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Kristy Scrymgeour interviewed on Vårgårda, Project X and MUCH more!

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Kristy Scrymgeour is a former cyclist, journalist, PR manager for HTC-Highroad, and now the owner and manager of the Specialized-lululemon team, who have just won two rounds of the women's Road World Cup, the Crescent Vårgårda Team Time Trial and Road Race, with Chantal Blaak. I spoke to her about those two wins, the Project X Fundraiser to crowd-source support for the team next year, and much more.

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Specialized-lululemon riding to win the Open de Suède Vårgårda
Specialized-lululemon riding to win the Open de Suède Vårgårda
Velofocus - http://velofocus.com/2014/world-cup-ttt-in-pictures/
The full conversation is up as a podcast on my blog, but just for the Café, here's some of the transcript

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PdC: Congratulations, your team has just had the most incredible Vårgårda World Cup!

Kristy: It was very exciting, even watching it from the other side of the world, you could just feel the excitement with the team, they really got together and had a great weekend.

PdC: I was a bit surprised, because although your team won the Vårgårda Team Time Trial World Cup for the last three years in a row and have been the two-time TTT World Champions, seeing how much ORICA, Boels and Rabobank have been training, I thought this might be the year you'd lose it!

Kristy: There's a lot of competition out there, and some really strong teams, so we all have to lift our game, but it's something we do concentrate on, and I think we have a really good feeling in the group.  That's something that really helps with a TTT, it's kind of the epitome of team work.  We definitely make sure, when we're choosing our riders, that we select riders that give 100% to their team-mates, and this event really shows what you can do together as a team.

PdC: I was looking at the stats, and that was the course record, even despite the pouring rain.

Kristy: We definitely had a good group.  We had a tailwind at the beginning which definitely helped, but you still have to turn round...  They just really pulled it together, it was a great ride.

PdC: Then Chantal winning the Road Race on Sunday, in such beautiful style - she was out in the break, and attacking, and Lisa Brennauer was chasing down attacks and attacking, herself - that was a really good way to win it.

Kristy: We don't really have a pure sprinter on the team any more, since Ina-Yoko Teutenberg retired, so we've been really attacking all year - the girls have attacked and attacked and attacked, and sometimes that can work, and sometimes if you don't have a sprinter, you can give everything to the race and but it doesn't quite work out, but when it does, it's magical.

PdC: It was such an exciting race.  There were three or four teams that were attacking all the time that I would have been happy to see win, but Chantal's attack before the final climb, and then going again after she was caught, it was just beautiful.

Kristy: A lot of the races play out like this, it's just great now that we're getting more and more of a chance to watch the races live - hopefully that's just going to continue into next year. It's amazing, I really think next year's going to be the year where a lot more of the races are going to be able to be seen, and that's going to make a real difference to our sport.

The coverage is also great for the riders, too, because they can see what they do wrong, and they can see what they do right.  Often when you're in the moment, you can't see it, and after, if Ronny [Lauke, the team DS] says "you did this, and you should have done it this way", they might say "I don't quite get that" - but now they can see it, and they can see what other people do.  In a lot of the big sports, they spend hours and hours in front of the TV studying their opponents, studying their own style, working out their playbook, so it's a good tool to have.

PdC: Speaking of next year, it felt kind of bitter-sweet seeing you do so well this weekend, because you're currently crowd-sourcing to fund the team for next year.

Kristy: We are crowd-funding, but this is just the nature of sponsorship, it just happens like this.  You see it with lots of teams - some teams can lose their sponsors at their very peak, and you just have to keep working to keep it alive, and I feel confident we can do that. It seems bitter-sweet, but I think that we're going to come out on top - it'll be fine!

PdC: It seems like a fun project, when I was reading about Project X on Indiegogo, it seems like much more than just about "give us your money" - can you tell us more about it?

Kristy: In reality, if you want to raise enough money to run an international pro women's cycling team, it's almost impossible to do it purely by crowd-funding.  We do need to bring in money, and we think it's a great way to do it, because at the same time as people can contribute, they also become part of the programme, which I think is fairly special - but one of the main reasons we did it was because we wanted to get it out there that we're looking for partners, but we wanted to get it out there in an interesting way.

And so part of it is creating attention, part of it is saying women's cycling is growing, but we're still at the stage where fighting for sponsors is not easy, even when you're one of the top teams.  We're at a time where there's a buzz around women's cycling, there's people waiting for it to become a great mainstream sport that they can watch on television - and those people are the ones that are supporting us now and saying "Yeah, I really want to see women's cycling".  We get emails all the time saying "How can we watch you, where can we see you?", so this is a way for those people to say we really want teams like this to survive, and women's cycling to grow, it's an opportunity for them to say "I did my part, I'm part of this growth". That's what we wanted it to be, to bring the community together and try something a little bit different.  So the idea came up, and we realised we weren't going to raise over a million dollars, we may not even raise the amount we set out to raise.  It was a huge risk, and it hasn't really been done before, but it has created some great attention, it's created conversation, and we've still got two more weeks to try to get as many people involved as we can.

