Top Table: Fran, Lizzie, Monica & Orla in conversation
Over a winter's Zoom call, four doyennes of the cycling world share their experiences. Orla Chennaoui, Lizzie Deignan, Fran Millar and Monica Santini on what it's like to be a women in the sport, changing traditional attitudes and ideas for brighter future.
Orla Chennaoui: Thank you everyone for having this conversation. I want to explore a little bit about what it means to be a woman in cycling – if it means anything, whether gender matters at all. Personally, for me, it has done for different reasons, whether it be the fact that when I started out as a journalist, I was still a rarity in the press pack, or whether it was because I like to dress as a woman, and that has led to judgement of my intellect, experience or why I am in the sport.
But I really want to hear from all of you on whether you think gender has been a factor. Fran, we’ve discussed this before, and I may have misremembered our conversation, but I feel like you said to me that you didn’t think gender was such a big deal.
Fran Millar: I don’t think it has impacted my opportunities. But I think it impacted what I have been able to do in my career because it gives me a different point of view. I think being a woman in a sport that is very male-dominated and where the primary focus is on the men’s side of the sport – wrongly, but there it is – I think I can bring something different to the table that men don’t tend to bring.
OC: So do you think it has been a bit of an advantage at times?
FM: Yes, a massive advantage. I know it’s a bit clichéd to say woman have more emotional intelligence, more empathy, are softer, but ultimately there is an element of truth in that, particularly in leadership and management positions. That is something that I have strived to maintain and build, particularly in a team environment: that it should feel as close to a familial relationship as you can have in a professional environment, and equally that people feel some sense of psychological safety. As a female in a male world, I am able to bring that, simply because I am [perceived as] softer – whether that is the truth for all women is to be debated, but for me it has had a big impact.
OC: Lizzie, what about you? Obviously, you are surrounded by women but you are still in a sport where men mostly run the teams, men are the mechanics, it’s mostly men in the press pack. What has your gender meant to you in your career?
Lizzie Deignan: It has definitely changed over the years, from starting out as a junior, where I experienced massive inequalities. At that level with GB, it is about Olympic medals. I was a track rider and we are all going for the same thing, and I think I had equal ability to achieve as my counterpart male did at junior level. The support was not equal at all.
But I think there has been a massive shift. I don’t think a junior UK rider would be held back now, which is brilliant. But there have been so many different experiences where my gender has definitely been important in my career – it’s had a huge impact.
OC: Can you explain or think of any examples as to when, or in what way?
LD: So many, gosh. It’s hard to quantify. I am racing in a male-dominated sport, and so often I have to put myself in a political position. Most male athletes also have to have a political standpoint on something – that’s part of being a professional athlete these days – but I’ve almost had to become an advocate for my sex, rather than just be a cyclist. You kind of grow into that role, but I don’t think my male counterparts have had those same pressures.
OC: I’ve said that to you before. I remember we were in Harrogate doing an interview and I said that I felt like you almost didn’t have a choice in your career as to whether you were going to be a “spokesperson” for certain issues. Do you feel like if you were a guy, you could have just got on with riding your bike, and maybe preferred that, or are you quite happy that you found this position?
LD: I’m happy with it, yeah, because somebody has to, right? But I also think male cyclists have to comment on issues. They are often asked about doping, for instance. I’m only asked about equality, which is probably an easier subject! So I think the better you become as an athlete, that responsibility to be a spokesperson happens, but it’s clear that there is an inequality in our sport, otherwise I wouldn’t be constantly asked about it.
OC: And what about you, Monica? Your father founded the Santini business, so in a way, you were always following in the footsteps of a man, but at the same time, it’s a female-dominated company, certainly at the top – you and your sister Paola run it, essentially. What has your gender meant to you in your corner of cycling?
Watch the full conversation here:
Monica Santini: Listening to what the other girls were saying, I felt like I wasn’t just a female in a male-dominated sport or industry. I also was the daughter of a man! I had to prove, prove, prove something all the time, not only that I was a female and capable, but the daughter and capable. I honestly have to say that my gender was never an obstacle, but for sure, it was such hard work all the time.
Nothing came easily. Be prepared, spend hours and hours – more than any man has to do, probably – because if you get caught unprepared once, that is the end of it.
Now, after a long time running the company, we probably have a total opposite: owned by women, and run by women most of the time. Probably 90 per cent of the personnel are female. That makes it different in many ways – not better or worse, but different. It is an environment that is very positive, very energetic. We try to understand each other’s needs. A lot of us are mothers caring for somebody, so what I try to do in the work environment is be flexible to understand the needs of the women working with me. And that gives us a super advantage. The more flexible you are, the more these fantastic women give back.
