Wiggle High5 will begin the European season with a new lead sports director after Australian Donna Rae-Szalinski was fired, Cyclingnews understands. She was terminated by the team after mixed performances during the Australian summer. Former professional racer Allan Davis has joined the team as a new director.
Although the UCI website still shows Rae-Szalinski as the team's director, she was fired from her position with the British team on February 1.
"Rochelle terminated my employment with the team on February 1," Rae-Szalinski told Cyclingnews by telephone from her Australian home. "I have no further comment as this situation is subject to legal proceedings."
Cyclingnews approached team general manager Rochelle Gilmore early on Saturday morning, but she failed to confirm the changes. She said she would make an official announcement to Cyclingnews in the coming days.
Within hours, however, a team press release confirmed the team are looking for some new staff, including two directors and one assistant DS, along with an operations manager, head mechanic and head soigneur.
The changes are unlikely to help the team in the upcoming European season that begins at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in just two weeks. Recent spring campaigns have been successful, if not stellar for the squad, and they start Strade Bianche, the opening race of the Women's WorldTour, as defending champions after Elisa Longo-Borghini's 2017 victory.
Rae-Szalinski, who represented Australia in the 1980s and 90s and previously worked with Cycling Australia, joined Wiggle High5 in June 2016, replacing Dutchman Egon van Kessel, who left mid-season. She immediately guided the team to two top-five places at the Giro Rosa and notched up multiple victories that and last season.
Though they finished sixth in the 2017 UCI Women's Team world ranking, Wiggle High5 had been targeting the Women's WorldTour and were ranked third in that classification.
This year's Australian races brought mixed results, with Annette Edmondson's stage 1 victory in the Santos Women's Tour the highpoint.
"There is no doubt that Wiggle High5 has always been one of the most enjoyable teams to be a part of and we're very proud of that," the team stated in a press release.
"We ensure that we have the right mix of personalities among the staff and the athletes. The team's organisation is now in its 6th year of operation, and we've been fortunate to have many passionate and committed staff members who have led the team to major victories.
"However, we're now at the point where we need to take the next step, to bring into our organisation a number of very highly experienced, qualified and professional lead management staff.
"Unfortunately, after much consideration and with the interest of our team's performance at the core of our decision, we have made a number of staff changes in order to re-structure and recruit the most appropriate candidates for these roles within our organisation.
"Our athletes and senior management have been extremely grateful for the passion and commitment which all of our previous staff members have contributed to our amazing results."
The UCI website confirms information Cyclingnews had previously received that Davis, a former Orica-GreenEdge, Quickstep and Astana professional, will be working as a director during the coming season.
The team have undergone a number of high-profile rider changes over the winter. Prolific sprinter Jolien D'hoore left for Mitchelton-Scott, double world champion Giorgia Bronzini joined Cylance Pro Cycling, and 2009 Giro Rosa winner Claudia Lichtenberg retired.
They have, however, taken on proven talent. Kirsten Wild joined as the team's main sprinter and former world time trial champion Lisa Brennauer – signed from Canyon-SRAM – will bring horsepower. Young Italian Rachel Barbieri, who, like Wild, moved from Cylance, is a prospect for fast finishes.
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