Fast Talk Femmes Podcast: The Return on Investment in Women’s Sport—with Kate Veronneau

Learn about Zwift's return on investment into women's cycling through the Zwift Academy and work with the UCI and ASO.

Kate Veronneau at the cycling track

Kate Veronneau is the Director of Women’s Strategy at Zwift, an online cycling platform and title sponsor of the Paris-Roubaix Femmes and Tour De France Femmes avec Zwift. Veronneau was part of the team that shaped the modern version of these events that became a spark for more growth in the UCI Women’s World Tour.

Our discussion with Veronneau focuses on the return on investment that has resulted from Zwift’s sponsorship of high-profile women’s races, Zwift Academy, and what it took for Zwift to break through within the UCI and ASO. We also discuss marketing female athletes, the state of the Women’s World Tour, and opportunities going forward.

Catch up on previous episodes of Fast Talk Femmes and subscribe for episodes on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsOvercastSoundcloudSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts! 

Episode Transcript

Dede Barry  00:04

Hi, Welcome to Fast talk fam with DD Baron Julie Young. Our guest on today’s episode is Kate Verno, the director of women’s strategy at Swift. Swift is a global online fitness platform for cyclists on from gaming. Swift makes indoor cycling fun social, and sweater and Jane Swift is also the title sponsor of the Tour de France fan of x width. And the Perry rube a hate was part of the team that shaped the modern version of these events. And this spark has led to more growth and the women’s pro cycling tour. Our discussion with Kate will focus on what motivated Zwift to sponsor the Tour de France from what it takes to break through the patriarchy within the UCI and the ASO the marketing of female athletes and also on the women’s cycling pro tour where it’s currently at, and opportunities going forward. Welcome to Fast talk fam que Kate, thanks for joining us on fast talk fam. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. A lot of people in my circles have commented on what a positive impact you’ve had on women’s professional cycling, and I’m looking forward to learning about all the projects that you’ve been working on related to that. But before we delve into that, can you tell us a little bit about your history as an athlete?


Kate Veronneau  01:42

Yeah. Hi, didi. And Julie, thank you so much for having me. I am a lifelong athlete. It’s definitely been a part of my identity and a part of every job and my schooling and at the very core of who I am, started out in New Jersey growing up as a basketball player and a very basketball family very tall one at that the six foot tall athletes, so just really lended itself to basketball. And I played through college and then had some knee surgeries in college and after college. And I had always had a bike just to get around. But I started writing more and more. And as I was getting more interested in bikes, some friends when I was working outside of Philly invited me to a party at a bike race in Philadelphia. Apparently there was a big bike race and they lived right on the course. And they said it’s a great time to get to come see this. So I went to Philly to manioc to this bike race. This is a huge race at the time. I didn’t know it, you know having a great time this giant pack of guys go by. And then a couple minutes later, a giant pack of women racers went by and I literally did not know at this time that women raced bikes. I just have never come across it never seen it and it was thrilling. It was so cool. And I was like I want to do this. I still had so much competitive energy and my husband with his support like got me really into it and I just fell hard. And next thing you know, I started racing and training and I have my mindset I want to be a pro and cyclist I did end up doing that race a couple years later I raced a bunch of years mostly in the US a little bit internationally and I ended up stopping not too far into it just because though I got to the quote unquote domestic pro level it just didn’t really feel like a viable career option. There just wasn’t that much opportunity. There wasn’t any salary there was barely you get your equipment and your your travel paid for but couldn’t get over to Europe to get to the big races. And I had to get back to work. Honestly just I was like wow, this is Sagar lasted, but I really got to get back to my career. And I was lucky enough to start working in cycling and I worked first at a velodrome in Pennsylvania. And then I got a job with a bike tour company Thompson bike tours based outside of Barcelona. I worked full time as their marketing director based in the US, but then I would go over in the summers and lead the tours because I just come off of racing, I was super fit. And I would help lead these tours to the beds Tour de France and the men’s Geordie Italian through all the mountains of Europe. And meanwhile, then I moved to Los Angeles, and I noticed on my Strava that a whole bunch of my clients were using this thing called Swift. And I look them up and I’m like, wow, Swift is interesting. They’re trying to do something with indoor riding. But it seems like people are using this is really picking up and I saw that they were actually in Long Beach, California, just a half hour south of LA. I sent them an email just to partnerships at Swift, and I said, Hey, I got an idea. I work for a bike tour company. I’ll give you guys a trip to the Tour de France VIP trip to give away and let’s do a promotion together like a channel. It’s like a Strava challenge. And they loved it invited me down to the office, we became friends, the promotion went great. And then I started riding bikes with them, because we just became friends with some of the earliest people at Swift. And a couple months later, they approached me, they said, we have this crazy idea to host a Global Cycling competition in the video game to win a pro contract. And we’re going to do it with a women’s team Kenyan strand racing. And we think you’re the perfect person to run it. And I definitely said, Yeah, you guys are crazy. But where do I sign up? That is awesome. I mean, you know, they’re going to try and use a virtual platform to create a real life opportunity. I love shaking things up. So I did I joined I started swift Academy. I was seven years ago. And this past year, we celebrated seven years of Swift Academy and the first Tour de France Feb avec Swift. So it’s been a wild ride. And it just, it never slows down. And I love it. It’s just the life of a of an athlete.


