For the second time this year, the future of top performing women’s team Équipe Paule Ka has been thrown into uncertainty.
A report on CyclingTips revealed riders have been told the team were requesting the release of the bank guarantee held by the UCI to pay salaries for October as their new sponsor was unable to make payments to the team.
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The Swiss registered team began 2020 as Bigla-Katusha, but the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic caused both sponsors to withdraw in the spring. However, a few weeks later French fashion brand, Paule Ka stepped in, signing a four year deal sparking rumours they would apply to join the top tier as a WorldTour team next year.
“The news came as a total shock to me,” British rider Sophie Wright told Cycling Weekly. “Paule Ka signed with us a only a few months ago and I was thinking they must be in a good position to sponsor a cycling team during Covid.”
The team have been on the rise over the last two years, and this year consistently good results have taken them to fourth in the world rankings, ahead of six of the eight top tier WorldTour teams. Swiss rider Marlen Reusser was second in the World Championships time trial and placed seventh at Liège-Bastogne-Liège last Sunday.
Last month 22 year-old New Zealander Mikayla Harvey finished fifth overall at the Giro Rosa, while their other British rider, Lizzy Banks won a stage there. In her post victory interview Banks credited team staff for comprehensively reccying each stage, something not even all WorldTour teams did, and is one of a number of riders to rally behind team manager Thomas Campana.
“The atmosphere in the team this year has been truly amazing and everyone, riders and staff, are so supportive of one another. You only have to look at the results we have achieved to see a reflection of this,” said Banks.
“Our team owner, Thomas Campana, has been critical to this success and has supported us unwaveringly throughout all the ups and downs of this year. The sacrifices Thomas has made for this team are endless.
“I am truly gutted for this whole team. We had something really special here, our team is currently ranked 4th in the world, we all get on like a house of fire and there is so much talent that we don’t know what to do with it! It really is a sad day for cycling.”
Campana has come in for criticism in recent years, with allegations of unethical behaviour over a number of seasons surfacing in 2018. However, the riders appear upbeat at races and their aggressive style has reaped dividends.
“When I started cycling I heard bad rumours about Campana that I was afraid to try the team,” said Swiss time trial champion Reusser. “He pushes as much as he can in a race, and he is so committed, but he is not doing anything bad, and that’s why we want to ride for the team.
“I would say he’s always correct and fair, I have never experienced a moment when I thought this is not correct, or he’s harming somebody and it’s not OK. I’ve never seen it.”
Neither team nor riders will comment on the squads’s future, but the tone is far from positive and if the headline sponsor is unable to continue their future appears bleak, especially in such uncertain times.
The potential loss of his team would be a huge blow to the sport, with a number of high quality and hugely promising riders left with little time to find a team.