A couple weeks ago, we announced our sponsorship of the new Instafund La Prima women’s pro cycling team. As advocates of equality in sport, we love this concept that supports women who want to race at a high level in cycling while also holding down full time or part time careers in other fields. For this month’s blog post, we interviewed team founder and rider, Isabella Bertold, on what it took to get the team off the ground, and more:
FEC: How did you get into cycling personally, and how did that passion turn into starting a women’s team that supported riders in their mission to race at a high level while pursuing a career outside of this sport?
IB: My first sport is Olympic sailing. I qualified Canada for the London and Rio Olympics, though for different reasons did not compete at either Olympic Games. A couple years ago I had a really bad knee injury and was told that cycling would be a great part of my rehab, but I hadn’t really done a long ride before. I got into the sport, signed up for some Gran Fondos, and I loved it. I did a learn-to-race clinic and got totally hooked. I competed at nationals my first year of racing. My full time job is working as a fund analyst at a venture capitalist fund. The idea to start the team came from talking to other riders who were in similar positions; it’s not possible to progress at the UCI/continental level without giving up your full-time job, so lots of riders have to think about where they’re at in the sport and how they want to progress given the constraints of a career elsewhere. In cycling in Canada there are lots of youth development programs, but not for riders who started the sport a little later in life and want to get to the next level of competition, like many of the women on our team. A team like ours gives them the opportunity to get there without giving up their career.
FEC: What is involved to get a professional team off the ground, from both a funding standpoint and in finding the right key players to lead the team?
IB: The funding opportunities in the sport aren’t great, but I am used to that from my time in sailing. Even at the world tour level, women’s cycling is not that well funded, but for the riders, racing on a team is a full time commitment. Things moved fairly quickly after we decided to get going on it in early September of 2018. From sailing, I had a lot of fundraising experience and knew how to pull people together. I applied the same principles for this team. Instafund had sponsored my 2016 Olympic campaign, and we’re so grateful that they decided to be the title sponsor our team as well.
We also had to find our Directeur Sportifs. We have two; Shawn Clarke (Ottawa) and Laura Brown (Vancouver). They handle all the logistics of the team, direct the team on race day strategy, and act a bit as coach and playmaker as well. We were lucky to find two people whose personalities fit great with the team and who brought the right type of experience; Laura is a track cycling Olympic medallist and has a wealth of road racing knowledge, too. They have similar goals in terms of how to develop riders at this level.
We had no digital presence in the early days of pulling the team together, so it was hard to let riders know that we existed. A lot of riders we reached out to directly, told them what we were doing… once people knew the team existed, we got some word of mouth interest as well. We’ve got nine women on the team.
FEC: For those who aren’t familiar with professional cycling, can you explain the role of the DS in a race setting?
IB: The biggest thing is that the DS will plan the in-race tactics and different strategies going into races. Riders have different roles in given races, and that’s all determined by the DS — some of the factors for consideration in those decisions are race profile, standings from the day before, and riders’ individual strengths and weaknesses.
FEC: Personalities matching up well must be an important factor in the team’s success.
IB: We’re still in the early days, but we’ve definitely found that people are getting along well and we have an amazing mix of personalities on the team. Of out team of nine, we have women ranging from ages 21 to 43. Our team camp in February provided a great opportunity for the team to get to know each other.
FEC: You recently raced your first time as a team this year. How did that go?
IB: We raced the Valley of the Sun stage race in Arizona. The primary goal with this race was to test things out, from logistics to fitness to nutrition — we tried all different flavours of First Endurance products, but many of the riders already used the products and loved them. That’s part of the reason why we were excited to work with FEC. I’ve found I really love the Ultragen in chocolate, for recovery — it goes down easy and isn’t too sweet.
We didn’t have huge expectations in the race, but we happened to get some great results. One of our riders, Beth Ann Orton, finished 4th in the general classification.
FEC: What’s the most difficult part of a stage race?
IB: Probably just the fatigue day over day. You always know it’s going to be hard, you can’t really fool the mind. You’re going to go into every race exhausted, but it’s important to remember that everyone else is, too.
FEC: You’re balancing careers on top of racing at a very high level. What does that training look like?
IB: It can definitely be hard. A lot of our riders have some flexibility with their jobs. We all work with coaches, who set the training plans around our specific race goals. Most riders are on the bike six if not seven days a week, with lots of time in the gym, too — especially to focus on core. Mileage is a huge aspect of the training, but have intensity as well, including in a long ride. As a Vancouver-based team, we don’t have the luxury of riding outdoors year round. There’s a lot of time spent on the trainer. Since everyone has jobs, we can’t just pack up and move to California for the winter and have year-round, amazing outdoor training — but that’s also part of what makes our team unique.
FEC: As a female rider, is it frustrating that men’s cycling is still more developed than women’s? Do you see this changing?
IB: I’d say I’m still really new to the sport. I do feel like in terms of equality, things are moving in the right direction although there’s certainly still a gap. Some of the tour races in North America are men’s only. Tour of Colorado is doing women’s only this year, which is exciting. As a fan of the sport, I think it would be awesome to have a Tour de France for women, but we’re not there yet.