Dede Barry  06:04

That’s amazing. I love that you got hooked on cycling and Philly, because that was one of my favorite races when when I was racing in the 90s. So the ambiance was super good on my Maddie,


Kate Veronneau  06:16

do you remember lorbek Gilder


Dede Barry  06:18

I do like videos. Yeah, that’s awesome. So how did swift get behind the Tour de France femme avec Swift? Like how did that sponsorship relationship develop? This


Kate Veronneau  06:29

is a great story. So with Swift Academy, we started as a women’s program, right. And being close to Kenyans from racing and helping women go pro with Kenyan swim, we became really close to the Women’s World Tour and understanding the challenges and the lack of opportunity and how hard it is for the women’s side of things. It just there was so little parity, so little opportunity that it became sort of a mission early on in Swift to use our platform do what we can do to elevate women’s cycling. So it started with Swift Academy. When we started racing in Swift, we did complete parody from the start Equal Opportunity equal broadcasts equal prize purse from the beginning. So we were doing this with like Elite Pro racing on the platform with eSports worlds. In 2020, when the pandemic hit, all races were kind of either paused or canceled or postponed, including the Tour de France. And the as Oh, the organizers of the tour came to us and said, Hey, let’s let’s do something together. Because you know, we can do something virtually. So we put our heads together, we decided to put on a six day Tour de France virtual on the platform in Zwift. Because like all outdoor racing is currently paused. And we’re going to broadcast this internationally, the major cycling networks are going to pick it up and broadcast it because there’s nothing else to watch. And because we were doing on Zwift, we said we’re doing it by Zwift worlds, which is complete parody. So we did equal distances Equal Opportunity equal everything for a women’s at a man’s world tour field. And what happened was, the women’s racing actually was better than the men’s racing, the shorter format suited their racing style, they had been swifting. Just in general, more, they were more familiar with the platform and familiar with how to race on Zwift. And they saw this opportunity to be on the world stage and have an audience and the world’s watching and they really brought their A game. And the women’s race was just more aggressive. It was more exciting. And we noticed the broadcast figures were pretty much equal across both the men’s and women’s broadcast. And it just kind of prove it. You know, audiences want to see this women’s racing is great, you know, the characters are there, the action is there. This is what planted the seed with Zwift and the ASO that it’s time for a women’s official Tour de France stage race. We had had a course for about eight years, that one day stage race, which was a big deal. But it just wasn’t evolving, and the women deserve to stage race. And as we’ve said, we’re gonna get on board. We’ll commit to four years as the title sponsor, let’s work together to make this happen. So that’s what we did and the first race launched in July of 2022.


Julie Young  09:29

Kate, it’s great to finally meet you. I’ve been a fan from afar. Just been so impressed with the efforts you have been spearheading to advance women’s cycling. And just listening to your intro. It just seems like you have a real knack for developing partnerships. Yeah, I just I wanted to just talk a little bit more about Swift’s motivation to sponsor the women’s Tour de France and Perry rupay.


Kate Veronneau  09:57

Sure, like I said, it’s definitely a I’m an extension of our commitment to investing in elevating and growing women’s cycling. But it’s also just really good business. Honestly, we’ve had front row seats to Kenyan scram, and a bunch of other teams, the last decade, seeing the women’s peloton evolve and develop, and we’d love the action. We’ve always been big fans of the sport. We love the personalities. And you see what’s happening across all sports right now. And women’s sports is having a serious moment. And the smartest companies are getting behind it, because they recognize that when given the opportunity to watch women’s sports audiences are here for it. And they’re showing up. They’re putting their money where their mouth is, they’re backing companies that get behind women’s sports, because they believe in it. And it just made sense to us that, you know, we could be one of 1000 sponsors of the men’s tour, or we could be a catalyst for change. And we could help create this big moment with the women’s Tour de France. And the timing was right. We I think just in general, we’re just well placed to do it. Because we’ve already established ourselves as sort of, we play by our own roles, and Zwift can shake things up. And I think it’s exciting for this very modern company to come in and title sponsor the women’s race, because it’s 2022. And it’s time,


Julie Young  11:24

I think, I think it is really interesting to as you described how it all kind of evolved with it’s one of those silver linings to COVID. And the opportunities that arose from that. It’s pretty, pretty neat. Absolutely,


Kate Veronneau  11:36

yeah, it’s just crazy. As I say it’s through the darkness of the pandemic. This is one of the few lights you know, this race yet it’s the right time. And we we all saw that last summer, the pickup on the race, you know, the the viewership, the coverage, the action, the timing was ideal. It just went beyond all of our wildest dreams.


