The growth of women’s cycling has seen many young riders turning pro earlier than ever, with Lidl-Trek leading the Women’s WorldTour teams in terms of youth investment in their 2024 signings.
Among their teenage talents brought in this summer were the talented, multi-discipline twins Ava and Isabella Holmgren, junior time trial World Champion Felicity Wilson-Haffenden and top British road and track prospect – Izzy Sharp.
Arriving after a super successful second-year junior season, Sharp has shown her ability to perform in both the Classics and time trials. She took the win at Gent-Wevelgem Juniors, Omloop van Borsele and was second at the World Championships ITT behind her new teammate Wilson-Haffenden.
She’s been settling into life at Lidl-Trek after they came in at the last to claim the highly sought-after junior’s talents for the next three seasons. 2024 will be her neo-pro year, with lots of learning to do at one of the best teams in the world.
Sharp is ready to get stuck into the WorldTour and is set to make her debut at the UAE Tour next month. Cyclingnews caught up with the 18-year-old Brit at Lidl-Trek’s December training camp to learn all about her move to the American squad and journey into cycling.
Cyclingnews: How has settling into life at Lidl-Trek been out in North America and here at training camp in Spain?
Izzy Sharp: It’s very different because obviously, America was a lot more casual. It was nice meeting everyone and we did have a lot of media and photoshoots, but I think this is definitely another step where it’s quite hectic for the first couple of days with all of the media work and tests and doctors… also, probably getting my ass kicked by the likes of Ellen van Dijk. I’m excited about it, though, because it’d be nice to grow by learning from the best.
CN: How did you first get into cycling?
IS: Like most kids, I started with a lot of different sports. I had settled on swimming for a while, which led me to triathlon, the same as a lot of cyclists. I was awful at running, and I knew swimming wasn’t going to work again. So I tried just cycling and I started with cyclocross – I did one season and I never went back, It was horrible. Until the same guys who coached me in cyclocross did track sessions, and they recommended me to that, which I continued with.
CN: Was it a big thing in your family?
IS: My grandad did lots of cycling, like the race across America, so he had a lot of the road background and the bikes, more importantly, the expensive stuff. So it was, but my parents didn’t do it really.
CN: I understand you were quite involved in your journey into the WorldTour. How did that come about with Lidl-Trek?
IS: I did a lot of the legwork myself in December and January time after I spoke to my agent that I work with now but it just felt a bit silly at the time trying to sign because I didn’t really know what the future held. I had a couple of results but there were no wins, so my gut feeling didn’t tell me it was the right time and it was all left on good terms [with her agent].
Then I just DM’d and emailed a few teams myself. I researched director sportifs for teams and used Instagram as my platform because it’s hard to find emails a bit more. Trek was the one that was really hard because Ina [Yoko Teutenberg] if you know her, she doesn’t use social media at all. So I contacted Elisa Longo Borghini and she gave me the contact info. She replied then yeah in 10-15 minutes I had the email. Once I signed, she messaged me and said, ‘I guess that email paid off.’
CN: How much did interest from WorldTour teams increase after you won Gent-Wevelgem Juniors?
IS: I had a few teams already in contact with me, and I did a testing for one team. They almost put a little bit of pressure on just saying, ‘This is your time now to get a result that backs up your power numbers.’ And I’m not an arrogant person – a lot of people tell me I’m too grounded if anything – but I remember when I finished that race, my girlfriend was at the finish line and I said to her, ‘I’m gonna go pro’. That was the moment because I knew these teams told me if you win this race, we will give you a contract. Whereas before, it just seemed too far away to to get to.
Lidl-Trek were the last team that came in with an offer. After I won Gent and I had quite a lot of interest, then it was Borsele when Ellen van Dijk showed up and she was asking some questions that felt a bit forced in some ways. She was like, ‘Have you signed for a team yet?’ and once I signed, Ina said that she was sent with questions to ask.
CN: Were you still completing school while reaching out to these teams, what was that like?
IS: I was doing an online college for cyclists, which really helped. But it was stressful, and I was in such a blessed position to have X amount of teams talking to me, but it just made everything so hard. Because my whole day consisted of different calls with different people.
I’d have like five or six calls a day to try and do this on my own and eventually my agent got back in contact and asked if I needed some help now, to which I said yes. Even after that, it took a good week or two having given the reins to him before my mind could settle.
CN: What made Lidl-Trek seem like the right fit for you?
IS: In all honesty, it was just knowing that I don’t remember that many riders leaving at all. And if they did leave, it was to get a job role within the team. That was quite a big sign, if riders stick and once I had my first call with Ina, she really reassured me that I wasn’t going to be a rider that was used and abused in the peloton. It was about wanting to leave a strong generation behind.
I could see the mentality and that they had thought it through. I honestly don’t think there’s a team out there that will help young riders like Trek right now. And they’re so ready for the future. In women’s cycling soon, we’re gonna have to do all the UCI race, and they’ve got a team ready for it. Other teams don’t have the riders to go to all the .1 and .2 races because they want to go to the tour. I think they’re very ahead of other teams.
CN: You performed well in the time trial at World Championships, but also at races like Gent, of course – what kind of rider do you see yourself developing into?
IS: I think you can aspire to be like riders and racers who have won and the things they’ve done. But you are yourself, aren’t you? I think I just want to follow on from my junior career. I want to win time trials, and once I won Gent, that then became a goal to win it as an elite because that’d be quite cool. Right now, as well, it’s just me chasing the rainbow again because a lot went slightly left and right when I was quite close to getting it, so I think I’ve just got to keep the drive.
CN: What does your neo-pro race schedule look like for 2024?
IS: I think as a new rider, a lot of it comes down to just seeing how you go because I don’t know how I’ll perform at a stage race or anything. My first race should be the UAE Tour, where the team find out if I can cope with more stages. So I’ve got that, but we’ve not discussed the full plan.
It’s a lot of pressure after we went 1-2 last year [with Longo Borghini and Gaia Realini] and trying to go back and do it again. But I think that’s another aspect, being able to cope with that pressure. I think it’s just another point that I can try and prove myself to the team. Even if I did amazing, I think the team, and I know that I still need a year to just develop and do lower-level races. Then I can go bigger because there’s no point rushing.
CN: Is there one race that stands out as one you’d love to win now you’ve turned pro?
IS: One of the Classics, but I think Paris-Roubaix is just an obvious one. Also, now, because of the whole Gent-Wevelgem thing, I won it as a junior and want to do it as an elite. And then time trials, I just want to try to win Worlds – That’s the dream.