OC: I’m curious in what you say about having to prove yourself over and over again. No one ever comes to me assuming an expertise: a guy will always explain to me what’s happening or what races he’s been to, always underestimating me and my experience. But I am always grateful for it, when I grit my teeth and get on with it, I think: fine, fine, here we go again, I’m going to raise the bar yet again. And I find it quite a positive fuel in a way.
FM: I was “David Millar’s little sister” for 85 per cent of my career. That came with all the benefits, but all the drawbacks as well – the David doping question. I think we all know David’s background. So I can definitely relate to having to prove yourself.
And I also think women naturally feel they have to be subject matter experts, feel they have to be deep in their lane. Christina [Lindquist], marketing director at Brompton, recommended a book to me called How Women Rise, a management book written by guys about leadership, and it was hugely successful. But then loads of women wrote to them and said, ‘Um, we’re not facing the same problems,’ so wrote the book from a female perspective having spoken to loads of female leaders. And what they said was, unlike men, where they are happy to not be generalists, not be perfectionists, women hold themselves back. They feel they have to be perfect, have to be able to answer every question. No man does that. It’s a very female trait. It makes us excellent, those of us who are willing to do it, but it also holds us back, because no one expects that except ourselves.
OC: Why do we do it then? Is it that we put pressure on ourselves, or that we know, as Monica alluded, that we will be shut down if there is the slightest error: “Well, I knew she was only there because of that”.
MS: Sometimes they are looking at you from the outside, waiting for you to make that mistake. That is probably why women in strong positions have that pressure to be well prepared. Even when I was in school, I felt I had to study down to the last word, otherwise I would not be ready. As you said, Orla, it helps to fuel you, give you that energy. Once they told me that I had a super strong engine. I was like, whoop! Okay! I like that. I think that is part of being a mother, running a company, but at the same time trying to be a nice wife, having friends, doing sport... if you add up everything, you are like, oh my God!
I feel like you cannot leave out any part from your life. So you need a super strong engine all of the time – one of those big trucks.
FM: I’d be fascinated to know, Monica, now that you run a business that is led and predominantly populated by women, whether the young women in your organisation feel those same pressures. As a woman in a male dominated industry, you do feel that ‘I will be a subject matter specialist, I’m not going to give you room to criticise’. I don’t think I would feel that in a female dominated environment, because I think there is more room to make mistakes, recognise that in error comes growth. Do you feel the younger female team in your organisation feel the same pressures? You and I are similar in age, Monica, so the experience we both had is probably quite similar.
MS: I would like to ask that question to the many young girls working with me, but I hope they feel they can actually express themselves freely. You can do something wrong, you can say something stupid. But you can learn.
An Italian saying is ‘an army has the pace of the general’, so probably if they look at me, the way I do things, they would be compelled to be ready and prepared anyway, but I hope it is in a good way. I say there are no stupid questions, only questions. What I expect from them is not a problem but a solution. That they have at least thought about it.
We work a lot internally on having mixed groups from different areas – I hate that ‘us’ and them’ – I hope it’s a positive environment.
FM: I’m pretty sure it is, because listening to you, I want to come and work for Santini!
OC: Me too! I’m going to look out for a job on LinkedIn. Lizzie, you’ve worked with Monica because you have designed collections with her. Do you find it different working with females in positions of power as opposed to men? I guess a lot of the men you work with are steeped in the traditions of cycling which is a very specific brand of male attitude, I find.
LD: Definitely when I was pregnant, there was a huge difference. The nicest reaction that I got was from Santini. It was the first time anybody had said congratulations.
OC: What did everyone else say?!
LD: You don’t want to know...
OC: I do!
LD: It wasn’t good. And it made me very emotional to get that support and for people to be happy for me. I got to a position where I felt I almost had to apologise, and it was really refreshing to be congratulated. ‘That’s exciting! What are going to do for this next nine months?’ Maybe it’s just about having a bit more of an open mind and a flexible attitude.
FM: Wow, we should dwell on that because that is insane.
OC: Totally! I’m in absolute shock.
LD: Are you?
MS: I think it depends on the fact that if you are pregnant and know what that feels like, the first thing that comes to your mind is to congratulate. It is a beautiful, magical thing. Both me and [my sister] Paola have kids.
