Owen Rogers talks to the team owner, manager and rider at Wiggle-Honda, the British-registered team now in their second season in the women’s pro peloton
Wiggle-Honda made a big splash last year, winning 22 UCI races and numerous others in their first season in the peloton.
Australian Rochelle Gilmore is team owner and manager, and has an accomplished riding career of her own: road race gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and World Cup race wins on both road and track. Her own racing is now taking a back seat, though, allowing her to concentrate on running the team.
Cycling Weekly caught up with the 32-year-old to talk about her career, the sport, her team and how she sees women’s cycling developing.
CW: Why cycling?
Rochelle Gilmore: I was very competitive from a very young age; I competed in every sport I could, and decided when I watched the Olympics that all I wanted to do was be an athlete. I was identified through a programme at school that offered me an opportunity to try an Olympic sport, and when everything was becoming more serious, I picked cycling because my big passion was BMX. I thought road and track would be pretty similar, so I started both at the same time.
I was doing sport because I was competitive; I just wanted to win, but when I was about 25, I fell in love with cycling. It was more like a passion. I just love the feeling of being on the bike.
Tell us about your racing career.
RG: A lot of people would say that I’m an athlete who didn’t really reach my full potential, and that was probably because I feared too much and didn’t take enough risks. Obviously, I did track and road and won World Cups on both, but injuries meant I missed out on going to an Olympics, which is probably the most disappointing thing.
The highlights were winning the first road World Cup in 2005, in Geelong [Australia]. I’d just transferred from the track where I’d won a couple of World Cups; to do that on the road so soon was satisfying, and a home World Cup was pretty special. I came close to winning the rainbow stripes too, I got second on the track twice, and a couple of stages of the Giro too, so I’m happy with the career I’ve had.
Does that mean you’re considering retirement?
RG: Physically and mentally, I can go on longer and maybe achieve more. There are a couple of titles I think I can achieve if I’m willing to give 100 per cent to cycling, but that’s becoming increasingly difficult. When you get to your early 30s, you’ve made all your mistakes, you’ve done everything wrong, and between about 30 and 36/37 for a female cyclist are the strongest years, so it is difficult coming to terms with the fact that the chase is nearly over.
Most people retire when they have an injury or they can’t go on any longer. When it comes, I’ll be retiring by a natural progression, because I’m becoming too busy to be a professional cyclist.
What made you want to launch your team?
RG: Purely to offer the athletes the things that were missing in my career. I wanted to create something for women that was as professional as they were, where they weren’t let down at the last minute by logistics, by staff that didn’t share the same passion or have right motives. Nicole Cooke and I shared teams for a long time and thought we could do it better, so why whinge about it and not do anything?
About five years ago, I started thinking to myself, “I am going to do this, when I’m ready, when I’ve learnt enough, been around enough teams and know all the dos and don’ts.” Then Shane Sutton [British Cycling head coach] offered me these athletes [Laura Trott, Dani King, Joanna Rowsell, Elinor Barker] who were phenomenal. He wanted a good place to put them, and in my opinion it didn’t exist, so I had to create it. To this day, I’m not sure if Shane realises how much of a motivation it was, having somebody like him ask where the girls should be placed and that he would put them in a team with me. I’m honoured that his faith was put in me and that I could achieve that.
Is that why an Australian is running a British team?
RG: Yes. I was able to capitalise on the phenomenal interest that everyone in the UK had after the London Olympics. When I visited the UK sponsors I’d targeted, the success of my British-based stars was fresh in their minds. So I had the British girls for the British sponsors for the main finances of the team. Also, I had the link with Giorgia [Bronzini], for five or six years. Every year, she said to me, “When are you going to launch your team?” so with her on board I was able to target the Italian product sponsors I wanted.
Wiggle-Honda seems to embody a shift in approach. What did you model it on?
RG: My own personality, thoughts, beliefs and ambitions. Some people say my mind works in the opposite way to other people’s; my approach to business and life is very different, but people are hesitant to believe in my approaches — until they see it working.
It wasn’t a five-minute conversation to sign my athletes. Every single one of them had to have the same vision and passion I had; they had to be willing to give back to the sport, because the only reason Wiggle-Honda exists is to lift the level of professionalism in the sport, so there is more funding and we can inspire young people.
Are you optimistic about women’s road cycling?
RG: In the past, there weren’t many driving forces, but now I think there is real momentum and we’ll see the sport at a higher level in every sense. I think in 10 years we’ll see an increase in race stability, team stability and exposure. That momentum is picking up and there are a lot of people like me giving 100 per cent, making sure it will happen.
The original version of this article appeared in the August 28 2014 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine