Ride To Advance
No barriers, no borders, Beth Duryea’s CANYON//SRAM cycling dream teams are made up of women from all over the world. We find out how she's making big changes in the sport
Growing up in the small Australian country town of Corowa, Beth Duryea was surrounded by horses. Her father was a trainer and she would spend hours riding or working with them. She also became a great 100m and 400m sprinter and competed professionally for 13 years. By the time Beth had reached high school she knew she wanted to be an equine vet or a physiotherapist and, being able to choose between the two disciplines, opted for physio. After school, she studied Myotherapy and then switched to completing her BA in Physiotherapy which led to a Masters. At this point in time, cycling was never on Beth’s agenda, but as part of her Masters she did her clinical hours with the Australian Institute of Sport, specifically with cycling. Not long after, cycling became a full-time job and Beth started her journey in the world of pro cycling. Now, 15 years later, she is the co-founder and marketing and communications manager of the teams CANYON//SRAM Racing and CANYON//SRAM Generation. We chat to Beth to find out how the structure of CANYON//SRAM is helping to change the face of women’s cycling.
Glorious: When you were growing up, did you have an interest in cycling or other sports?
Beth Duryea: Cycling was definitely not my first love! I learned how to ride a bike but very much preferred riding horses. I dreaded school days when we did bike education. I did a lot of sports during my teens – field hockey, netball, touch football, pro running – but I had no interest in cycling. It was not a popular sport in my home town and no one in my family or network of friends were involved with it. When I started working as a physiotherapist, I was encouraged to start cycling, and I clearly remember saying that you couldn’t pay me to wear Lycra and ride my bike on the road for fun or fitness. I now have several bikes and all the matching Lycra you can imagine, ha! I genuinely enjoy going for a ride. So, never say never.
Glorious: The CANYON//SRAM women’s professional cycling team was established in 2016, but tell us about your development team CANYON//SRAM Generation.
Beth Duryea: In 2021, CANYON//SRAM Racing announced that it would have a development team as part of its long-term diversity and inclusion program. It launched in 2022, and the two-tier structure was the first for a European-based World Team to create a formal pathway to the Women’s World Tour. Rider recruitment was focused on, but not limited to, riders from countries underrepresented in the women’s peloton – specifically from the continents of Africa, Asia, and South America. No other women’s world team had this at the time, or even does now.
Glorious: What was the process and criteria for recruiting new riders?
Beth Duryea: We opened applications online and spread the word through our team’s partners, national federations and as many contacts as far and wide as possible. The team received an overwhelming 239 applications from riders of 62 different nationalities, before selecting the final eight riders for the first season in 2022. As the development team is part of CANYON//SRAM Racing’s Diversity and Inclusion program, we wanted promising riders from a performance point of view, but also wanted to create a new team of ambassadors too. We asked for information about performance data and previous sporting successes in the applications. We also asked the applicants about their values and goals and how they thought they could contribute to the team’s success.
Glorious: Were there natural teething problems in the first year when organising the team?
Beth Duryea: In the first season, 2022, CANYON//SRAM Generation had riders from seven countries across four continents. As always, starting something completely new is challenging, but we had a good plan, strong partners, riders, and staff eager to overcome the obstacles ahead of us. Naturally, some mistakes were made, but we learned from each situation. Getting this team on the road, where many riders were coming from different countries outside of Europe, brought us some administrative challenges, and there we also learned several new processes. We established a well-functioning base in Girona, Spain, creating a safe and comfortable place for our riders to focus fully on riding and learning the ropes of pro cycling.
We started with no real expectations on the performance side. However, we exceeded even our highest ambitions with all the combined results and performances in 2022. That set the bar high, but we shouldn’t lose sight of our initial aim of the team: develop and teach riders to become professional cyclists.
Glorious: What’s next for the CANYON//SRAM Generation team?
Beth Duryea: In 2023, four riders extended their contracts, and four were new. The first round of applications included so many talented women that the new riders in 2023 were selected from the existing applications. CANYON//SRAM Generation again has riders from seven countries across four continents, including riders from Algeria, Rwanda, Paraguay, Namibia and Jamaica. As each rider comes from different parts of the world, each with their own background and culture, it’s nice to see how they are connected through cycling.
Glorious: Logistically, with riders based all over the world, there must be many challenges for yourself and the riders?
Beth Duryea: Regarding both teams, there are some logistical challenges, but with a good level of organisation, most of them can be overcome. I would see the distance for many riders living away from home as a bigger challenge. For some, being a pro cyclist means moving to the other side of the world, far from home comforts, family and friends. They make a sacrifice to pursue their dream. I personally find that inspiring.
Glorious: How do you monitor training and progress prior to team selection?
