Top British women's squad said to be “a shadow of its former self”
The future of British registered women’s team Wiggle-High5 is in doubt as it is braced for an exodus of riders amidst alleged chaotic staffing and equipment issues.
Sources close to the team have claimed the squad is set to fold at the end of the year and up to a third of the team’s 17-woman roster are considering leaving, while team management has confirmed they do not currently have sponsorship in place for 2019.
CW’s sources have alleged that the team is “a shadow of its former self” and that pressure from management has left riders “desperate” and “in tears”.
Team manager and owner Rochelle Gilmore said: “I have a decision that I need to make. I have not had time to process the registration for next year but it would be a real shame,” she said, before confirming she has no riders signed. “I haven’t got any commitments to anyone past the end of 2018.”
Gilmore confirmed that one rider has requested to leave mid-season, taking advantage of the transfer window which exists for UCI women’s teams. However, CW sources have said up to six riders are just waiting for the end of the year before jumping ship.
Gilmore also confirmed that earlier this month all riders refused to sign a contract that would have made them liable for damage to race wheels in national championships because they believed it would undermine their rights in their regular contracts. One source described the wheels contract as “irregular”.
At the start of the season Wiggle-High5 saw four of its key staff depart including its lead and assistant sports directors, and its full-time soigneur and mechanic. Former Orica-GreenEdge professional Allan Davis is now on board as full-time DS, though sources have said other posts have been filled only with short-term replacements, one claiming the team have attended some races this year without a mechanic.
In addition, the team’s bus is currently stranded in Majorca as the registered owner, a former member of staff, removed the registration plates before leaving it on the island and Spanish law means it cannot be reregistered with the modifications it has received.
That has left riders changing in cars or public toilets all season. Only for last week’s OVO Energy Women’s Tour did the team hire an un-liveried camper for this purpose.
Multiple sources told CW there are cases of riders being given used bikes and equipment for training and sometimes having to buy their own equipment.
Gilmore said: “The athletes have access to every single thing that we have received in 2018. Unfortunately, we still have some outstanding deliveries.”
On the alleged lack of mechanics at races she added: “Not that I am aware of, because I have been paying for staff to be at all races. We have one part-time staff member, but every other staff member is paid monthly with an agreement until December 31.”
When asked about sponsors Gilmore added: “[Helmet manufacturer] Kask have asked if they could renew the contract, but I said that I’ll be ready to negotiate for next year in a couple of weeks. The only other sponsor I have spoken to is Wiggle.”
Wiggle has been a name sponsor since the team’s inception in 2013 when they won 22 races, mainly with double road world champion Giorgia Bronzini.
Armed with Gilmore’s professed wish to improve professionalism in the women’s peloton, the team contributed to a raising of standards in the sport, and it finished the 2017 season ranked sixth by the UCI.
Even with the team in crisis they have continued to perform. Lisa Brennauer recently won the International Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour and the aggressive Elisa Longo-Borghini bagged the climbers’ jersey at the Women’s Tour.
Wiggle-High5: key facts
First year: 2013, as Wiggle-Honda
Total UCI wins: 114 (excluding national and continental championships)
Best year: 2016 29 — victories
Biggest win: Tour of Flanders, Elisa Longo-Borghini (2015)
Rider with most wins: Giorgia Bronzini (34)
Current number of riders: 17
Current world ranking: 8