Julie Young  12:00

When I think it’s really important to have a company like Swift, it provides that momentum. And it’s that backbone, that it’s going to create that stability for the events, it’s not going to come and go. And I think that’s important.


Kate Veronneau  12:13

Yeah, it’s been a really fun partnership. You guys can’t see the video right now. But Didi is wearing our watch the femme cap. And this is all about like, we’re not going to just be a title sponsor. We’re not just looking for brand awareness. We want people to feel our passion for women’s cycling. And so we had a ton of fun with our campaign, all around the simple message of watch the fam because you don’t want to miss this. It’s this great sport. This is the personality and the character and the passion. That’s just going to bring so many new fans to the sport, let’s something very exciting as a modern brand. We want to see the sport evolve. We want everybody to see themselves in the sport to dream their biggest dreams about this sport. So if we can play a part in that it’s a no brainer.


Julie Young  12:59

Kate, can you share with us Swift’s future plans for sponsorship and women’s cycling?


Kate Veronneau  13:04

Sure. Right now we are, you know, laser focused on making these races the biggest best they can be. So it is all about literally getting people to watch the fam. So we sponsor Tour de France femme avec swift and Peru Bay fam avec Zwift. So the largest one day race and largest stage race. And it’s all about driving viewership and kind of creating more investment in the sport creating more opportunities for development. So we feel like if these races are successful, that’s going to pave the way for more sponsorship to flow into the sport for other races to be elevated for more spots to open up on teams for more teams to develop. So it is a long play. It’s a four year sponsorship, I believe with an option for five. But I could see honestly going a lot further than that. I think that we want to be inextricably connected to these races, because they are so iconic. And they’re so exciting. And they do have this opportunity to bring cycling to a wider audience. And that really works for us too. Because we see newer cyclists coming to the platform. It’s not just the old European kind of way of doing things. We’re seeing so many new cyclists that come with so many different motivations. And we want to introduce them to the beauty of bike racing. And we think that the women’s side of things is the way to go. Honestly, the women’s peloton and the Women’s Action is really refreshing. We don’t like to compare it directly to the men’s side of things because we really truly feel like women’s racing has something new to offer the sport. Even the word aggressive style of racing. Sometimes the shoulder format is more suited to modern audiences. So I don’t know maybe a three week Tour de France is a little bit too long for modern audiences. We saw a incredible pickup on the eighth day stage race. And sort of like you can’t miss a moment. And I love that. I think that, you know, the the the first edition of the race had everything you want in a in a bike race.


Dede Barry  15:17

Yeah, I would agree with that. I’d be curious Kate, so I’m dating myself a little bit here. But I’ve been involved in cycling since the late 80s. At the international level, I did my first international races in like 8788 As a junior, and, you know, traditionally, they so and the UCI were very patriarchal organizations, and, you know, mostly run by white European men. And it, it was hard for a lot of people like you who were trying to push the women’s side of the sport forward. And I’d be curious to know what it’s been like for you as a sponsor working with the ASO in the UCI. Great


Kate Veronneau  16:01

question. And, yeah, you’re 100%, right, I think, in many ways, held the sport back for a long time. The key to these partnerships is just showing success. And when given the opportunity to watch women’s sports, and watch women’s racing audiences show up. And as much as you could, you could try to walk in a room and say, this is the right thing to do, they really, they need to see it for themselves, they need to see the audience numbers, they need to believe in it. And so I think for us, just coming on is such a big partner and just saying, Hey, we’re gonna help carry this load, we’re going to show you how successful this could be, we’re going to show you what audiences want, we’re gonna show you what sponsors want. And and if we do this together, you know, trust us, it’s going to work. And I think that virtual edition of the Tour de France was a great test, to show that there is an appetite for women’s racing, and that it has this potential to bring not only, you know, the current cycling fans on board, but new fans to the sport. And we saw that with the races this year that, you know, the viewership was off the charts that sponsors were thrilled, Aso feels like the smartest guys in the room right now. Because it was such a wild success. So it’s coming at it from a partnership perspective, it’s saying, you know, trust us, and it’s saying that we’re gonna, we’re gonna get behind this. The first couple times I interacted with ASL and UCI, I didn’t feel like they were really, truly seeing me or respecting me, like I saw with some of my male counterparts. And it took a little bit of time for them to appreciate my perspective, appreciate my presence, appreciate my insights. But I feel like the newer guard there is really open to that. And they are, they’re seeing a brighter future of the sport, they’re paying attention to what the audience is asking for. They’re excited about just the the direction that things are going and it all feels very positive, they’re getting so much positive feedback on so many levels. And at the end of the day, it’s just great racing. And that’s what they’re entertainers they want good sport, and the women’s peloton is bringing some of the best the sport has to offer right now. So it’s sort of undeniable, it hasn’t been an easy road. And I’ve had some bumps in the road. But I’m also like, you know, they have to see me as a partner, they have to see our shared goals. And they have to see what the incredible impact of this is. And that is great business. That’s great entertainment. And that’s some really wonderful, new, colorful, content friendly personalities in the sport. So it’s been great for their platforms.


