An "exceptional year"
Wiggle-Honda have been around for just over a year and in its short existence have provided a template for success in women's cycling. Rochelle Gilmore had delved into ownership with the Australian domestic Dream Team but in 2012 took the step of creating a top-tier women’s team. Gilmore balanced the roles of both owner and team rider which was a new experience but one which renewed her love of the sport.
Having set a goal of three victories, Gilmore's team exceeded expectations. "I honestly didn't expect the results that we got. When I proposed to our sponsors this time last year, what we would achieve in our first year, I said three race wins would be fantastic and five race wins would be an exceptional year," Gilmore told Cyclingnews.
While there were wins aplenty, Gilmore pointed to three results in particular as the most significant of 2013. "The first was the win that Giorgia Bronzini got at Padova (Classica Citta di Padova). That was really special to me as it was the first international win. I felt so relieved that we had that one win under our belt because I've been a part of teams before that haven't won until July/August which is so stressful. So once we got the first win, I was thinking 'at least we've won a race in our first season' and we went on to win 22 races."
One of the younger riders on the team, Emily Collins, delivered the second highlight and confirmed the decision by Gilmore to sign the Kiwi. "The win by Emily at a UCI race (Omloop van het Hageland) was significant due to me having identified her in Europe last year when perhaps no one else did. I didn't know her but I saw a talent at a few races and her win proved that you can take bike riders who go unnoticed."
The third win was another by the two-time world champion Bronzini who was a revelation at the Route de France in 2013 winning six straight stages. "Giorgia winning every day was just incredible. To get the message each day [that she won], I had to reread it, recheck it, 'is that really true?' 'Did she really win again?' That was just phenomenal and to have Linda (Villumsen Serup) win on the last day was amazing."
Putting the team together
The Wiggle team came together this time last year and with the support of the Bradley Wiggins Foundation its profile was immediately raised. "The support from the Bradley Wiggins Foundation is quite significant for our team, we couldn't have started as strongly as we did without Bradley's support. He has enabled us to pay professional salaries and it's really important to Bradley that the sport continues to develop," she said.
While Gilmore had experience in managing a smaller team there were some surprises in how to operate a larger team. "There is a lot of psychology in managing the riders, with women there are a lot of emotions involved and you have to be careful with the way you manage them and the job really is to do with the psychology of things which I didn't realise.
"It's been a new experience and one I've very much enjoyed. I really like dealing with people and the management side of things. I wouldn't say it's easier or harder than I expected, it's been very much what I expected and I'm really looking forward to developing stronger relationships with my riders and staff in years to come."
The team wasn't going to happen without Bronzini, and when Gilmore announced that 2013 would be the year that her team came to fruition, the two were reunited. "I rode on the same team with Giorgia back in the early 2000s and we became really good friends. I spoke with Giorgia over the past each year before she signed a contract, she would ask 'are you starting a team?'
Basically she was just waiting for me and I was never going to do it unless she was part of the team." Gilmore recounted Bronzini’s response to the creation of the team as was happening as '"Tell me when you're ready to sign the contract and we'll go from there.'"
While Bronzini racked up the wins, Gilmore praises the value of her friend and teammate to Wiggle beyond top step on the podium. "She is a really great mentor and person to be around the younger riders. She leads by example in every possible way that I wish a role model could be. She's got her life in balance, she very mature, honest, realistic and just down to earth."
Gilmore explained that with a relatively young team, having older riders such as Bronzini and Charlotte Becker with their glittering palmarès, was the right mix for the first season and has created an environment in which the team is above individuals. "We don't necessarily recognise the person that crosses the line first but more the team win and I think that our athletes really appreciated being part of those wins," she said.
The second season
There is little change for the upcoming season with the kit remaining the same and only having Spanish time trial champion Anna Sanchis and multiple Swedish national champion Emma Fahlin join. Gilmore explained the approach of signing the duo, "both have national titles behind them, in my opinion Emilia Fahlin has been one of the strongest lead-out riders in the world and capable of winning races as well.
"She hasn't had the strongest past few years but I'd like to be the team that brings the best out of her again and I think she just needs to be in the right environment and I think we've got that. Instead of just going and signing a rider at the top I wanted to sign a rider who was struggling a bit like Emilia and offer her a good environment and special attention to get her back to what she's capable of."
The other change is the loss of Lauren Kitchen to Hitec Products next year. Gilmore said that "I'm very close friends with Lauren and it's difficult to her leave but I'm happy that she's going to a team were she'll be given more opportunities and I hope that she has really great season in 2014."
The team will get together for the first time in March for a ten day training camp in northern Italy with different training schedules and various programs of the track athletes limiting the opportunity to meet up earlier.
The team will be racing over the Australian summer although at the Australian nationals Peta Mullens will be the sole Wiggle rider. Gilmore is uncertain whether she will be ride in support of the 25-year-old. While Gilmore is enjoying riding the bike "more than ever," she is unsure about the defence of her Commonwealth Games gold medal and racing schedule for next year.
"At the moment I don't have big ambitions but you never know what will happen. I'm just riding and training casually and putting more effort into the team which is really my priority. I really appreciate that I can get out and just do something that I love which is a relief. I can get out there and straighten out my thoughts."
The future of women's cycling
The success of the team from its early days has given Gilmore hope that the sport is heading in the right direction and that the Wiggle model will provide incentives for future investment. "It was important for the team and the future of cycling to show that it's not impossible to start a women's team. I think that a really scary thing for people is whether they can achieve it and whether they are capable of achieving that," she said.
"I hope that I'm just proof that it's not impossible and anything's achievable. I think that for women's cycling, for a new team to pop up and be so dominate and so successful is really encouraging for the sport and people out there thinking about developing a women's cycling team."
Add in the UCI's commitment to share television revenue funding and it appears women's cycling can only grow. "We've proven on those very few occasions that when we get TV coverage that we have some exciting racing which is professional and people like to watch it and now they'll have greater opportunity to do so," Gilmore said.
With recent talk of a women's Tour de France, Gilmore stated that she is "100 percent in favour" but one which was much shorter in length. "I think that to keep our racing exciting, we have to keep the racing a little shorter than the men because we physically are not capable of riding the full distances of the men's Tour. We are a new sport and have don't have a long history and I think that it'll take a long time to develop women's physiology to race over gruelling terrain for that many days.
"I think that we could see a Tour de France in conjunction with the men and using the first or second half of the parcours and we could see that happen in the next five years."
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