I think that Lizzie had incredible courage to do that, at the top of her career. I remember that we talked a lot with Lizzie about how she wanted to come back, to be strong again. It was a natural thing for us to back her up. If women can’t do that, then who can?
OC: When you announced you were pregnant [in early 2018], it was a big deal in the sport, but at the same time, I guess I assumed that the people you work with, that you are surrounded by, would be incredibly supportive of something that is much bigger than your career and your sport.
LD: Not in cycling, no. I’d love to think so. I had a conversation with the girls on the team about pregnancy, so from my perspective, it was completely my – um, and my husband Phil’s! – our decision to start a family. Okay, I am part of the team, but I am also a human. I am allowed to make these decisions.
And even some of the conversations with some of the women on my team, they see it as a betrayal of your contract because you knowingly get pregnant whilst under contract. I was saying to them ‘I think you are naive, and that this is business, your employer will not give you the same loyalty back’. You have to be able to make human decisions. I don’t think that a man in my sport would think he’s betraying his team by starting a family. I found it incredible how many people thought it was okay to ask me if [my daughter] Orla was planned. Many, many journalists asked me, in a roundabout way, you know? And you think, that’s none of your business.
FM: When I was younger, I probably would have sat in that camp. I was kind of anti-pregnancy, I haven’t had kids, I never wanted them, so never had that challenge of do I choose one or the other. But as I’ve got older and as I’ve become more in tune with how feminism and the world should be working, your point there, Lizzie, about no male cyclist ever being questioned about his wife’s decision – your wife’s got pregnant, how is that going to affect your contract? Until we as women, both in positions of leadership but also in the world, accept the fact that we should not be penalised for carrying babies, and that becomes normalised throughout life, we are never going to reach equality. Ever.
OC: I also think a big part of that is not just the fact that we are the ones who carry children, because even if you don’t have kids, Fran, as you know, women of a certain age can still be discriminated against when it comes to employment because the assumption is that you will go and have a family. But until society realises that women can have children and a career, and that the father can look after the children just as well, that is when equality comes.
I remember when I was first pregnant, similarly a guy in the [Sky Sports] newsroom who had two or three kids of his own, said “I’m really surprised, I thought you were a career woman”. I am, but would also like to have a family. And I also had a lot of people asking whether it was planned or not.
But also going back to my first bike race – Eve was four months old when I went to Paris-Roubaix – all the male journalists asked me if I was suffering, if I was missing my baby daughter. In truth, I was delighted to have me back again, to be doing something that wasn’t getting up at 4am, changing nappies, listening to crying – much as I obviously love my daughter more than my life, but with that assumption that it was going to be hard for me, whereas no one would ask that of a father. So then you have to carry that guilt even if you don’t feel it, because you are feeling guilty about not feeling guilty...
MS: That is absolutely true, Orla. I felt the same many times. I have two kids and worked all through the pregnancies. Four days after giving birth, I was back working. I had to rely a lot on my mum and the father; luckily for me, they were absolutely fantastic. Twenty days after my first was born, I was in Las Vegas for the bike show. Everybody was like, are you crazy, leaving your daughter? And I was like “Yes, yeah!” [pumps her fist, laughing] I love my kids, of course, but I think I would be a horrible mother without my working life. They are independent.
OC: Does having little people in your life change how you view women’s role in society and where we are with equality – and Fran, I know you have something like a hundred godchildren and are really close to them. For me, realising where we were in this battle came with my first godchild, a little girl, then it just ramped up with each niece or nephew then having my own children.
I feel like I am seeing the world through their eyes, and I didn’t mind having the layers stripped back. You think you are equal when you are a kid, you grow up and are told: “well, you can’t do that.” And all those invisible barriers. Have any of you felt that, having to reassess where we are though younger people in your lives?
FM: Mine has come much more through being in an ever growing leadership position, and seeing the total and utter discrimination against talented young women in industry. The minute they get married and make the decision they want to start a family, they pay the price. And quite frankly, it fucked me off. So I got the point where I was like, hang on a minute, this is bullshit, it’s back to this conversation where the talented young woman comes to me and says, nervously, I’m pregnant, I want to let you know, I’ve got to work through all this, and I’m thinking, I know that your partner isn’t going to his boss and having a nervous conversation, but you’re having to do this with me, and you shouldn’t feel nervous.
And don’t get me wrong, this has been a journey for me. I was militant when I was younger, but as I’ve got older and explored feminism more, I’ve realised that, no, this is bullshit. It should be completely fair and young talented women should be able to start families whenever they want, make their own career choices, and not make creating a family be a fundamental career limiter. It’s just not fair.