Dede Barry  18:54

Seems like you’ve come at it with a really positive strategy. And that’s great to hear that you’ve made such such good inroads. You know, I feel really positive about the direction that the UCI is headed. Particularly, I’ve had some recent conversations with Michael Rogers and with Katerina Nash. And yeah, I really think the organization’s headed headed in a positive direction. They can’t


Kate Veronneau  19:16

ignore it anymore. There’s just too much support behind women’s racing and these giant steps towards parody. And you just can’t get away with it anymore. Quite honestly. No, we’re not going to let them


Dede Barry  19:28

okay. Can you share your thoughts on the current state of where the women’s professional world tour and just where the gaps lie and where you see opportunities for growth going forward?


Kate Veronneau  19:38

Yeah, so it’s been an absolute better year. It’s been a really exciting couple of years. You could say some major developments like minimal salaries for the World Tour, and more races more broadcast is such a huge key to unlocking more investment in the sport. But with All of this growth comes from growing pains as well. And you’re seeing teams be very stretched right now for resources for riders, because of the more packed schedule, more media demands, from races, from sponsors from just general media, there’s been so much growth of the sport that there’s just a lot more asked from the teams and the athletes. So there’s definitely some adjustment going on. It’s all very positive growth. But it’s hard for the teams. And they’re, the sponsorship has to kind of catch up. So that’s great. We’re definitely hearing directly from teams that more sponsors are coming to the table, price prices are going up, salaries are going up all very positive indicators. But it’s also it’s hard for teams, you know, there’s a lot more expenses, there’s a lot more travel. So it’s going in the right direction. But it’s definitely for some teams, it’s hard right now. And they are definitely working hard to secure enough investment in their teams to make sure that they can be their best for a full schedule. Now, right now, I see some of the biggest challenges being we need a bit of salary for UCI writers, we need more development teams, things like that are going to be the next steps, the next big gaps that we can fill. Hopefully with this increased investment, increased visibility, more sponsors coming to the table are going to create that next layer of opportunity. So it’s going in a very positive direction. But of course not without some growing pains. But it’s like this is what it takes for the sport to grow. And I can’t believe how much growth we’ve seen in the last couple years. So I’d say in general, the state of things are great, incredibly optimistic. But I hope that more you know, sponsors come to the table. I hate to see like a race, like the women’s tour go under without a title sponsor. So there’s still some challenges, but we’re gonna do our best to talk about how great this has been for our company for our brand. For our product, that investing in women’s cycling right now is a great move in terms of of your return on investment in terms of a lot of yourself with the future of cycling. It’s great.


Julie Young  22:51

I would imagine Kate that perhaps a big part of the decision making for companies to enter into these partnerships. And maybe I’m making a wrong assumption here. But having women in those businesses, those corporations that are in those key decision making roles, like I think as more women, you know, gain that kind of status within companies that they can then be the decision makers in terms of that that kind of sponsorship directed towards women’s athletic events. What do you think about that?


Kate Veronneau  23:20

Yeah, absolutely. I think I’m seeing even a lot of the major sponsors involved. Santini is is two women that run Santini It was started by their father years ago. But now the two women run the company and they’re the jersey sponsor. Live cycling is all women and they sponsored the young riders jersey, one of the most exciting things about being at the tour last year was seeing it not only elevate the riders and the teams, but all the women that have been working in the sport for years, as commentators podcasters media, sponsors, major, you know, industry players, race organizers, Team directors, all of those women around the sport being elevated, that’s going to build the future of the sport that’s going to continue to create new opportunities, because you have that diversity of decision making diversity and leadership and, you know, wider perspective, looking at like, you know, that knowing that women make, you know, what is it 80% of the household financial decisions. So you want to be you want some women friendly sponsorships, you want to you know, you’re aligned with your audience’s values. And we’ve definitely seen that us investing in this major women’s sporting event is been really great for our, our, the women that are paying attention to Swift, you know, so it’s been a really great reflection of our values as a brand. And I love that because it’s like good business and it feels good. And I


Julie Young  24:52

think that’s an interesting point you bring up about, like legitimizing every aspect of the sport and perfect rationalizing it with all the staff and all the support and all the people that are involved in, as you said, podcasting or broadcasting, or whatever the case may be. That’s, that’s important. And of course, like, we know, the staff around a cycling team works like this one years, and then mechanics and, you know, professionalizing it for them as well.


