It's rare for a major race to seem like something of a break, but that was how it felt for Rochelle Gilmore when she reported for the Ladies Tour of Qatar last Sunday in Doha. After a winter spent putting together the new Wiggle-Honda squad, the team's owner and manager was happy to have time - finally - to devote her full attentions to her role as a rider.
Unfortunately for Gilmore, her race was to end prematurely when she crashed on the finishing circuit of Thursday's penultimate stage to Madinat Al Shamal, sustaining a suspected fractured collarbone. Post-race x-rays proved inconclusive, and Gilmore will travel home to Australia for a full assessment, but before boarding her flight, she was on hand to watch the final stage on Doha's Corniche in her capacity as manager.
"I think there's probably a small crack but not too serious: I have a bit of movement but a lot of pain too," Gilmore said at the finish area. "There weren't many staff at the hospital last night, so I decided that I would have x-rays when I go back to Australia."
Gilmore's misfortune was all the more frustrating given it that it occurred on the first day that she and new teammate Giorgia Bronzini were both in the leading group approaching the finale. "The road funnelled in a little bit near the finish line," Gilmore said. "Liesbeth De Vocht from Rabobank ran into some cones and I just went over the top of her."
The highly-touted Wiggle-Honda outfit ended the Ladies Tour of Qatar empty-handed but Gilmore was pleased with her teammates' performances over the four days, particularly on the final stage, when the squad combined with Argos-Shimano to control affairs on the finishing circuit. "We've bonded pretty well and it's been a good first race together," she said. "The girls are really happy with the team and each other."
Prior to her crash, Gilmore herself had reason to be pleased with her own condition in the Gulf, given that the negotiations and red tape required to build a team are not always compatible with the base miles and intervals demanded by training to compete at the highest level.
"I was quite surprised with my form when I got here because I worked really hard to put the team together with a lot of travelling, but I felt quite fit in the race," she said. "But I was mentally relaxed when I got here and I was able to allow Simon [Cope] and the staff to take over, and I think that helped. And obviously, after years of training, you don't lose too much even if you have to back off for a bit."
In a way, Gilmore's estimated two-week lay-off due to her injury - "if you do nothing and you don't stress, then your bones heal pretty quickly," she said - will also give her some more time to work on managing the team before she begins her European racing season.
"I'm happy to go back to Australia now for a few weeks and put some more work into the team and let the bone heal if it's broken," she said. "We've got good staff at the service course in Belgium so I can let them do their thing there, and I can do what I need to do with the sponsors and for the riders from Australia, and then come back over for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad."
Not that Gilmore is emphasising her management role over her duties as a rider. Limited thought her time during the off-season may have been, her training was still tailored with a specific target in mind, as Gilmore looked ahead to dovetailing her efforts with those of Bronzini.
"I'm going to race a lot this season. I don't have particular goals, but I do like the racing in Canada and also the World Cup race in China is really interesting for me, especially as we'll have Giorgia there too and double the strength in the sprints," she said. "I'm looking forward to anything really flat. I haven't done a lot of work in the hills during the off-season, but I have been doing strength work in the gym to do lead-outs for Giorgia."
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