OC: And we lose so much female talent that way, which takes away from greater society as well as business. Lizzie, has having Orla changed anything for you?
LD: Oh, so much, yeah. I will be her biggest fan and her biggest supporter and I will never let her sex hold her back in anything. I was lucky growing up in a household where my grandad was a stay-at-home dad, all the women worked. I was in a very equal family. Me and my brother played the same sports. Leading by example is what we will aim to do. But Orla will grow up in a much more equal time than we did I hope. Like I say, if anyone ever tries to stop her doing something because she is a woman, they’ll have me to deal with. Big time.
MS: I am lucky and I have a girl and a boy, so I have two different views on the world. I grew up in a family where my mum always worked and it was normal. But she was the only one of her sisters working. The rest were traditional Italian, ‘you are a woman, stay home’. My dad was presented with two daughters and a company to run so he didn’t have the choice! He was very good in accepting that and we both grew up thinking that we could do anything. I never felt like I was not capable of doing something because I was a girl. And that is the part of education that I would like to pass on to my daughter. I always tell her to be independent, earn her own money, then she can do whatever she wants with boys or girls or whatever, I don’t care, but she needs to be independent money-wise, because that is what gives the power to make your own decisions.
And on the other side, I hope that I will be able to teach my son that equality means he doesn’t need to be an ass with girls. He needs to look at things from a woman’s perspective. Being an Italian, our mommas often didn’t do a great job with boys. Most of the time the worst thing that comes out of a marriage where a man is not capable of helping out is just because his mother told him so. It’s absolutely stupid that we do not teach them. So that’s what I would like to do with him, teach him to be very equal and very understanding.
LD: I think maybe in cycling, it’s not just inequality driven, it’s traditional, small-minded thinking that holds us back. It has got such a long way to go before it’s forward thinking and open minded. That is just as much of a barrier as my sex.
MS: It’s the famous saying, “it’s always been done like that”.
OC: Fran, you were part of changing that game, bringing forward thinking to the team [Sky and Ineos Grenadiers], if nothing else, just by the position you were in and the fact that you rose to that position within the most successful team of its time.
FM: I think what we did in terms of people management within Team Sky and latterly Team Ineos, for sure there was a lot of change and pushing the boundaries and everything else, but I certainly feel a strong sense of personal responsibility that we weren’t really able to shift the dial on some of the stuff I wanted to progress.
Lizzie, we had that meeting in Selfridges, do you remember? It was in the basement back in 2012 maybe, about a women’s [Sky] team. There was Tricia Thompson from Sky, we were both pushing and raising it at every board meeting. There was a window of opportunity, at the early outset of that post-Beijing era, where we could have done something to really shift the dial.
But it was a decision that was made at Sky board level. I don’t think this was a Dave Brailsford decision, to be fair to him. But not seizing that opportunity to do a men’s and women’s team back then, like 12 years ago, I do think that was, with hindsight, an oversight.
OC: What were the obstacles? What were the reasons you were told for not doing a women’s team? Because in terms of the branding and marketing of Sky it would have made such sense.
FM: They were sponsoring the GB team at the time, so there was a female connection through that, access to Lizzie and Nicole [Cooke] at the time. I think they felt that there wasn’t enough commercial viability – the Tour de France so massively outweighs the commercial value in return on investment – and I think they felt they could get a better return though their existing relationship with the Great Britain team.
They worked with Shanaze Reade, they felt strongly this was the right direction. The ‘inspiration to participation’ piece that they did at the time, a lot of the research said that women were saying that it wasn’t women being successful at sport that made them want to participate, it was the country being successful. Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour made women get out and ride just as much as men.
So they were all valid justifications, but equally – and this is a personal opinion, I don’t want to criticise Sky or Brailsford or anyone else because what we did was phenomenal – but I have always felt a burden of responsibility that, actually, we probably had a window of opportunity there. We could have done more. I mean, Tricia and me couldn’t have been more vocal.
We made our point. But there was a generation of young women that did miss out. Lizzie’s had to blaze her own trail, as have many others, and they have all done a great job of it, but it would have been so cool to have done a women’s team back then.
I think it is different now, and that the burden of responsibility lies with the UCI. They have to make the change at the top to ensure there is parity across WorldTour licences and events. I wasn’t going to get onto this subject because I knew this would be the thing you would trail on!
OC: Too late, you’ve done it! Can I just say that I love that the meeting happened in the basement of Selfridges? It’s just too perfect.
