Le Col steps up backing for Drops women's team

Funding deal offers increased support for British women’s team

British UCI women’s team Drops has, after years of searching, finally been able to strike a deal to secure funding for 2021 and 2022.

The team will become Drops-Le Col supported by Tempur for the next two years. Drops started in 2016 and had previously been co-sponsored by Trek Bicycles, but the American firm pulled out suddenly at the end of 2018 when it started its own squad, Trek-Segafredo, leaving Drops struggling to find backers.

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Staff but no salary

The team’s future has hung in the balance since and it previously launched crowd-funding efforts in a bid to boost their visibility. Team manager Bob Varney said getting a deal done “made the hard work worthwhile”.

He was also keen to highlight the advantages of having clothing brand Le Col step up from supplier to title sponsor as this will enable greater support for the riders. “We will have regular staff, so we won’t be relying on volunteers, we can go to more races – perhaps two days before as opposed to the day before – and can do recon, just prepare much better recover from travel. These are all things riders say are important to them,” he said.

He added that it also means riders will get a nutrition programme away from races rather than only at them.

However, he said the funding would not go as far as being able to pay a salary to riders, something Drops has always been transparent about its inability to do. “That’s something we’re working on for next year. We’re hoping to try and come up with some form of payment for the riders, even if it’s not a salary. It is the one thing we’re not happy about, but what we have now is progress,” Varney said.

Great expectations

The increased budget will come with some expectation of improved results from the team, which hasn’t won a UCI race since 2017, though members of the squad have won time trial National titles in Drops kit and for other TT-specific teams. Varney added the squad would also do a bit more racing on the UK scene than it has done in the past.

Varney said: “We want to hit the ground running. We started really well this year, we were robbed of the opportunity to show the strength in depth of our squad by the pandemic, I think.”

He added: “We may not be those plucky underdogs anymore and have that status that we can hide behind when things go wrong.”

Big-brand backing

Varney said Le Col and Tempur mattresses’ increased involvement was in line with his desire to have “premium brands” involved with the team.

Yanto Barker, the founder of Le Col, said: “We firmly believe that to nurture and develop the next generation of female sports stars, brands need to commit and show ambition in women’s cycling.”

There is also set to be a series of new equipment suppliers backing the squad, including a new bike and wheels supplier. Though Varney said he was not currently at liberty to disclose who they were, riders were set to get three bikes – including a TT bike – more than the squad had ever had.

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Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, World Championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the Middle East. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.