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Giana Roberge
 
By Staff
Date: 9/11/2003
Giana Roberge
 

- by Sharon Downey

Saturn Womenís Team Director, Giana Roberge

The Saturn Womenís Cycling Team has had a fantastic season, thanks in large part to team manager Giana Roberge. The team started 2003 off strong, taking second (Manon Jutras) and fourth (Jessica Phillips) in the overall at the Valley of the Sun race in February and continued right on through to September, when Sarah Uhl won two National Championships at the U.S. Track Nationals. Saturn women finished on top in some of the biggest races on the calendar, including the International Tour de`Toona, the Wachovia Liberty Classic, the Nature Valley Grand Prix and the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic. The Saturn roster also includes the Australian National Pursuit champion, Katie Mactier.

Wondering itís like to manage a top team like Saturn? We were, so we caught up with Ms. Roberge, who is currently in San Francisco preparing for the 2003 T-MOBILE INTERNATIONAL, to find out what it takes, and also to get some insight into the world of womenís cycling.

For people that are new to cycling, can you explain what your job as director entails? Do you decide what races the ladies ride, or is it a collaborative effort with the entire team?

As the director of the Saturn Women's Team, I am in charge of scheduling. This entails meeting with each woman to discuss her personal goals, as well as hear her coach's plan for her training. Once I know the races she has targeted to meet her goals, I must overlay this with each woman's goals on the team as well as the goals of Saturn for the team. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of communication and a lot of puzzle solving. It is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job.

As the director I also schedule all staff for races, I pick the rosters, I create the daily schedule, I discuss equipment needs with the mechanics, massage with the trainers, and also lead the team meetings. I am in the end also responsible for enforcing all the rules (for both men and women). I lead the team meetings and together, as a group, we reach the tactical plan for the race. However, in the end, the tactical calls are my decision, but I like the group as a whole to take responsibility and ownership of the tactics and thus the race outcome. I also drive the team car, sometimes wash the team car, go to drug testing, if necessary, and make the on the road race calls. I am also the person who works to make sure that all the women work out the inevitable bumps in the road, and the people management of the job is, perhaps, one of the most challenging aspects of the job.

How is the team setup? The Saturn website lists you as the assistant General Manager and also as Coach of the women's team. Do you work with the women's team only, or do you also have responsibilities with the menís team as well? Do you feel you have to work harder because you are a woman, or is sexism not an issue in this type of job?

Let's see, this is a very direct and good question. I am both the women's director (coach) and the Assistant General Manager of the Saturn Team (please see job description below). As you can see, I wear many hats and I am grateful that Tom (President of Team Sports) has given me tremendous latitude in what I do. He supports me in how I feel the jobs I do should be done, and is there to assist if I ever have questions. Mostly, though, he has left me to figure things out, and that, as most people come to know, is how we learn best.

I work with the men's team as director when Andrzej is not there. I always enjoy working with the men and am happy when the opportunity arises. I think there is sexism in the sport of cycling. This has been a men's sport and the management of the teams has typically been men. There is an "old boys network" but for the most part, I feel that many of the men's directors respect me for the job I do, regardless that I am a woman. Having Tom as my boss certainly gave me credibility when I first came to be a manager (in 2000) but I think now, most people in the industry know the job I do and respect that, again, regardless of the fact I am a woman. I do believe being a woman in this job is perhaps at times a bit harder, but I think I have some insight that is respected in the industry being a woman. I also believe that I can bring a softer touch at times, that is indeed not only respected, but at times is appreciated as well.

You will note I am also the marketing director for the Team Sports. I am the main contact for anyone interested in media, sponsorship, a job position (rider or staff) and just about everything else. I create the sponsorship proposals, work with sponsors to ensure their needs are met, and do all contracts (sponsors and athletes).

Assistant General Manager
Marketing Director
Womenís Team Director
Giana Roberge
(Reports to General Manager)

  • Responsible for all team sponsor and athlete contracts.

  • Responsible for management, logistics, tactics, strategy and scheduling of the womenís team

  • Responsible for securing associate sponsors

  • Media coordinator

  • Write Race Reports and monthly Newsletter

  • Send monthly updates to sponsors of monthly media and pertinent information

  • Work with athletes and media for scheduling onsite and pre event interviews

  • Responsible for creating, planning and maintaining budget

  • Negotiation with race promoters to secure promotion of team and race care

  • Work with Travel Coordinator to bring logistics and travel needs together

  • Write athlete and staff bios

  • Responsible for team handbook

  • Work with sponsors to assist them in utilizing the team in their advertising, catalogues, web-sites, and co-promotions

  • Write thank you notes to all race promoters and sponsors

  • Hiring of staff

  • Saturn Cycling Team Newsletter

  • Point Person for Saturn, Carlson, JAG, Timex and all sponsors

  • Disciplinarian

After reading your job description, I can't imagine how you fit all your responsibilities into one day. How do you do it? Any secret stress relieving tactics or organizational skills you would like to share?