FM: I can’t even remember why it was there!
Lizzie Deignan at the 2019 World Championships (Image credit: Allan McKenzie/SWpix)
OC: Lizzie, I imagine that conversation comes up over and over again. I get so fed up reading and reacting to people saying female cyclists just don’t bring in the same return on investment, that it’s simply a financial thing and that once we get more people watching women’s cycling then things will change and it’s such a frustrating argument.
LD: Yes – and it’s wrong. The figures show that when women’s cycling is on TV they get just as many if not more viewers, so the appetite is there. It’s just about giving the access, which we just can’t do right now.
OC: And yet to be positive, things have changed so much in the last five years, it is phenomenal. At the current rate of change, where do you see the sport in another five years’ time?
LD: It’s been an incredible ten years for women’s cycling. It is really important that the changes that are made are sustainable. Sometimes it can be frustrating when you are interviewed – and usually it’s at La Course where the big headlines are made – and women’s racing has been going on all year and then they come to La Course and ask: why isn’t there a women’s Tour de France?
Until things like the minimum wage came in – and you have seen a massive difference in the last two years, the depth in the sport has changed massively, because until that we were doing two jobs. Now they are able to compete at a decent level. We are capable of doing a three-week Tour de France, but only just have we got enough women who are earning a decent amount of money that allows them to train properly for that. It’s hard in my position to say at La Course, no, we are not ready, because then they will jump on it. You almost have to buy into these exaggerated headlines. In my position I have no choice, because I believe in equality and I believe there should be a women’s Tour. But there are so many levels of sustainable change underneath it... and you can’t get that across in an interview when you’ve just finished a 140km bike race. That’s difficult.
OC: What is the game changer in cycling, in the world? How does the world become more equal and what does it look like? Is it about fostering an environment where women can thrive and succeed at the very top? Is it about societal change when it comes to division of parental and domestic labour. Where does equality come from? There’s a big question.
FM: I think we make Monica the president of the UCI.
OC: And then the world!
MS: In cycling, for sure what Lizzie was saying is true. We need to grow the female side of the sport to be able to compete. On the other hand, I don’t see that happening unless you have big events, and probably televised big events. We all know that money comes from broadcasting because that attracts sponsors. Sometimes, you probably need to jump in, even if you are not ready, so that chance will improve again over the years. I agree that in the last ten years the changes in women’s cycling have been amazing.
We started to have a women’s collection 20 years ago and probably sold ten pieces. Women even said to us that they preferred to buy the men’s clothing because it was better. We were like, what? We spent money and time on that! Now it is totally the opposite and everybody is looking for something that is specific for the female body. So sometimes you need to jump in even if it is so not economically viable, but if you want to prove your point.
Each one of us has some responsibility to make the world a better place for the next generation of women. Piece by piece, I think we will get there. But the first thing is: don’t take shit from men.
OC: Fran, what about you?
FM: There is that old expression: leave the ladder down. I think as women in leadership positions in any industry and in any walk of life, you have a responsibility to make sure that you are fostering an environment that is fair and equal, where there is parity and not a pay gap, where people get the same opportunities.
There’s a whole host of what I see as systemic things that need to happen. In a similar way to when they put the board quotas in for FTSE 100 businesses, saying you had to have X number of women on your board, and everyone was like: “it’s a meritocracy, if women were any good they would get on the board”. And it’s like... you absolute morons. Are you honestly telling me that the reason that all the boards are male is that there aren’t enough good women?
Like Monica was saying, sometimes you have to jump in before you are ready, sometimes quotas are necessary evils and quite important. I don’t know enough about the infrastructure of women’s cycling to talk about that, but if they are serious about it [equality] then make it a prerequisite of licences for teams, make it a prerequisite for organisers that they have to have a certain level of race for women.
There was something about the Giro Rosa where they had it in their contract that it had to be televised and it wasn’t. How is that even possible? That sort of stuff you think, hang on, who stops them and goes, woah, there’s a contract, can you make that happen please? But everybody kind of goes, oh well [shrugs]… That’s not good enough. All of you men, running the sport, that’s not good enough.
And I think that groundswell in cycling is really important, and back to Lizzie’s point that cycling is an archaic sport and there is a reason that I’m not in it anymore, and that’s not to do with my team – I loved the environment – but I was tired of the sport. I love watching it now, but there comes a point where you think, where do I go from here?
There’s a whole host of things that need to happen globally and systemically around women’s equality, and there’s women’s cycling... yeah. Good luck, Lizzie! Keep fighting the good fight.