Beth Duryea: For CANYON//SRAM Racing, the riders can choose their own personal coach, and we have two team coaches, Dan Fleeman and Stephen Gallagher, from Dig Deep Coaching, responsible for having an overview of each rider’s training and progress. Dan and Stephen are in close contact with the personal coaches and the team of Sport Directors (we have three) so that the team can select the best line-up depending on the demands of the particular race.
For CANYON//SRAM Generation, the riders are living and training together in Girona. The Sport Director is their coach and sees them on a daily basis to have an overview of their training and progression. The roster consists of only eight riders, and at most races six riders can start, so the selection process isn’t as complicated. The race programme for the Generation team is strategically planned to ensure that there is enough recovery between the races and that the level of competition (from Spanish national level races to UCI 1.2 and 1.1 category races) progresses steadily during the season.
Glorious: What is it that CANYON//SRAM can offer female cyclists that other teams can’t?
Beth Duryea: No other Women’s World Tour team has a development that offers what we do. We deliberately chose to focus on providing opportunities to riders as part of our team’s long-term D&I program. Some start to now add a development team, but there is no focus on recruiting riders facing these types of barriers to enter pro cycling.
One of our mission statements is: we take the lead by challenging the status quo and making cycling diverse and inclusive. We take that statement seriously by following it with actions. I am proud of our vision, mission and value statements. I believe they sum up the team well, which is attractive for riders with the dream of being a pro cyclist.
Glorious: It must be very satisfying to have the ability to give female cyclists opportunities and allow them to fulfil their potential, who might have otherwise been unable to do so. Do you have some inspirational stories that you can share with us?
Beth Duryea: Access to sports for women is clearly more difficult in some countries. Societies and cultures are different, for example, from what I experienced growing up in Australia. I realise how fortunate I was to have as much freedom and as many opportunities as I did. It’s incredibly satisfying, and I’m proud that our team is providing this opportunity to these talented and highly ambitious women. We aim to show that there are many talented women around the world, that when provided with infrastructure, support, coaching, equipment and resources, along with help to reduce barriers, they can reach the top of women’s cycling.
Agua Marina Espinola Salinas from Paraguay is one example. She was discouraged from pursuing a career in cycling, as it was not something that women generally did in her country, but she was relentless in pursuing her dream. She left Paraguay, and moved to Europe, racing for various teams but constantly facing extra barriers. Five years ago, she raced at the South American Games and was lapped by the women’s elite individual time trial winner. She remembers thinking to herself, I will be like her one day. Five years later, after one year with CANYON//SRAM Generation, where she had the consistent support and infrastructure we could provide, she won the gold medal in the same event. It was the best day of her career and seeing her win gives me goosebumps to think that our team played a small part in her journey. And that is far from over.
Llori Sharpe from Jamaica is another example. She switched from triathlon to cycling and pursued her career to turn professional. The opportunity to join CANYON//SRAM Generation in 2022 meant this goal came earlier than expected, but it’s not easy to live far from home on the other side of the world. She didn’t have the opportunity to go back during the season and felt the distance. But she was persistent and was one of the team’s consistent performers throughout the season. She is also managing to combine her racing with finishing her BA in Sports Science.
Glorious: When you created the team, the purpose was to push boundaries in women’s cycling. What impact has CANYON//SRAM had on the world of women’s cycling, and in your opinion, what boundaries still need pushing?
We hope that we’ve positively impacted the growth of women’s cycling in many ways. We’ve added to the visibility of women’s cycling with our communication and social media strategies. We’ve encouraged women to take up cycling, reach their fitness goals, or find a community with projects like Zwift Academy. We showed there are different pathways to the World Tour and different talent identification possibilities, via Zwift Academy and the development team. We’ve shown that women’s teams can exist at the top level, without being attached to a men’s pro team. We are committed to making cycling diverse and inclusive and were the first team Women’s World Team to add a development team focused on rider recruitment from countries underrepresented in the women’s peloton. We’re actively pursuing our vision to make women’s cycling exciting and inspire women to reach for the stars. The phrase ‘be the change you want to see’ rings true.
There are many things on the wish list but not everything is possible all at once. It’s a collective effort in the right direction from many different facets. We’d like to see more media coverage of women’s cycling, (keep it up, GLORIOUS!), plus live race broadcasts with a wider reach and longer duration. More races with a higher level of professionalism and organisation. It would be wonderful to see all parties involved in women’s cycling collectively strive for a bigger platform to showcase its beauty and to make pro cycling a truly global sport.
Glorious: How often do you cycle nowadays and where are your favourite places in the world to cycle?
Beth Duryea: When I’m on the road with the teams I go for a quick run. When I’m home, then I’ll get out on the bike. I love riding in Italy and Spain. You can find a lot of quiet roads and the landscape is stunning.