© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2020

NZ pro road cyclist's team is in a frantic race to secure funding

Charlotte Grimwood
niamh nationals 2020
Niamh Fisher-Black at the National Road Cycling Championships, in Cambridge, New Zealand.  Concept 78 Photography

Two Kiwi professional road cyclists based in Europe faced battles off the bike this season, from the team's sponsors pulling funding to fleeing their apartment in Italy, weeks after they arrived.

Bigla-Katusha Women’s Road Cycling Team faced an uncertain future after both its title sponsors, Bigla and Katusha, had to stop their funding.

Several efforts had recently been put into place to keep the team operating.

On April 29, Bigla-Katusha launched a crowdfunding campaign.

The Go Fund Me page has received about $5,500 and aims to raise $285,500.

Bigla-Katusha said the team had received overwhelming support from the international cycling community.

"We have launched a crowdfunding campaign to ensure our survival in 2020, as well as to secure a long-term future, and are actively seeking new sponsors for our team."

The team said it intended to stay in “full operation” to help its riders’ preparation for planned races, including the World Championships and Olympics.

Rider Niamh Fisher-Black said title sponsor, clothing company Katusha, did what it could to help and directed the profit of sales from their team kit, Bigla-KATUSHA collection, to the team.

Fisher-Black said it was nice to know, despite the circumstances, its sponsors still supported the team.

“It’s really nice to see as we don’t hear the backstory of it, we just hear that your sponsors have cut one-hundred per cent of funding, so the team’s not in a good place,” Fisher-Black said.

The announcement was “sudden,” but she had seen it coming.

Other teams' riders and staff had received pay cuts or been laid off, so she had expected something similar, but not as drastic as both its sponsors cutting funding.

Fisher-Black was thankful for the help and support the team had received.

Niamh Fisher-Black
Niamh Fisher-Black celebrating winning the Elite Women's Road Race at the National Road Championships, in Cambridge, New Zealand. February 2020. Photo supplied by Concept 78 Photography.

Fisher-Black won the road race at the National Road Championships, at the beginning of the year, but hadn’t been able to race outside of New Zealand, as races fell through due to the pandemic.

The European races were her first big professional event and she said it was a hard, last-minute decision to come back, although she had made the right choice, especially being based in Italy.

Fisher-Black said she and teammate, Mikayla Harvey, were both learning Italian but weren’t at a fluent level and the language barrier meant it felt like things happened more suddenly.

Despite living in an area hardest-hit by COVID-19 in Europe, she hadn’t understood the extremity of the situation.

“We didn’t read the news, because we couldn’t read it,” Fisher-Black said.

At the time, things were changing in a matter of hours and the pair fled Italy, with their bikes and some clothes.

The pair took a taxi from their apartment in Lombardy, Italy to Switzerland, then a train to somewhere they could stay.

They were lucky they acted fast, Fisher-Black said, as they wouldn’t have been able to get past border controls the next day.

Harvey arrived in New Zealand about a week after Fisher-Black, as when they left Switzerland, they ended up in different countries.

Fisher-Black said she still checked to see if tickets to Europe were available.

“If I can’t get back to Europe, that’s my season done.” 

It was uncertain when racing would resume, but she expected September would be the earliest.

“If there’s a season, it’s going to be a full-on season.” 

Bigla-Katusha plans to launch a fan support programme next week, to provide fans with the ability to financially support the team through its partners.