Kate Veronneau  25:19

Absolutely. Yeah. If we knew that making a women’s Tour de France happen, that’s going to elevate the whole ecosystem around the store. And that’s how you get real change. You know, it’s not just one big race with a flashy broadcast. It is a major sporting event that requires so much from the whole ecosystem around the sport. So it’s great. Yep.


Julie Young  25:41

And I just wanted to go back to a couple comments you made, I think, when you said about do we have to follow the template of men’s racing. And I know when Didi and I were racing, there was a big push, like, we always had to do longer and longer races, and we can, but should we? And I think, you know, we will Yeah, we did some of those long, kind of death march type races, and they were horrible. They were boring. There was no action. And it was silly. And I think I think even here in the men’s racing, like, a lot of the tours are including the shorter stages, because there’s so much more exciting.


Kate Veronneau  26:15

Absolutely. I got in trouble last year, was really kind of new at this whole Tour de France thing. And I, I think I said something to a French journalist that came out to the French paper about do we really need a three week Tour de France? did appreciate that. Because it is it’s just tradition. What do modern audiences want? What’s fair to ask from the riders? What makes the best sport? What makes the most enjoyable broadcast? What is that you know, what’s most friendly to audiences and sponsors alike, and that’s where I think that women’s racing has so much to offer the future of the sport because, you know, we can play with some different formats, we can introduce some new personalities, some new types of race, action. And you know, the sport one of its strengths is its tradition, and one of its weaknesses is its tradition. And I love that women can break the mold a bit and Didi your hat, it says watch the film, but above it says new rules. And it’s it’s kind of time to start some new rules for the sport and try new things. See what audiences are responding to. I mean, you’ve seen a bit of triathlon, some of the Superleague triathlon format, and like, you know, some of these new formats to endurance sports that are a little bit more exciting for audiences. And at the end of the day, for sports to succeed, they need to draw audiences to draw that sponsorship. So we’re interested in creating the most exciting, multistage event and what that future looks like. It could be two weeks, it could be 10 days or the rest day, I’m not sure yet. But I’ll tell you what, I’m going to be talking to the teams directly. I’m going to be talking to the writers and the team management to find out what they want to hear, you know, what they want to see. And also just be paying really close attention to those audience figures and what viewers have an appetite for. I do not believe in just carbon copy with a better doing I think there’s much more opportunity here.


Julie Young  28:18

You know, when Diddy and I were racing, the one of the biggest stage race was the Tour de load. And that was 10 to 12 days, I think Diddy, and it had one rest day and I thought that was just great. I thought that was such a perfect length, you know, stages were about 140 to 150k. But I thought that created a really dynamic race situation.


Dede Barry  28:38

I agree. Oh, I love that. Yeah,


Julie Young  28:40

I also think the expanded coverage has given a huge boost to women’s cycling, just as you said just so they can experience how tactical and aggressive, exciting the racing is, but also to really get to know those personalities.


Kate Veronneau  28:54

That is a huge part of it. The broadcast is not just oh, it’s broadcast. It’s the quality of coverage. One of the most exciting things about last year’s Tour de France and avec Swift was it wasn’t just like, oh, you know, we’re showing the race. It was the multiple camera angles it was that like true toward a France treatment of backstories and graphics on screen and really giving you insight that’s how you build fans. That’s how, you know you kind of demystify cycling for newer fans and I thought that the coverage was so great. The commentators that did the tour last year, they’ve all been doing women’s cycling for years so they know the peloton in and out so they know that so and so has a kid at home or so and so, you know, was an Olympian in another sport or that you know, some this other racer was on, you know, as it was a nurse on the frontlines of COVID There’s all these incredible dimension to the women’s peloton to that really good coverage brings out and I just I loved hearing fans that are telling me that they watched it, they just learned so much. And, you know, it’s wonderful to see all the beautiful regions of France. That’s the Tour de France, but to see the depth the dimension of the peloton to be was one of their real beauties of the coverage as well.


