The introduction of the Women’s WorldTour last season was meant to be a big step forward for the sport. The new series combined one-day racing with stage races for the first time and promised more and better coverage.
With the second edition of the series set kick off in a little over a month, Wiggle-High5 owner Rochelle Gilmore admits that there were, initially, some teething problems but she says that while there will be little structural change, increased interest and investment will push the sport forward again in 2017.
“Women’s cycling is still developing at a very fast rate, and I think that it will plateau in the next few years. But, for now, the investment that is being put into women’s cycling teams is making our sport more interesting for television, because the racing is more interesting,” Gilmore told Cyclingnews ahead of the Santos Women’s Tour last week.
“I’m really excited about the WorldTour races… I think that 2017 is going to see women’s cycling taken to another level with regards to the quality of racing, the number of teams involved, the number of companies investing in women’s cycling and the sponsorship going into races and the interest of television companies when it comes to women’s cycling.”
A wider spread of the top talent is going to be another factor in the action that will take place in 2017, says Gilmore. There was a lot of movement in the transfer market over the winter, helped by the mass exodus from Rabo-Liv due to the uncertainty about their future. Olympic Champion Anna van der Breggen left the squad for Boels-Dolmans, while Pauline Ferrand Prevot was snapped up by Canyon-SRAM. They also lost Roxanne Knetemann, Thalita de Jong and Lucinda Brand. Other big moves were Ellen van Dijk’s from Boels-Dolmans to Team Sunweb, Kirsten Wild from Hitec Products to Cylance, and Chloe Hosking from Wiggle-High5 to Ale Cipollini.
“I really think that the racing is going to be different to what we’ve seen in the past,” Gilmore said. “Boels is the outstandingly strong team. However, because so many teams on the same level just below them, they won’t do it easily, even though they have all these big guns and, on paper, they have a super strong team. It won’t be easy because of the other teams. It’s not just one or two strong teams, there are another four or five teams that they’ll have to deal with. I think we’re going to see more exciting racing and more unpredictable racing.”
Back on track for Wiggle-High5 in 2017
Gilmore will hope that her Wiggle-High5 squad will be one of those in the mix at the big races. The British registered squad had a self-confessed difficult start to the 2016 season as the team struggled to gel together. An issue that Gilmore says was in part due to the switch in focus for the Olympic Games and a change in personnel as Donna Rae Szalinski replaced Egon van Kessel in June.
The result was a lot of missed opportunities in the first half of the season, but things came together by the end and they closed out the season the second-highest number of victories behind the dominant Boels-Dolmans.
The team lost some key riders over the winter in Hosking, Mara Abbott and Emma Johansson. However, they have brought in Emilia Fahlin, Amy Cure, Julie Leth, Grace Garner and Claudia Lichtenberg. “We are happy with the make-up of the team for 2017,” Gilmore told Cyclingnews.
“We’re very lucky to have Giorgia Bronzini staying on another year because she had planed to retire. With the combination of Jolien D’hoore, Giorgia and then Claudia and Elisa [Longo Borghini] at the hillier races and the coming of age of Mayuko Hagiwara, I feel that we’re going to be in a stronger position as a team this year compared to last year.
“If [Lichtenberg and Longo Borghini] are both in top form then they really do have a chance of winning the Giro d’Italia, but I think the focus for us this year will be races like RideLondon and the Tour of Britain. Because we’re a British team, they’re very important for us, and also the Tour of Flanders with Elisa and Jolien. They have a nice opportunity to win there. Flèche Wallonne is a target as well.”
Bronzini back for another year
Retaining Bronzini was a stroke of luck for the team after the Italian rider had initially announced her intention to end her career at the end of last season. She began questioning herself, and several teams had already tried to tempt her away when Gilmore called her after the women’s road race at the Olympic Games.
“I told her to tell me what she wanted, and I’d give it to her. She said, ‘ok, send me the contract’ and within two hours she had, in the athlete’s village, printed it out and sent it back,” explained Gilmore. “She didn’t take much convincing. She loves the competition but, even more, she loves the environment of the team.
“I really can’t express the importance of having her in the team. She’s just such a team leader and captain of the team. On and off the bike, it’s really amazing to see what she is capable of doing with athletes in regards to giving them confidence and guidance.”
While not riding, Johansson will also stay on with the team in and advisory role, a move that was figured out last winter when the Swedish rider signed for the squad. Johansson will also be a go-between for the riders who feel uncomfortable bringing any issues to the management.
Wiggle-High5 got their season going at the Santos Women’s Tour, with Annette Edmondson notching up a podium position on the final stage.