I have to admit that I am a self diagnosed work alcoholic. I work many hours of the day and am fortunate that Tom Schuler allows me to work when and where I want. I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing my job well, have a tremendous amount of pride in what I do, and am willing to make sacrifices to ensure that I am doing the job to the very best of my ability. I expect the same from the riders and the staff, so I need to set the best example possible.

My laptop and cell phone are invaluable to the work schedule that suits my work style. I sleep four to six hours a night maximum and this allows me to work at night and early in the morning as well as during the day. Typically I am up at 5:30 AM on line checking email before I ride to work at 7:30 or 8. I usually work until 5 and then ride home have dinner and am back on the computer until midnight or so. I also work anytime I am on a plane or in a car (when someone else is driving of course)! I try to get ahead anytime I can so that if a "fire" needs to be put out I have the time to put it out.

I have a 24 hour rule, and that is anyone who contacts me has a returned call or email within 24 hours. The only time I am not able to meet this standard is when I am traveling from Europe or to Europe. This is very important to me. I consider my job to be a lot of customer service, servicing the riders as well as the sponsors. Good customer service requires good communication and meeting the needs of the customer as quickly, efficiently and completely as possible. The 24 hour rule also keeps me on top of things so that people do not fall between the cracks.

I also keep lists of things that need to be done immediately and things that need to be done within the week, the month and just in general when I have some spare time. The lists are a good way to organize my priorities and keep me on track.

Of course, I could not do this without stress relief. Riding for me keeps me relaxed, motivated and fresh. If I do not get a chance to ride, my personality changes and I become a very unhappy person. The Saturn staff members really understand this and frequently say to me, "go out for a ride, you need it." I know this is their way of saying I need to take a break and relax a bit.

When I can I also spend time with my two Jack Russell Terriers, Merckx and Finn. They are enough to take anyone's mind off work and put a smile on the face. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to bring them to work with me. They keep our entire staff entertained.

What is the hardest part of your job as director of the womenís team? The easiest? What is your favorite part of being a director?

The hardest part of my job as a women's team director is fighting to try to get the women athletes and women's cycling the respect and support it deserves. The fact is that the women do not get the respect they deserve. This is incredibly frustrating, perhaps more so now as a director than it was when I was a rider. I have worked and continue to work with arguably the best women in the world, and it is infrequent they are given the same respect as the equivalent men in the sport. The races are generally not as well run and do not carry the same respect, media attention, money, distances, or care as that of the men's side of things. There is a strong, strong group of women now that race as professionals. I mean real professionals, making the sacrifices, laying everything on the line when they race, and they are not paid equally, do not have the same quality of events, and have fewer teams to choose from. The easiest part of the job is writing the race report.

How did you decide that directing a cycling team was something you wanted to do? How did you go from a degree in English to managing a cycling team?

Another good question. Life is funny. I did not decide to manage the team really. I had lunch with Tom Schuler the day after I had decided that I needed to retire (do you know that story)? He asked me what I wanted to do and I said "work for you," and I did. He has the best operation out there for sports marketing, cycling especially. I knew I wanted to be involved in the sport, but I had thought more on the marketing side. But, the opportunity came up to work with Mike Neel and I realized then that directing was something that would allow me to work still with the sport I love and to also have a competitive outlet for my passion to race. It was a really good mix. My English degree is superfluous actually, but I do put it to good use writing proposals, contracts, press releases, etc. I love to write and it is nice I still have opportunities to do that within this job.

The Saturn Womenís team has been extremely dominant on the domestic circuit this year, from the Valley of the Sun race in February to Sarah Uhlís wins at the Elite National Championships just days ago. How can the team improve for next year? Are there any up-and-coming riders that you would like to recruit?

I cannot give too much away, but yes, there are some up and comers who I think would be a good fit for the Saturn Team. I choose women more for their attitude, willingness to work within the program and the way I believe they will fit into the team chemistry. The team can improve next year - we made some mistakes this year and there is always room for improvement. Next year is an Olympic year and that will be a focus for the team.

Which riders have impressed you most this season? Why?

