Rochelle Gilmore: Changing times

Can't live without: My Oakley sunglasses, skins, Polar watch with speedo and DVDs. Dream career: An...

An interview with Rochelle Gilmore, February 17, 2007

Australian athlete Rochelle Gilmore has signed with a new Italian squad for 2007 in a bid to focus equally on track and road racing. After a difficult build up to this month's women's road season opener, she spoke with Cyclingnews' Greg Johnson.

It's been a difficult 'off season' for Australian rider Rochelle Gilmore – with the Sydneysider taken to hospital in the lead up to Christmas where she was diagnosed with acute tubular necrosis, a condition that can occur from the deprivation of oxygen to the lungs. The condition, Gilmore says, was brought on by a virus, fluid on the lungs and dehydration from a hectic training schedule.

"It sounds serious, and it could have been if I had pushed my body for one more day, but I managed to make a full recovery without being medicated," said Gilmore, who spent two weeks recovering in hospital during December. "A good rest was all my tired body needed! I’m 100% healthy and gaining fitness everyday, another couple of weeks and I should be ready for Geelong!"

While the condition was an unexpected setback, Gilmore is satisfied she's put in the hard yards to be ready in time for the women's road season, which kicks off with the UCI 2.2 Geelong Tour in Victoria, Australia from February 27 – March 1.

"My hopes are high for both the road and track," explained the 25 year-old. "I’ll work hard at both disciplines and see where and when my form peaks. I’m yet to see the results of the hard work I have put in during the past few months, it’s frustrating but I’m confident that the correct and sufficient amount of work has been done. So I’ll just have to remain patient."

When Gilmore arrives in Melbourne later this month, she'll be collecting a new jersey and meeting a few of the teammates she'll be riding with this year. Gilmore made the switch from Safi-Pasta Zara Manhattan, where she had spent the past two seasons, to the new Italian squad Menikini Gysko for 2007, and this month will be the first time Gilmore will meet her new squad, since track commitments forced her to miss the team's first training camp together.

"Leaving Safi was a tough decision. The Safi staff and management are like my extended family in Northern Italy," said Gilmore, who had considered the move for some time. "Menikini Gysko have invested in me as their main sprinter - I will enjoy the pressure and will have a full commitment from a well balanced and motivated team. Menikini Gysko are also very supportive of my ambitions on the track and will support a very individualized race program."

Having already been fortunate enough to live and train with Nicole Cooke, Gilmore says she's looking forward the chance to learn from another women's cycling superstar - her new teammate Fabiana Luperini.

"I learned that it takes a further understanding of the word commitment and ‘drive’ to become a superstar [from Cooke]. It will be interesting to see what amazing or strange things Luperini does to make her such a phenomenon."

Gilmore may have spent little time with the squad to date, but that's not likely to hamper her settling into the outfit. The three times World Cup gold medalist is already well accustomed to life in Italy, having bought a house there while riding for Team Safi Pasta-Zara Manhattan. In addition, she also has the bonus of a fellow countrywoman at her new outfit in Olivia Gollan.

"Even though Liv and I both speak Italian, it is difficult when you need to express emotions - it’s hard to share your feelings in a foreign language," explained Gilmore of the bonus of having an Australian teammate. "Liv is someone who I can look up to and learn from, on and off the bike. She is also someone who will set me straight and pull me into line or encourage or motivate me when needed. I’m really looking forward to this season."

Despite the medical setbacks during December, Gilmore will be one to watch come the Geelong Tour – having added an overall victory to her palmares in 2005, followed by a stage victory in last year's edition.

"Another stage win there would be great!" declared Gilmore. "I have no expectations for the World Cup until I see the new course, after riding a lap I will know if it’s a course for me or if I’ll help set a team mate up for the business end of the race."

It's clear that Gilmore's competitive future is very much split between road and track racing. Her passion for both disciplines was also a motivator in the move to her new squad and she hopes to repay them with strong showings in both areas.

"I immediately think about the World Championship scratch race, but I’m not sure if that opportunity will come this year…or next," says Gilmore when asked about her short-term goals. "My next focus will be the Liberty Classic in Philadelphia, I’d love to win that race."

After the disappointment of last year's Giro d'Italia Feminine, where Gilmore failed to obtain the stage victory she longed for, she is hoping this year's Giro will go a bit better. In addition to the Giro d'Italia Feminine road race, Gilmore is hoping for a strong showing at the event's new track counterpart, the Giro d'Italia delle Piste in May.

"Three UCI race wins would be a good season, five would be satisfying!," she adds.

While the UCI's reduction of the women's world cup to just nine rounds could be taken as a negative, Gilmore feels it will enable athletes to be in better condition for individual events. The reduction also suits Gilmore, who won't contest all of the rounds.

"The reduction will allow me to arrive at the World Cup races in top condition. My program involves a lot of traveling early season with some big UCI races in Canada and America," she explained. "I’ll also do a lot of track racing, so I’m happy that the World Cup series has been reduced to nine races.

"It’s great news that there is now a Giro d’Italia on the track. In previous years I would not ride on a track from March until November, now I can race on the track mid season (June-August) in Europe. Coming home in October and returning to the track will be a much easier transition."

While women's cycling is clearly on the rise, with a massive 50% increase in the number of UCI registered teams recently announced, Gilmore says she's disappointed by the lack of an Australian squad but understands the limitations.

"It's simply because Australia does not receive enough television coverage," she stated. "SBS have been particularly supportive of cycling but unfortunately it’s just not enough. In order to obtain Australian sponsors to support an all Aussie team, we’d need to offer TV coverage and advertising in return. A global sponsor would be a great start, and then we’d need a TV program/series here in Australia."

Despite the absence of an Aussie outfit, Gilmore believes the boost in the sport's popularity is beneficial to its long-term growth, with the increase bringing a more varied field to lift the standard of racing and placing a greater emphasis on tactics.

"Hopefully one day I’ll be in a position to personally put a mammoth effort into achieving an Australian women’s professional cycling team," said the dual world track cycling championships silver medallist, "and increased well deserved publicity for our world's best female cyclist, coaches and staff."

Gilmore expects to focus on the world title scratch race in coming years and shift focus to the road world cup as she approaches the peak age for strength. But there's one thing that's cemented into her goals for the next five years – the Olympic games.

"Olympic selection in Beijing as a track rider or as a road domestique/lead-out rider," says Gilmore of her long-term aims. "I think I’ll reach my full strength by 2012 for London. That will be my last goal to win in cycling!"

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