Nicola Cranmer is the General Manager of Team Twenty24, an all-women's UCI track team. She has been in the cycling world, as an athlete and manager, for 29 years. She started TeamTwenty12 in 2005, in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics. Since then she has helped send riders to each Olympic Games (look for them in Tokyo), resulting in dozens of medalists and world champions. The team name has been updated for each Olympic Games they are training for.
Shayna Powless is a rider for TeamTwenty24 (joining it as Twenty20) and has been racing competitively for 7 years. She is a UCLA alum and is the owner and coach at Powless Performance.
We've interviewed these two powerhouse athletes and leaders together, to help show different generational perspectives, and to reinforce how powerful it is when women pave the way for more to come.
What was the sport like when you joined in terms of inclusivity?Nicola: I joined the sport of mountain biking back in the late 80s when it was just starting. Although there were not many women in the sport by virtue of it being so new I felt the landscape was super inclusive. In the early and mid 90s, women were being highlighted in the media as much as the men- athletes like Missy Giove, Susan Demattei, Paolo Pezzo. Back then I feel like mountain biking embraced the diversity and the characters. On the road there were races like the Idaho Women’s Challenge which started with a $75,000 women’s prize purse and in its heyday was $150,000. Unfortunately, this has all diminished since the 80s.
Shayna: When I first joined the sport of cycling years ago, I noticed there weren't nearly as many other women and girls as there were men, especially at the competitive level. I also don't remember seeing many people of color (if at all) involved in cycling both at the professional and community level. As a Native American woman, I often wondered why I didn't see any other Native women in the cycling community; I definitely didn't have any Native women to look to for inspiration in the sport. Despite all that, I was fortunate enough to have had nothing but wonderful and welcoming experiences with others in the cycling community.
What has changed over the years?Nicola: The perception is that women’s cycling is making a forward movement, but in fact it went so far backwards in the 90s that what feels like momentum is not even back to where it used to be. There are emerging platforms such as eSports, Zwift in particular, who are progressive, inclusive and are providing a gender equal platform with equal prize money and events and media exposure.
Shayna: Recently, I have noticed a bit of an increase in women's participation in cycling, though there's still a long way to go in terms of equal numbers to the men. I've also noticed an increase in people of color participating in the sport, though similar to women's participation, I believe there's still a ways to go before we see a roughly equal number of people of color and non POC people participating. Additionally, in the last few years, I've seen various cycling programs and initiatives start up the target of getting more young girls and POC on bikes, which is huge for advocating diversity and inclusivity in the sport.
How have you chosen to challenge the norms?Nicola: We've been creative to look for other avenues that promote women equally like gravel racing and Zwift racing.
Shayna: Being a woman, and a member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, I feel like I'm challenging the norms just by participating and competing in the sport of cycling, especially at such a high level. I also feel I've challenged the norms by encouraging and inspiring other women and girls (both Native and non-Native) to get into cycling. I've had the opportunity to visit a few different Native reservations where I've hosted cycling clinics for kids, and to me there was nothing more rewarding than seeing their excited and inspired faces.
Where is cycling headed for women?Nicola: I think at the pointy end of the sport we are seeing more equality but the endemics of the sport, like the UCI, need to accept nothing less than equal media coverage for women. This is what brings funds into the sport ensuring a return on investment for women’s cycling to be able to pitch for sponsors. It's noted time and time again that women’s cycling coverage often garners more views that the same men’s race, but there is still less of it.
Shayna: I think the sport is headed in a positive direction, though there is still a long way to go for women to be treated equally with the men. The salaries, prize money, and media coverage for professional women in the sport is usually only a fraction of what the men are offered. Recently, there have been a few races where the amount of prize money and coverage was equal to the men (a good start) and hopefully we continue to see an increase in races offering this equality.
Is there a specific person or moment in time you can point to that helped pave the way for you?Nicola: A defining moment in my team history was when I raced on a co-ed team back in the 90’s and the women were kicking butt and the men were not, yet the men received all of the professional support. There was a moment where I was really upset with this and I declared that I was going to start my own team. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, except I was very committed! Additionally, the female athletes on my team have always been an inspiration. When the team was a smaller regional program, it was one of my first high performing athletes who pushed me into starting a UCI track team, through her personal progression as an athlete. She went onto the Olympics road team after that.
Shayna: Both of my parents helped pave the way for me from the very beginning. With my dad being a person of color (Native American) who was heavily involved in the cycling community, and my mom having struggled with inclusivity issues as an athlete, they both served as major inspirations for me to push through adversity and my own personal doubts in order to become a successful athlete. They also made sure that I had every opportunity to live out my dreams as a cyclist, and I know there's no way I'd be where I am today as an athlete without their guidance, support, and inspiration.