England cycling star Lizzy Banks secures 2021 deal with Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling
The 2020 season will be remembered as a campaign like no other but for Lizzy Banks the highs and lows have been taken to extremes.
Her victory on stage four of the Giro Rosa in September highlighted superb form once racing resumed, but within a month Banks found herself in limbo when her team folded with little warning – losing its sponsor for the second time in the space of a few months.
After a frantic few weeks, Banks has now secured a one-year deal with German team Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling for 2021, putting pen to paper with a mix of delight and relief.
“It’s been an incredibly challenging period,” Banks told the PA news agency. “You don’t expect your team to fold, but for it to happen twice in a year is a total disaster.”
Banks’ season looks like a microcosm of cycling as a whole this year – drama on the road matched by tension off it as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches the finances of teams to the limit.
She began the year riding in the colours of Bigla-Katusha but, after the season was suspended in March, news came in June that both sponsors were pulling out with immediate effect.
French fashion brand Paule Ka stepped in with a rescue package for the rest of the year and a verbal commitment to back the team until 2023, and Banks signed a contract extension in August.
All seemed well as the team secured a series of strong results – Banks was second to Lizzie Deignan at GP Plouay before her Giro win, while Leah Thomas was third at Strade Bianche and Mikayla Harvey was the best young rider at the Giro.
But behind the scenes team directors were dipping into their own pockets as sponsorship payments failed to show, and just days before the Tour of Flanders last month they announced an immediate cessation of racing. Paule Ka has since entered administration.
“It was a huge shock to us,” Banks said. “Suddenly the rug was pulled and your world collapses around you. You don’t know if you’re going to get paid next year, you don’t know if you’re going to get paid for the rest of this year, and you don’t know if you’re going to race next year.
“How do you get an Olympic spot if you don’t have a team?”
With seven riders unexpectedly on the market teams have dug deep to find extra room, and all those who had been under contract with Paule Ka for 2021 have found a new home or are in the process of finalising one.
But the experience speaks to bigger challenges facing a sport so heavily reliant on sponsors at a time when the pandemic has left companies feeling the pinch.
“It maybe shows women’s cycling isn’t in as good a place as it can be,” Banks said.
“If something seems too good to be true, maybe it is.”
Banks said there needed to be “repercussions” for sponsors if they do not pay up, but admitted it was a “very delicate balance” as the sport seeks to attract new investment.
Banks might be an ideal spokesperson. The effervescent 30-year-old has an ever-increasing presence on podcasts and in the media, and can concoct a pitch for a fly-on-the-wall documentary during the course of an interview.
But for now she does her best work on a bike, and is looking forward to her new role with Ceratizit-WNT next season.
“They came to us and talked about what they saw in me, what they saw as my role in the team and where I could go,” she said.
“Everything lined up with my ambitions and it’s not often that happens. When they’re thinking the same as you’re thinking, it’s really exciting so hopefully that’s a very good sign.”