Iconic Australian rider Rochelle Gilmore admitted Wiggle-Honda’s debut year on the road has exceeded all expectations.
Gilmore, 31, is combining riding for the new Belgian-based British team, which also features Great Britain’s record-breaking track champions Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell, with her role as manager and owner.
And while she admitted she has found her own new tasks hard work, she is delighted with the progress the team have made on the road.
Wiggle-Honda’s debut year
“For the team, this year has been absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “It has exceeded my expectations so far. In the first year my goal was to get two to three wins and already we have gone well beyond that.
“It’s been quite difficult for me personally though, balancing management and riding. I think I underestimated the work I’d have to do. The profile of the team, considering it’s in its first year, is very high and the workload’s been a lot more.
“Through Wiggle-Honda we’ve got sponsors with huge networks in different parts of the world so the opportunities for PR and promotion have been much more.”
In the first year my goal was to get two to three wins and already we have gone well beyond that.
Among Wiggle-Honda’s successes this year are Trott’s victory in the Elveden Estate Cycle Race and second places in the IG London Nocturne and National Road Race – the latter of which saw her crowned British under-23 champion.
King also achieved success in the women’s Milk Race in Nottingham while Rowsell was recently crowned national time trial champion, and Gilmore admitted she is pleased with how they have taken to road racing.
“They raced a lot in the early season, which was the most difficult part of the season because of the terrible weather,” she explained.
“I think that was a bit of a shock to the system for them because they’re used to the track and don’t normally have to contend with the wind and rain. It was extremely difficult and I think a real eye-opener for them, but they did enjoy it.
“It’s hugely satisfying to see how they have ridden this year. I was quite ambitious with what I wanted to do, and waited a long time because I wanted to be ready to do it properly. The choices I made at the end of last year were clearly good ones.”
The three will be competing at the RideLondon Grand Prix this weekend alongside fellow track star, and world junior time trial champion, Elinor Barker, as part of the RideLondon Festival.
However, with Wiggle-Honda’s more senior riders committed to La Route de France, Gilmore believes it could be a tricky day for the British girls.
RideLondon Grand Prix
“We definitely have the ambition to get the win, but it is really going to be difficult,” she said. “We are the team to beat so we are going to find ourselves tightly marked.
It’s hugely satisfying to see how Trott, King and Rowsell have ridden this year. I was quite ambitious with what I wanted to do.
“We don’t have the strongest team out there; the RideLondon Grand Prix will be our second priority this weekend however it is still a huge event and a real opportunity to promote the sport.
“Our track cyclists are also in the middle of a big training block too, so they will only be travelling down on the Friday and will have to compete with their sore legs!”
Like the British quartet, Gilmore’s professional road racing career also came off the back of success on the track at a young age when she signed for Ausra Gruodis Safi ten years ago.
The future of women’s cycling
Women’s cycling has undergone significant changes since then and Gilmore, who has achieved numerous top-three finishes in Giro d’Italia Femminile stages during her illustrious career, believes it is a much more professional environment now.
“In recent years there has been a huge development as far as the professional running of teams is concerned,” she explained.
“There are quite a few well-organised teams about now and you can’t win bike races if you don’t commit fully to the professional side of it – there’s not time now to take on part-time work.
“It’s lifting the level of the races and the sport and how professional you have to be in order to be at the top. It’s really a professional sport now.
“It’s taking some time to lift the sport’s PR but the small opportunities we have had to show how we race, we have taken. Take the Olympics for example; the road race last year was possibly the most exciting race of the Games.”
With widespread debate about the possibility of introducing a women’s Tour de France, with Marianne Vos and Emma Pooley firm advocates of it, but others such as Trott more in favour of developing the existing structure, Gilmore admitted there is still much progress to be made.
At the moment, the highlights are usually just a few seconds, so if we had nearer to 20 minutes it will really help to promote the sport and bring in more sponsors
“It would be fantastic if that could be achieved, and the pressure of the general public will be a big factor in it,” she said. “But I don’t personally expect that it will happen next year, or even the year after, though people are very aware now that something needs to be done.
“I think the best thing we could hope to see next year, to continue this development, would be a few more of the big men’s races carrying women’s races too. A couple more Classics would be ideal and if there could be a little more television coverage of them too.
“At the moment the highlights are usually just a few seconds, so if we had nearer to a 20-minute programme of the highlights to show how we race it will really help to promote the sport and bring in more sponsors.”
With her work off the bike restricting her time for training and competing however, Gilmore admitted her own career could be nearing its close.
However, she is determined not to retire from competitive riding just yet, and with the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on the horizon, she is keen to defend her road race title.
No plans for retirement
“I could not complete the Giro because other commitments off the bike had to take over,” she said. “I started to help with the team but then off-the-bike work took over.
“I won’t be back on the bike competitively this year but I am not yet ready to hang up my bike and end my career.
“I hope to have a bigger, stronger crew around me next year so if I could sign off on a high and get a big win, that is my ultimate goal for what could be my final year on the bike.
I am not yet ready to hang up my bike. It would be an absolute dream if I could represent Australia at the Commonwealth Games, particularly with being the defending champion.
“Events like the Commonwealth Games are definitely in the back of my mind. I went up to see Glasgow with the team. That would be an absolute dream if I could represent Australia at the Commonwealth Games, particularly with being the defending champion.
“It’s difficult to say how things will go this winter, but if it was possible to give it 100 per cent then it is definitely something I am interested in.”
While her own career may be drawing to a close however, Gilmore remains hugely ambitious about Wiggle-Honda’s future with new signings already being lined up.
Although she is remaining tight-lipped on who they might be, she vowed to keep the team at the forefront of promoting women’s cycling.
“We will be experimenting a bit more next year and we are hoping to sign a few more exciting riders, capable of high performance but also those who share our aims of taking the sport to the next level,” she said.
“We are well in the process of sorting these and we will have even more involvement in the promoting of women’s cycling next year too.”
Rochelle Gilmore is riding the Ride with Brad sportive on August 11 alongside her Wiggle-Honda team mates, including Laura Trott, Joanna Rowsell and Dani King.
You can still enter for your opportunity to ride with Sir Bradley Wiggins at: www.ridewithbrad.com.