With visiting pros and coaches training in Aspen this summer, cycling is picking up momentum with the USA Pro Challenge fast approaching on Aug. 19-20.
Mixed in with the professional road bikers and mountain bikers taking advantage of Aspen’s summer climate and training terrain is Nicola Cranmer, one of the foremost figures in women’s cycling in North American — and beyond.
Cranmer is the general manager, owner and founder of a women’s professional cycling team, known now as Team Exergy Twenty16.
“There’s a lot of relationship building. It’s a slow process,” Cranmer said during a recent break from her networking frenzy in Aspen. She’s connecting with potential future sponsors for her women’s professional cycling team that includes a full junior component.
That’s 14 pros and 14 juniors.
“For women, there’s nothing but opportunity in cycling right now. It’s a great time for people to get involved,” she said as her team pedaled Kristin McGrath to the general classification title in the Cascade Classic, the Oregon stage race — a big one on the U.S. pro calendar.
McGrath, originally from Durango, was powered to the top spot on the podium by third-place teammate Mara Abbott, of Boulder, who recently won the famed Giro Rosa in Europe for the second time. The Giro is Europe’s top stage race for women.
Abbott is considered by some as the top road cyclist among American riders. Certainly after her wins in Europe and five victories in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic from Durango to Sliverton, Abbott is considered the best climber out there.
She rides for Nicola Cranmer.
Her predecessor as America’s top female cyclist is Olympic medalist Kristin Armstrong, of Boise, won Olympic honors as a member of Cranmer’s pro team. She’s twice won Olympic gold in the individual time trial.
Lauren Tamayo, another Cranmer cyclist, won time trial silver in London.
“The level of stress is amplified in an Olympic year,” Cranmer said. “The racing is intense anyway. But in an Olympic year ... wow.”
She said the pending Olympics add to the intensity of her networking, too.
Members of Cranmer’s Exergy cycling team will make an appearance in Aspen as part of the benefit sprint-relay races that are scheduled with the opening stage of the USA Pro Challenge.
Teams of sprinting cyclists will race down Main in elimination rounds to raise money for the USA Cycling Development Program. They’ll race on the course that the riders will use in the Aspen/Snowmass stage of the USA Pro Challenge.
“We have some scheduling issues, but I’m hoping our junior world champion, Jennifer Velente, can race here. We will have some of the top juniors, for sure,” said Cranmer, herself a former professional mountain bike racer.
She said she’s excited to have the team represented in front of the Aspen crowds at the USA Pro Challenge.
Cranmer’s path to power in women’s cycling started in her native England, where she grew up in an equestrian family.
She discovered mountain biking and came to North America to race.
Derailed briefly because of a speeding ticket she received for riding her mountain bike too fast on a fire road at Mount Tamalpais in California, Cranmer had to return home to London before she was allowed back in the United States two years later.
“I stopped racing for a few years,” Cranmer said. “Then, I got into road riding, into road racing.”
She raced on a coed team.
“The women on the team were doing really well, but the men on the team were getting all the support,” Cranmer said. “So, one day, I decided to start a women’s team.”
At first, it was a regional team in Northern California.
One of her first riders, a cat 4 beginner, was Shelley Olds, who went on to reach the Olympics.
“She learned how to race with my team,” Cranmer said. “Then, it just grew and grew and grew.”
From the beginning, she said, a junior component has been part of the team.
“We’re the only pro (women’s) team with a (junior) program. We integrate the juniors into the professional program,” Cranmer said, adding that she will add juniors to the pro roster for some races.
“Their skill level accelerates. Plus, it keeps the seasoned pros on their toes if they have these juniors nipping at their heels,” she said.
Cranmer said she’s encouraged by the climate surrounding women’s cycling.
“It’s really starting to happen. There is movement there. Even with all the scandal of the last few years, people are still cycling fans,” Cranmer said. “They just want to separate from that (doping scandal) a little bit.”
Some longtime cycling sponsors are switching to women’s cycling, trying to take advantage of those appealing cycling demograpics, she said.
Future women’s races in connection with the major tours in the United States will help, Cranmer said.
“The Tour of California has always had a women’s race,” Cranmer said. “Being part of that Tour of California media machine is huge (for women’s cycling).”
“That’s the direction women’s cycling needs to go ... piggy-backing with those big tours like that,” said Cranmer, who also has been working in Aspen with Jame Carney, the cycling coach who will take over as her team’s sporting director next year.
Carney, based in Tucson, Ariz., has based his coaching operations in Aspen the last few summers.
“Jame’s a brilliant tactician. And he’s been on the circuit for a long time,” Cranmer said, adding that his experience at track racing will be valuable for the team’s track cyclists.
And the roadies, too.