’s huge prize money discrepancies to go along side that, as well as a lack of TV coverage to create a perfect circular funding issue.
Many women’s races continue to be held over shorter distances versus men’s, the Toyko Olympics being a prominent example, a strange situation given the well-documented endurance capabilities of women. At the pro end, there have also been multiple allegations of sexual harassment within teams, as well as allegations of mistreatment such as manipulation, bullying and fat-shaming.
Other issues include the prevalence of sports science studies that use only men, which can result in women receiving unreliable advice or treatment. In addition, the way the menstrual cycle affects women in sport has also come under the microscope recently, Olympic and World champion Elinor Barker spoke out about her struggles with endometriosis in 2019. A recent study found that whilst 80 per cent of coached women found their menstrual cycle affected their performance, 90 per cent said they had never discussed it with their coach.
Cycling Weekly’s own survey found that 30 per cent of female readers surveyed could be putting their health at risk via underfuelling – twice the number of men affected – at 15 per cent.
So, it seems there will be plenty of issues to discuss – as well as some very exciting female riders on hand to inspire and empower.