Nicole Cooke is very impressive. She can climb, sprint and she is becoming a smart bike racer.

What has been the high point of this season? Any low points?

High point was winning Philly for sure. Low point was the Saturday at Tour de L'Aude when we lost the jersey.

Who are your favorites for the podium at the World Championships in Hamilton?

Lyne Bessette, I think she will be well rested and very motivated. Also Nicole Cooke, in the sprint, on the climb (what a blessing to have both options), and of course I think someone like Diana Ziliute can be a factor as well. She seems to be going very well right now and she knows what it takes to win Worlds.

With the Olympics coming up how will this affect your planning and goals for next season?

Our schedule will be heavier in the early season as a team helping the riders prepare for their trials and key races. Then we will give our riders tremendous latitude in their schedules to prepare for the Games with their National Teams.

What do you see in the future for womenís racing? Where do you think the sport is headed?

I am nervous for the sport of women's racing. This is why I asked David LaPorte to call a women's summit. I think we need to do something now. However, the good news is that the sport of women's cycling is growing. Unfortunately, there is currently no talent search or system in place to find the women coming into the sport and bring them into the racing arena. I think if this is corrected it will help. I think the sport can be refreshed and next year is a good time because it is an Olympic year. But I think it will take some people who are passionate about the project and want to see the change - it needs to happen on the team, race, media and sponsorship level. All these factors are dependent on each other and without all the ingredients in the mixing bowl of bike racing, the recipe will not come out and the cake will not rise.

Very few riders participated at the Yoplait Womenís Summit. Do you think this was due to apathy, or frustration with the state of womenís cycling? Do you think the riders themselves are not overly concerned with the state of the sport?

I think it is difficult to be a rider and at the same time spend precious energy on changing the sport. I know this from having been a rider. I was disappointed that there were not more riders at the summit but can understand why they were not there. Like any project, it takes time to grow. I think the riders should become involved though, because if they do not take some responsibility and help the listing ship of bike racing, they may soon find themselves without not only jobs, but sponsors and promoters who will support the sport.

Also covered was the fact that there is a very steep learning curve on the technical/strategic side of the sport for women. Can you explain why this is, and what can be done to minimize it?

I think that we need to have more experienced riders like Ina Teutenberg or Petra Rossner, Clara Hughes, Anna Millward and Dede Demet out there teaching women tactics. I also think women should learn from men's bike racing. I watched hundreds of hours of men's racing to learn, and I think if women's teams raced more like that of men's teams, the sport would be better for it. I think through clinics throughout the year, working in tandem with clubs is a good start.

Equipment needs differ between men and women. For example, there are lines of women-specific bikes and saddles. Is it really necessary to have women-specific designs? Do you think manufacturers are addressing the needs of women adequately?

Equipment needs do not have to vary between men and women but will always vary between athletes. We have men on the team who have equally small hands as those of the women and can use the closer reach bars. We have men on the team who also have special saddles because of saddle soreness, men who ride smaller bikes, men who need different (smaller) chainrings.

All the women on our team ride stock bikes, same as the men. They have nothing special done to the bikes, save for perhaps a "woman's saddle." Depending on what discipline a woman is focusing on, whether it is endurance riding, road racing, mountain biking, track racing, or just fitness, will indicate how her bike should be set up.

When I owned a bike shop, one thing I learned is that the overall fit of the bike is the most important part of keeping a woman in the sport. Second to this is the shop employees and attitudes towards women and women's athletics.

If she is not comfortable in either, chances are she will not keep riding. To this end, I believe the manufacturers are beginning to ask the right questions and head in the right direction. Women's specific bike sizing (LeMond has a very good women's bike, equipped nicely) is crucial for small women. Also, Shimano's women shoes have proven to be a big improvement for many of the women on the Saturn team as have our Selle San Marco women's specific saddles. I think the sport still has some to go but I like the fact that more companies are working with women's teams (like Shimano and Selle San Marco) to make sure they are hitting the mark with women's specific products. The next step is making the women's specific product as light and as competitive as that of the men's.

Louis Garneau is an excellent example of a company who has worked diligently to meet the needs of their women customers. Two years ago we went through four different chamois until they were able, with tremendous amounts of feedback from our women riders, to make a chamois that worked. Garneau continues to set the bar on working to meet the needs of women athletes and I think now have a product that almost any woman can really use in comfort.