PdC: I love it, personally, because as someone with not much cash, it's nice to know you can contribute, my twenty quid adds up with other people's - but also I like the fact that I can be part of the project and the team can see the support.

Kristy: And that's actually the most important thing for us as the moment.  It's not how much money people can put in, it's to know people are really supporting this team, and it makes a huge difference in being able to go out there and look for sponsors, and have the confidence to do that.

One of the big things that needs to happen in women's cycling is to really bring the community in.  There's a huge number of women out there riding bikes, and they don't want to race, and that's totally OK, we don't need to get every person who rides a bike to step on the start line - but what we need to do is get those women excited about watching it, and being fans of the sport, and to do that, we need to find a bridge between the people who ride for leisure, who also find so much excitement and freedom in the bike to be associated with racing at the professional level.

PdC: In terms of some of the risks of the fundraiser, I've seen some people wonder if this is a bad message to send about women's cycling, to ask fans for money - how would you answer something like that?

Kristy: I understand the pros and cons of doing something like this - and it is a risk, people are going to take it in different ways.  The way we wanted to do this was to say "be part of the community and help us grow", and I think the reality of cycling at the moment is it's growing, it's now on TV more than it has been before, but we still have an issue of sponsorship.  Most of the teams are operating on very tight budgets, and finding sponsors is very hard.

I don’t think we can think that everything’s wonderful right now – I think everything can be wonderful, but I’m a big believer in thinking about the positive actions that we can take to grow this sport rather than complain about the negative parts of it. But the reality still is, it’s not easy to find sponsors, and the way that cycling is structured, is that everything runs on sponsorship, and if you don’t have a big Return on Investment to show to big companies outside the sport, it’s not easy to sell, so you are still relying on sponsors within the industry, and then you’re limited to a certain amount of brands. It’s a reality check – yes, things are great, and there are people doing amazing things to grow this sport, and there are great things happening, particularly in the UK, but not everyone is finding sponsors right now, and we’re one of the leading teams in the world and it’s the same thing. We didn’t want it to be a negative message, we definitely didn’t want it to be something that brings down women’s cycling.

PdC: It’s easy to be complacent about it - some people say "We have La Course by Le Tour de France and the Friends Life Women’s Tour, so people (like me) shouldn’t be negative" - but I think we are where we are because of a lot of hard work, it hasn’t happened by accident, and for me it’s inspiring to say "keep up the pressure!"

Kristy: We have to keep up the pressure. In women’s cycling, we had a Tour de France, and had a lot of big races here in the US, that came after a time when there was a huge push for women’s sport – Title IX in the US, for instance, and this huge push for equality and for opportunities for women. And then we reached a point where we did become complacent, and things went backwards. So we can’t be complacent, we have to keep pushing, we have to keep trying new, inventive ways, and everyone’s doing that right now. There are so many great people and great groups out there doing a lot of work in a really positive way, to change the sport of women’s cycling, and we’re trying to do that in our small way, and to keep this team going until there is a time when sponsors are a bit easier to find.

PdC: You make it sound really exciting rather than scary!

Kristy: You have to think like that, otherwise you’d get up each day and think "oh my gosh, this is never going to happen", you have to stay really positive about it.


And the good thing is, we’ve got an amazing staff on our team, they’re one of the best groups of staff in the business – and we’ve got a really good group of women, and we’ve got some good supporters, so that makes it easier to keep going. We’ve also got some really good sponsors we’re in conversation with for the next couple of years, and we’re building our budget slowly and surely for next year, in the hopes of finding that big sponsor for the future. I think that we’ll manage to do it for next year, and maybe next year won’t be our biggest year in terms of budget, but this whole project, even if it’s good or bad in some people’s eyes, has started conversations, and opened up new avenues.

***

Our conversation went on to cover all kinds of things, including running a race programme across two continents; getting through the very hard 2014, when three key members of the team were injured, and dealing with the "less good"  start to 2013 (and how "less good" can refer to results, but it made them stronger); the team goals for the rest of the season; Kristy's work on the UCI's women’s commission of the UCI, and changes we might see in the future; and some other initiatives Kristy is involved with, Velocio.cc and Ally's Bars.  If you'd like to find out about all that, listen to the podcast on my wesbite.

You can follow Specialized-lululemon on their website, facebook and twitter, and support the Project X fundraiser on Indiegogo.  The two project videos are below, starting with the brand-new video featuring the team talking about what cycling means to them, as well as the project.