Dede Barry  30:13

I agree with that. I think making those connections to the athletes is so important for the just for the engagement of the audience. And they have interesting stories. It’s just I actually listened to the move podcast the other day, the demi Volharding interview, I had no idea she was a florist. I thought it was like, really interesting to listen to. Yeah,


Kate Veronneau  30:36

yeah. Non stop incredible anecdotes. backstories. And there’s just so much personality about peloton. I love it. I love it. I find out new things about the riders. I’m not just something special to the women’s peloton, obviously, they haven’t been able to just rely on a race of their bike and they have lived lives. It’s very excited.


Dede Barry  30:55

Yeah, yeah, no, it’s awesome. Speaking of like, you know, the athletes, the individual athletes, one thing that I’ve found super interesting, just having been an athlete for so many years and and just kind of watching now more from the outside. I think one of the biggest difference between our generation of cyclists and endurance athletes, and today’s is just the pressures that I see athletes facing on social media, and particularly around body image for female athletes. I fear that it often presents the wrong image to aspiring cyclists. But I was just curious as to what Swift’s expectations are around social media presence for its athletes. I know it’s it’s always unique to each sponsor, but I you know, I’m kind of curious as to your take on that. And also just the expectations that you have on your athletes.


Kate Veronneau  31:51

Yeah, it’s really important to us as a platform who has been really trying to pave the way for more inclusivity and diversity in the sport. We want everybody to see themselves as a cyclist. And then and to like, kind of break down any of those kind of former. This is what a cyclist looks like, or this is how a cyclist has to act. With our sponsored athletes, we work very hard to have a range of athletes of sizes and shapes and ethnicities and regions. We really, we believe in having a lot of just diversity in our partnerships, because that’s how you’re going to create future diversity in the sport. So we definitely have a code of conduct as far as our social media. You know, what we expect from our athletes on social media in terms of representing themselves, their teams, their sponsors, the sport, I found it absolutely delightful to deal with a women’s pro peloton, especially, I think that they are incredibly social media savvy. They do a wonderful job of pulling back the curtain and inviting people to see you know, the the day to day life of a pro cyclist and the challenge is the highs and lows. I’ve had some wonderful conversations with athletes that are racing now about just the diversity of body type into women’s peloton is great, I think that we’ve turned a quarter from definitely in the past decade even there was some really worrying trends in terms of weight loss and in terms of the health and wellness of riders. And what I’m seeing now is that with more investment in teams with more professionalism, there’s more support for riders, most teams have different nutritional support and really work hard on ensuring the overall health and wellness of their athletes. I know with our Zwift Academy winners, these new deal pros that are getting thrown into the deep end of a very intensive, intensive pro sport. We We also supply them with additional support for psychological support and nutritional support to ensure that we’re giving them the best chance of success and creating a healthy pathway to the pros as well. It’s something I care very deeply about you know in the times that you race the times that I race there was a lot of issues you know, in terms of women’s body image and just having long term health consequences because this type of training is incredibly hard on your body and if you’re not taking incredibly good care of yourself and fueling properly, you could do really serious long term damage so it’s something that you know we take very seriously it always really want to work with athletes that also make it a priority teams that make that a priority. And I’m really proud of the women’s pro peloton for just how you know how they how they share, you know, their their journey, and I think it’s a pretty positive time in terms of social media. But I also what I’m really excited about now, too is with the increased visibility and increased fans, and more tension in general pay big paid to the women’s side of the sport. You also have people like Stacey Sims, who is a doctor who focuses on nutrition for the female athlete, and just, you know, also pay attention to the unique issues and concerns and needs of women endurance athletes, because so much of this previously was done with sort of like, oh, this is what an endurance athlete is without too much the specification on gender. And we’re seeing a lot more specific research done, and a lot more resources for women’s specific endurance health, which is great. It’s really good to see,


Julie Young  35:46

you know, as you as you were talking, I was thinking about, you know, as you’d said, just the professionalism and how that’s elevated every aspect of the sport. And you’re right, we had conversations with Carmen small, who’s the director of the yumbo team, and are one of the directors and then Dana Eilis, who’s the performance nutritionist for the EF women’s team. And you really do get a sense that the culture within these teams has changed. And they really are, they’re not just looking for those short term results, but they’re really looking after the long term emotional and physical health of the riders.


Kate Veronneau  36:20

I love that. And you know, what that comes from is a lot of riders now getting into team management and team support. So they are, you know, firsthand, aware of the challenges that women have faced and the lack of resources and support. And they are going above and beyond now to make sure this next generation has that, because it’s such a key to unlocking so much more potential, and also, you know, securing the future health of their athletes. So there’s just so much more focus on that now, which is really wonderful to see. That is because people like Carmen and Vanderburg are getting it to the director side of things, the team support side of things, I love it.