Women are the best customers because they are educated customers, and faithful customers. They are willing to spend more money if it is worth it. Bike shops need to work more with women to learn what their needs are. Many bike shops are clueless as to what it takes to make a woman comfortable on her bike, and don't know the right questions to ask. Now companies are making products for women but few shops out there are able to sell these products because they are as uneducated as the women they are trying to sell to. Just because an athlete is a woman does not mean she needs a wider, softer saddle. Or a smaller bike or a big chamois, or a small bar and a stem with rise. As with any tool (and a bike is a tool) it depends on the needs of the athlete more so than the sex of that athlete.

Again, it would be mutually beneficial for shops to host women's clinics, bringing a pro team in to explain the products used, tactics, training, nutrition. All the while, the shop employees should be learning too. This would be a great sales tool as well as an excellent service to the women athletes in their area.

Do you believe that womenís races should be longer? Do you think that that shorter races make women look less capable than men to race at a higher level, or is this a non-issue?

Some races should be longer. Some should be shorter. Depends on the terrain, the time of year, the amount of racing, etc. I do not think shorter races make women look less capable. Women make women look less capable. However, I do think there is a certain amount of disrespect when a men's criterium is 100k and a women's crit on the same course is 35 K.

What do you believe can be done to rectify the imbalance in the prize money between the men and women racers?

I think there needs to be deeper women's fields at most races before prize money should be increased. Why should a promoter pay the same to a field of 150 men as to a field of 30 women? This is not fair to the men or the promoter or his sponsors. I think there are several races (The International, Nature Valley, The Wachovia Liberty Classic, the T-Mobile International, the Housatonic Valley Classic, Redlands and Solano) that are trying to make the prize money equal (miles to dollars). I think though, there are many more problems facing the sport now than that of equal prize money.

What is your favorite race? How about riders; who are your favorite male and female riders of all time?

Petra Rossner is my all time favorite women rider. My experience as a women's team manger/director was forever impacted by working with her. It was an honor to work with her. I believe that Jalabert maybe my pick for favorite male cyclist of all time. He was a sprinter turned climber turned TT rider; a rider who was smart as a fox, sly as one too, but respectful to the sport. He seemed like a man who raced with the courage of knowing he had everything and at the same time nothing to lose. I admired his stance in the Tour, not for what he stood for but for how he did it.

As busy as you are during the season, what do you do to relax when you have some spare time?

Spare time is hard to come by, but I am fortunate enough to have great staff support who see that I do get some time on the road to do what makes me happiest, ride my bike. Occasionally when I get a weekend free you may even find me racing it.

Can you recommend any books, websites, etc where the average women can get information about things such as riding techniques, bike fitting, tactics and proper clothing?

There are some excellent books out there. Eddie Boryscwicz's book called "Bicycle Road Racing" is an excellent foundation for beginning cyclists. Also, Kendra and Rene Wenzel have a very good book on the market that is more specific to training. I think though the best possible place for women to get more information on clothing, fit, tactics etc is from a good bike shop, a solid club and other women. Bike shops like Nor Cal Bike Sport in Santa Rosa, CA are really good at taking the time to discuss fit with women. They have women working in the shop who are easy to talk to and really try to meet the needs of the women customers. I believe shops like this are trying to make a difference, to make the sport more accessible and to create a place that is comfortable and fun for women to go to. Clubs like CRCA have many veterans in the club who are plenty willing to talk about the sport and share their experiences.

I am always willing to share my thoughts and ideas with women or any athlete who contacts me. I have many women write me with questions and I try to take as much time as is needed to answer them or steer them in the right direction.

I could go on and on about ideas to create a website specifically for women coming into the sport. However, as I only have so many hours in the day, in lieu of creating a website, I have created the Saturn Cycling Team newsletter. The newsletter has articles from Saturn staff and riders each month about tactics, bike fit, clothing, nutrition, dressing for different conditions, packing your bike, etc. It is a pretty informative piece that goes out to over 3500 emails monthly. I hope it will continue to grow and will be one of the places women can discover some answers to their questions.

I hope sometime soon USA Cycling creates a portion of their website that would address women's "issues" specifically. Maybe a weekly chat room with pro riders with the focus on women's issues, maybe also a time when companies such as LeMond, Cannondale, and Fuji could discuss their women's specific bikes and answer questions asked by women considering their product. Any company in the industry could submit a write-up on their women's specific items with links to shops that carry it with links to their websites. There would also need to be a list of clubs that have women's group rides. Just some thoughts. I know USA Cycling has a lot on their plate with the Olympics coming up, but it will be a good time for the sport as the TV coverage should bring more awareness to cycling in general. It would be good to have tools in place so women interested in finding out more about the sport have a place to go.


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