OC: What about you, Lizzie? What does it look like in your corner?
LD: I think it’s societal, mainly. When I go to the park with Orla, she is climbing, jumping and all the rest, and I can count so many times when people have said to me: oh, she’s such a boy, isn’t she? Well, no, she’s not, she’s just Orla. Even at that age, you see stereotypes being put onto children and it’s about always fighting back.
And reflecting sometimes. Even I miss casual sexism happening in my everyday life. Things like at La Course: I won a watch, which was lovely, but it’s a man’s watch...
OC: What? You won a man’s watch? That is insane!
LD: I didn’t even realise. I was like, well this is alright, I’ll give it to Phil, and he was like: you won a man’s watch at a women’s bike race? That’s bad, isn’t it? I had just done a bike race so I was too tired to really notice at the time...
It’s about questioning sometimes: am I in this position because I am a woman, or not? Some of the conversations I’ve had with my team-mates about maternity leave and maternity clauses, you have to build up the women around you to fight for more equality, and to understand the sexism that is happening to them and they maybe don’t even realise.
OC: And you can understand how women get to a certain age or a certain stage where it just becomes bloody tiring – it’s exhausting. I find that I gravitate more and more to very strong women, and that is where I feel most at home. But I notice that when we are together, we are even more strident and the menfolk in our lives almost find it funny. Because then it becomes almost a cliché: “Can you not just give it a rest?” Well, no, because society doesn’t give it a rest! Give me a break and then we can stop going on about it.
FM: When the patriarchy rests, we will rest!
OC: I wanted to finish on the message you would give to any young girls who might be reading this? I like yours, Monica: don’t take shit from any men!
LD: Never dim your strength or your determination to make other people feel more comfortable.
FM: Like Lizzie, I think that ‘fitting in’ thing is so dangerous for young women – playing small so you won’t get noticed. I also think, never let other people set your limits for you. You can do whatever you want. We all can, we all have the freedom to make any choices, any decisions, any time we want to, and anyone who is trying to tell you any different is trying to stop you for a reason, and that’s normally because you are going to be better at it than them. Set your own framework.
MS: I feel like adding the fact that sometimes I see women who are not really fighting for what they can be. It pisses me off, but at the same time, you need to work so much. It takes so much energy all of the time, to be on top of everything. I feel I couldn’t do any different because that is my personality. It is not the same for everybody, I understand that, but it is about breaking that glass ceiling. It takes energy. Never give up.
FM: You should write a book, Monica!
OC: Thank you so much. Just listening to you all, I was thinking that so often we are told it’s a man’s world and we have to fit into that, and I wonder what things would be like if we just ignored that, if we actually talked to each other more and accepted our reality as being reality as much as the men’s version. I have really loved talking to you all, I’m really glad it was as much fun as I wanted it to be. Keep kicking ass!
Monica Santini: Monica is CEO of Santini SMS, the eponymous cycling clothing company founded by her father Pietro in 1965. Together with her sister Paola, Monica oversees production of over 3,500 garments per day from their headquarters in Bergamo, exporting worldwide. The company has provided leaders’ jerseys for many races over the decades, including the Giro d’Italia maglia rosa, and continues to supply team kit for the likes of Trek-Segafredo and the Slovakian and Australian national squads.
Fran Millar: Fran was a founding member of Team Sky, becoming their director of business operations before being appointed CEO at Team Ineos in 2019. She recently moved on to become CEO of motorcycle fashion brand Belstaff. Fran’s brother is the former racer David Millar.
Lizzie Deignan: Formerly Armitstead, the most frequently misspelt surname in cycling, Lizzie was world road race champion in 2015, alongside a host of one-day Classics and stage race victories. Following the birth of her daughter Orla in 2018, Lizzie returned to the top with wins at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, GP de Plouay and La Course, finishing 2020 as the number one rider of the Women’s WorldTour.
Orla Chennaoui: Orla is a cycling journalist, broadcaster and writer, trained in law and as a news correspondent. She has covered two Olympic Games and 11 Tours de France, and reports on cycling in her role as cycling presenter for Eurosport and co-host of The Cycling Podcast Féminin. Orla has contributed to several books on cycling and writes regular columns for a UK newspaper alongside Rouleur. She has two young children, and lives a bike-centric life in Amsterdam with her husband and Irish-British-French-Moroccan-Dutch family.
Photography by David Oates, Rebecca Marshall, Marthein Smit and Paolo Martelli