Julie Young  37:00

And I think you know, too, like we all know, as athletes, there’s so many components to performance, it’s not just going all in on the bike, but it’s looking after kind of overused, but this holistic approach, and really being mindful of all of those aspects that contribute to performance.


Kate Veronneau  37:17

Yeah, it’s a huge thing. Yeah, and I think there’s just so there’s so many more resources around it now also, somebody more, so much more fit tech, things that you can really be a lot more in tune with what your body needs, and to be kind of monitoring more closely the impact of this intensive trading of these intensive competitions on your body. I mean, there’s there’s a lot more to help, you know, support athletes in that sense. And I love to hear that teams and riders are investing in that side of it. Kate, just


Julie Young  37:50

back to DTS, comment about social media. I mean, in your opinion, and based on your experience, do you feel that females have more pressure in the respect of body image than male riders? Yeah, I


Kate Veronneau  38:04

think so. I think that that is not specific to cycling either. Think it’s sort of our culture and that there is just a lot more critique on women’s bodies than there are on men’s bodies. I hope that women cyclists can be bottles of what you know what a healthy athlete looks like, and and even share like how much you get to eat as far as I won’t pro cyclists is This is absurd. It’s crazy, you know, and how important that is. And I love what I see weight room shots, and I love what I see training shots that aren’t just oh my god climbing until you can’t climb anymore. So I think the more that they could share that full circle kind of training that gets you to be the best cyclist you could be. And it’s going to kind of support healthier body images and you know, just in general, healthy regimen.


Julie Young  38:56

Yeah. And I agree with you like it is neat to see that healthy bodies in the peloton. Like I I think about Kristin Faulkner. Like she’s just such a strong, healthy looking body and successful and like, I know when Diddy and I were racing, it was like you aspired to be emaciated like all the top, the people winning. We’re just so tiny. But it’s really great to see. Yeah, that really healthy body type winning races.


Kate Veronneau  39:25

I love it. And Kristen Faulkner, she is just wow, what a superstar. And she is also well, you know, she’s using her platform to really kind of create some more awareness around the health and wellness of riders. And especially, you know, it used to be like a badge of honor to lose your period. You’re trading so hard, you lost your period. And that’s sort of like you know, that’s expected and now a lot of research is pointing to that is not good for your body. It’s really disruptive. It could have long term consequences, and it really shouldn’t happen if you’re fueling and trading right now. So somebody like Kristen is being really vocal about trying to raise more awareness around some of these women’s specific health issues. And there is not just one roadmap to you know, be the best cyclist she could be, and each body is going to be different at it. And I think that the more resources and support that riders have to figure out, you know, they’re the best formula for their success and their, their best body weight and their best power to weight ratio. That’s really important. And I love seeing riders that look strong, you know, and that, you know, are not emaciated, you know, be crushing. It’s great.


Julie Young  40:38

Yeah, I agree with that, like, in everything, the individualization of it. And I think it’s, it’s hard because, like, it’s so easy now to compare everything, whether that’s Strava, or social media, but like you said, really figuring out what works best for you as an individual. And whether that’s nutrition or your training, you know, we can’t just follow what atomique is doing, for example, like we can’t all tolerate that kind of load. So I think you’re you’re so spot on there, just really, you know, figuring out for yourself thinking for yourself, and just taking time to determine what works best for you. Yep. So I just wanted to go back, Kate, if you don’t mind, you had mentioned this in your intro. But can you tell the listeners that may not know much about Swift? Can you tell us about the Swift Academy and how it has specifically supported female athletes?


