“Mayuko Hagiwara has the potential to win the Giro Rosa”: Rochelle Gilmore on the Japanese champion

by Jessi Braverman


We reached out to Rochelle Gilmore about an hour after Mayuko Hagiwara (Wiggle Honda) made history with her stage six win at the Giro Rosa. The team owner of Wiggle Honda, Gilmore had signed Hagiwara to the squad for year one and has played an integral part in the development of the Japanese champion. Following Hagiwara’s win, the Wiggle Honda team owner sent out this tweet:


Given the success of Gilmore’s athletes, it was a powerful statement. And we wanted to know more – what was it about Hagiwara’s win that was so meaningful?

Less than two weeks after her historical win in Italy, Hagiwara snagged a second win – soloing to victory on the third stage of Tour de Bretagne. Less prestigious than the Giro win but another confirmation of Hagiwara’s potential. Given Gilmore’s testimonial, we expect this is only the start of European success for the 28-year-old.

Gilmore started at the very beginning, explaining in her words:

When I started to build the team, I had a long-standing relationship with Honda, which is a Japanese car manufacturer. For the previous five years, I had told Honda that I would do my own team and that I wanted them to be involved. They were eager to support that.

We’re not sponsored by Honda Japan, so there was no obligation to have Mayuko on our team. It just feels very fitting to support a Japanese rider when we have a Japanese sponsor. I looked for the best Japanese rider, knowing that I wanted to offer that rider the opportunity to be a part of our team.

Mayuko at the time had won nine national championships, so she was the most obvious choice when looking for a Japanese rider. Having identified Mayuko as the best choice for the team based on results, I needed to meet with her to determine if her personality was the right fit.

stage-6 Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile 2015

I arranged a meeting with her, her agent and a Japanese translator at the Worlds in 2012. Even though Mayuko didn’t speak English, I could tell she was a nice, genuine and sincere person. I paid attention to her body language and observed her emotions when we discussed the offer we made for her to become a professional. It was something she always dreamt of and really wanted. I invited her to come live full-time in Europe and be fully supported by the team. That’s where it started.

Gilmore anticipated the extra time and energy Hagiwara would require, and she was convinced it would be an effort well-spent.

From the start when we brought Mayuko into the team, we knew it would require a bit more management and extra resources compared to a European athlete. We provided her with a base and home. We had our staff help her get her visa and bank accounts sorted – just to get set up. It’s the same responsibilities when you take on a young Australian but perhaps more complicated because she didn’t speak any English when she came onto the team.

Beyond logistical considerations, we dedicated a lot of resources to making it a comfortable environment for Mayuko. She packed up her life and sacrificed her family and everything she knew in Japan to chase her dreams. We felt a heavy responsibility to provide her with everything she needed from a technical side. We knew she would be lonely at first. We knew it would be more difficult for her.

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It wasn’t only challenging for Mayuko, but it was also more difficult for our staff. It took a lot of patience to explain things to her. She was learning English very rapidly, but the language barrier early on made everything harder. It required a bit of effort to keep our staff motivated to work closely with Mayuko and to give her more time than the other athletes needed.

You see where a little persistence gets someone, and I personally identified something special in Mayuko rode during her first year with our team. She trained with a group of guys, and we could see immediately that she was really strong, so when she learned how to ride in a bunch, we knew that would change things for her.

She had to learn all the simple things. She didn’t know how to take bottles from the car or to pull over to change a wheel in a race. She couldn’t understand when to attack or when not to attack. Everything was extremely difficult for her, and it shows what a special person she is to continue. The first year must have been absolute hell for her.

Because she stuck it out and because she stayed, the other athletes were willing to get more involved with her in the second year. I think when they saw how much she wanted to develop, they felt inspired by her attitude. Her teammates gave her a lot of support and spent time explaining to her how we race and what we do for tactics, and I think that made a huge difference. When the team learned that Mayuko was really dedicated and committed to a long-term project with us, everyone got behind her and put an effort into getting the best out of her.

Hagiwara’s win represented a return on the investment Gilmore had made and the potential Hagiwara has begun to unlock.

I was at my home in the northern part of Italy watching the Giro Rosa on television last year when Mayuko came third on stage three. That felt like the most satisfying moment I had with the team since day one. The emotions were so overwhelming because of the hard work we put in to be absolutely sure she could reach her full potential. Standing on the podium at the Giro at a hilltop finish proved she had something special and that we had made a lot of progress.

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When she won this time – that was overwhelming. I couldn’t respond to phone calls or messages or do anything for the first 20 minutes. It is more special for me. And I think a lot of that comes down to how closely I’ve worked with such a beautiful person. People are just so delighted when they get to know Mayuko or work with her or assist her because she is just extremely appreciative and hugely talented and very, very humble.

Mayuko’s win would be way more satisfying for every member of the team than a win themselves. They’ve all given Mayuko inspiration and confidence over the years, and to see her win is going to be satisfying to everyone.

Only the people really close to Mayuko knew that she was capable of winning a stage of the Giro – and those are the same people that know she has the potential, with a strong team, to the win the Giro Rosa general classification in the near future.

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