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Rochelle Gilmore’s Australian summer break has turned out to be anything but relaxing. The 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist has kept up the pace off the bike in an ongoing effort to smooth the path to the top-level of the sport for riders from her home country.
Gilmore, who founded international professional women’s road cycling team Wiggle Honda, was always going to be a prominent figure this Australian summer road season. For the third straight year, she’s been a driving force behind a competitive Wiggle Down Under presence at Australia’s biggest women’s race. She also occupies a regular spot in the commentary box. Then, she unexpectedly delivered a range of new opportunities for the riders in the women’s peloton. The 33-year-old team owner signed new Australian road champion, Peta Mullens, to British-based Wiggle Honda and launched the High5 Dream Team and a six-week racing programme in Europe to help support the development of Australian riders.
The early January announcements of the new High5 women’s National Road Series team and the opportunity for five or six Australian-based athletes to gain international racing experience provided some relief to a wave of concern over the lack of opportunities for aspiring female cyclists. News had emerged just the week before that Cycling Australia wouldn’t be continuing with a European-based development programme because of financial pressure.
“What I like to do is listen to what the athletes need and then try to achieve that for them. The best Australian riders we have that are not on pro teams for 2015 needed a structure in place with high performance coaches and high performance guidance on careers,” Gilmore told CyclingTips. “Whatever it took from my side I wanted to dedicate my time to making sure it was there.”
The team, which aims to prepare riders to step into European professional cycling teams, includes Australian criterium champion Kimberley Wells, Georgia Baker, Jessica Mundy, Ellen Skerritt and Rebecca Wiasak. The three other members, who all finished in the top seven at the Australian Road Championships, are Tessa Fabry, Kendelle Hodges and Samantha De Riter.
Donna Rae-Szalinski of the Victorian Institute of Sport will manage and direct the team, which is being supported by the state’s sport training institutes, but team owner Gilmore is not planning to take a back seat or rest on her laurels.
“I predict now that I need to be very, very hands on for the next 12 months and hopefully after 12 months … I will be overseeing things, and then I can put my time and effort into another new project for women’s cycling,” said Gilmore.
She wouldn’t be drawn on what exactly is next but said, “I have got a next step. It’s a three year project to develop women’s cycling in Australia and I won’t say too much about that just yet because it’s one thing at a time.”
The energetic Gilmore has learnt that there is a limit to how many things she can take on at once, even though her limit may be larger than most. Gilmore founded Wiggle Honda in 2012, launching the international UCI women’s professional team in a bid to help raise the level of professionalism in women’s cycling. In Wiggle Honda’s debut year of racing, 2013, Gilmore also raced, but decided that even though she wasn’t ready to retire from racing it was better if she focused on other things.
“I still have moments when I think I want to get back into it,” Gilmore said. “I want to race on the Champs-Elysees and I want that feeling of winning a World Cup again. I want to race Strade Bianche but it’s just delaying the process of retiring and quite selfish when I can give so much back to the sport.”
The winner of three World Cup races said she had grown to love the sport of cycling but initially it was just a way to channel her competitive spirit. She may have chosen another option if it weren’t for all the help and guidance she had in her early years.
“I think that I had the best possible pathway any athlete could have,” Gilmore said.
She was identified as having talent at school. She was initially supported by her local sports academy and then by the New South Wales Institute of Sport and Cycling Australia.
“By the time I was 19, 20 I was spending six months a year based in Italy with Cycling Australia and the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) so I was really looked after well. I was in an environment with Australians around me in Europe, racing every weekend. I had people guiding me in life and training,” said Gilmore.
She said this positive experience was one of the reasons she was so motivated to provide others with opportunities, and Mullens, the new Australian road champion and a friend of Gilmore, is among those who are grateful for this.
Mullens re-signed with Wiggle Honda for 2015 after winning the national road title as she wants the opportunity to show the Australian colours in Europe even though mountain biking remains her first priority. When Mullens first joined the team in 2014, she had spent a number of years away from international road racing and had never been on a European professional team. Gilmore took an extra leap of faith in offering the talented rider a contract while she was recovering from injury.
“She simply wants to fill the gaps where the national program might miss a few people and give them those opportunities,” said Mullens. “It really was a massive thing for her to do that for me leading into 2014.”
Movers and Shakers is a regular Ella feature on the women that make the world of women’s cycling go round. The women we write about in this series include team owners, key industry players, race organisers, cycling advocates, journalists, inventors, designers, business owners and the professional athletes that often play a huge role in advancing their sport. Simone Giuliani oversees this series and happily accepts your nominations for Movers and Shakers in the comment sections of these articles.