Former Women’s Tour Down Under winner Valentina Scandolara has announced today the creation of a Down Under Academy which aims to provide a leg up for Australian and New Zealand riders who want to head over to Europe to race. The Zwift Academy has provided one route in recent years, but with the covid affected seasons, some Antipodean teams haven’t been able to provide opportunities for their riders. One exception last season was Roxsolt Liv SRAM who came over to Europe for the end of the Spring Classics and spent a few months racing. Ultimately, their national championship winner Nicole Frain got picked up by Parkhotel Valkenburg and is racing for that team into 2023.
Despite being Italian, Valentina Scandolara has spent plenty of time in Australia, originally as part of the Greenedge team. She won the Women’s Tour Down Under back when it was the Santos Women’s Tour in 2015 and before it achieved UCI race status. She was also in the team car when a younger Sarah Gigante took the Australian national championship title with a solo break at the start of the 2019 season. Her DS orders and support went a long way to helping the then 18-year-old take the national stripes. Her goal with the Down Under Academy is to bring a group of young riders over to Italy and be based near Verona.
“Sport shaped my entire life. Cycling in particular, gave me incredible opportunities, brought me everywhere in the world, on the highest peaks and lowest valleys (literally and figuratively) and I am a much better person because of all of that. I’m not done with racing yet, but it’s a few years that I am thinking to start to give back to my sport.
Growing up in Italy, things are a little bit easier if you want to pursue cycling: already in U15, we race in big bunches of 120-140 riders, on tiny roads, and we already learn team tactics. We grow up in this environment and talent comes out naturally from the sheer number of riders we have.
In Australia, I’m more and more amazed by how much talent comes out from a relatively small (in comparison) number of riders. Talking with the girls and with the coaches, I see there’s a need for projects like this, that offer opportunities to experience a different style of racing and to be noticed by UCI teams over there, so I am keen on being a small part of the solution, especially now that women’s cycling at the highest level is booming and offering higher pay and viable careers to the next generation.
We fought hard for this, it’s nice to see it finally happening, but we need to keep supporting the roots, not just focus on the top athletes of the moment.”Valentina Scandolara
The Down Under Academy team will have DS support from Luisa Pegoraro, a former stage winner of the Grande Boucle Féminine Internationale (forerunner to the current Tour de France Femmes) and Giro Rosa in the 1998 season. The aim is for the team to compete in any available Italian open races and hopefully some UCI races in France and Switzerland if the team is selected in the wildcard process.
2 months in Italy is planned for the Down Under Academy as they look to balance home, work and life commitments for riders. 2 months is the ideal timeframe to get a solid crack at racing without having to commit to a much longer time away from home and families. It also helps coaches build towards a solid form peak.
The team has some funding acquired but lost some of the original backers during the worst of the covid pandemic when the idea first came to Sandolara’s mind. Whilst the Academy looks for further sponsorship, some of the proceeds from Valentina Scandolara’s business in Italy will help fund the team. The Kalimera Bike Tours company will provide cycling-based trips for events like L’Eroica and La Vinaria whilst also doing private tours and trips to other races.
Valentina Scandolara is still racing herself. She took part in the Bay Crits in Australia at the start of 2023, finishing 2nd on the 3rd stage. She’s also on the roster for the Denver Disrupters in the National Cycling League, the new crit racing project starting this season in the USA.