Kate Veronneau  41:29

Sure, yeah. So swift Academy was a program a training program that we started on Zwift on this virtual platform, where you could basically domain a trading program, over the course of a couple months, do all these workouts and group rides and trading. And we’re gonna pick the best of the best to compete for a chance to win a pro contract with a world tour team cadence for embracing. So the idea is, is that there is so much talent out there. And not everybody lives in a great place where there’s tons of, you know, local fast rides at a great local race scene and, you know, a pathway to competitive racing. So what we did Zwift is that we have this, you know, global platform, we said, hey, we can create a tryout IDs with you can do it from wherever you are. And we wanted to use this is a way of finding like the next diamond in the rough and, you know, sort of undiscovered talent out there. And so it started seven years ago, we had 1000 women joined that first program, and it was really exciting. They all went through the program together, and Leah Thorvaldsen eventually won the pro contract. How it works is review all the data exhaustively review all the data after the program is completed. And the top three at the time, we’ve actually now extended it to five finalists, but the top three at the time, were invited to team camp with kindred spirit racing to be kind of put through the paces with the team in real life setting. So you could really see okay, you can’t just be good at riding in your basement, you have to be able to hold a wheel and climb out of the saddle and you know, and quarter and all that other things that you need to be able to do to race your bike well. And it was just a really exciting program. It got a lot of media attention, as you can imagine, because like what an unconventional pathway to the pros. It has become a real sensation. We’ve had some absolute superstars be discovered through the program, including deep Bradbury and J. Vine. The program is now both the men’s and women’s program. And the Bradbury got 10th at the Women’s JIRA last summer, Jay vine has won stages of the Vuelta with the Tour Down Under this year. So we’ve had some incredible stories come out of it. And I think it’s a great way to allow people to throw it out and see if they have a takes to be pro but also to open it up to the world and to kind of create more opportunity for writers to be discovered. What I love about the program now is that not only the winter that said the winter woods, a pro called track the ultimate champion. But now teams are picking up finalists because they’re able to see their performance numbers and they said, Wow, if you made it through swift Academy and got to the finals, desert Academy, you clearly have some talent. So you’re seeing teams start to pick up finalists and stuff. Yeah, so that first year we had 100 Sorry, we have 1000 in the program. And this past year, we had 160,000 across the men’s and the women’s Academy, so it’s quite exciting. We partner with GCN to host the finals and it’s become like sort of a reality TV show. It’s a great it’s a really exciting program something that I’ll always be very proud of and I loved. I love that it also planted the seed for our women’s strategy and investing in Grow Regular


Julie Young  45:00

cycling. Gosh, it seems like it’s really exceeded expectations. And I think it’s it’s also really neat that it actually translates into real world results because you do kind of question like, oh, gosh, you know, reading your trainer is so different than being in a pack of 140 on like a bike path size road and cross winds, you know all the other elements, but that’s great. It’s really translated over


Dede Barry  45:25

that’s been hugely successful. Yeah, it’s


Kate Veronneau  45:26

super exciting, really, really fun program. Hi, listeners,


Dede Barry  45:55

Hey, I’d like to wrap up today by asking you if you were to give a female endurance athlete three pieces of advice, what would they be? Oh, I


Kate Veronneau  46:05

love this question. All right. So my first piece of advice would be Be yourself, unapologetically Be yourself. What’s going to set you apart in not only in competition, but for fans. And you know, for those that are getting behind you is your authenticity as an athlete and a person. And I think the more that you can share who you are, what your unique light is, it’s going to keep you close to who you are and bring out the best in you. And it’s also a great way to connect with fans and sponsors, and to ensure that you are always being true to yourself and your direct path. So I’d say that’s number one, be true to yourself. Number two, listen to your body. The most important thing you could do is to really get in tune with your body and your body sends you all kinds of signals with your overtrained, over tired underfed, and get really good at listening to the language of your body and respect your body. Trust your body numbers are always going to tell you everything they need, you have to have a really strong instinct, and you have to really work hard to just notice the littlest differences to bring out the best in your trading. So and of course, get lots of rest, lots of rest. And then number three, I’d say especially for those competing and looking to score sponsors and things, don’t burn bridges, be professional and all your relationships, whether that be teammates, coaches, competitors, all you have is your integrity. And that’s going to really come through if you establish strong friendships, you establish strong competitive relationships, you honor your sponsors, you honor your team, and you’re grateful to the the opportunity in front of you and all those that made it happen. So that’s gonna, you know, keep you on a good path as you you know, as you try to build your way through the sport. So those are that would be my advice. Okay. That’s


Dede Barry  48:13

such good advice. Thank you. Yeah, Kate,


Julie Young  48:16

those are great.


Dede Barry  48:17

Thanks for sharing your insight with us today, too. It’s it’s really a pleasure to speak with you and just your passion shines through for the sport. So thank you.


Julie Young  48:28

I agree with that DD your passion really does come through Kate. So


Kate Veronneau  48:32

thank you so much. I honestly I think I have the best job in cycling one of the best jobs in sports, be able to shine a light on, you know, the incredible things go yellow. We’ve been cycling right now. So it’s a real blessing. I love it.


Julie Young  48:45

women’s cycling is lucky to have you.


Dede Barry  48:47

Yeah. And it’s really great to see you pushing the sport forward. So thank you. Thanks. Yeah, it does it. Thanks. That was another episode of fast talk fan. Subscribe to fast talk fam. Wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on fast talk fam are those of the individual. As always, we’d love your feedback, and any thoughts you have on topics or guests that may be of interest for you. Get in touch via social. You can find fast talk labs on Twitter and Instagram at fast talk labs, where you’ll also find all of our episodes. You can also check them out on the web at fast talk for Kate Verno and Julie Young, I’m Didi Berry. Thanks for listening