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Rochelle Gilmore: Someone asked me when I retired and it then hit me I hadn’t raced for a year

Retirement from the pinnacle of professional sport is an emotional journey.

Rochelle discusses with Total Women’s Cycling her highs and lows—and explains how the team ethos at Wiggle High5 is all about letting people in and giving back to the sport.

Words: Hannah Troop 

As I stand, shake hands, and thank Rochelle Gilmore for her time—to the backdrop of one of Chantilly’s finest châteaux—a realisation sets in; my pre-conceived ideas of her have been dismantled. Preparing for an interview involves the standard character research—this is essential—but with this a perception is formed. To maintain an emotional blank canvas and only develop a black and white persona is against human instinct. We naturally like to add colour. Maybe a more vibrant shade if the character is perceived intense; pastel if considered phlegmatic. For the record, the former were my initial thoughts, her achievements and inexhaustibility to keep setting new goals is somewhat intimidating.

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From an early age, sport has been her world; it seems to define her very being and every decision made. She explains the competitive advantage of sibling rivalry: “From a young age I wanted to beat my two older brothers. I wanted to be the best I could be at everything I did, I wanted to win everything.”

From four years old she was competing against and beating boys in BMX races. By her teens the vision of becoming an Olympian and representing Australia was a crystal clear goal. Gilmore tells me: “When you’re athletic, it’s the pinnacle, you aspire to be winning at the top level and that develops at a young age watching the Olympics on television.”

Racing against boys is a boisterous environment, but one that gives great preparation for the sprint, as Gilmore explains her love for this part of the sport she says: “Winning—it was all about the sprint, it’s such an adrenaline rush, being so close to people to get your tyre in front is an incredible feeling.”

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All images courtesty of Wiggle - the world's largest online cycle and tri-sports retailer are proud sponsors of the Wiggle High5 team www.wiggle.co.uk

Retirement hadn’t really entered the equation until someone asked her when she had retired, “I didn’t know, but it then hit me I hadn’t raced for a year.”

There’s animation in her presence when she describes her career as a professional cyclist, and talks me through her achievements—a swelling of more than justified pride. With gold at 2010 Commonwealth games, further podiums at World Championship level, along with stage and GC wins at the top UCI tours and day races, the list is arm’s length. So when the conversation turns to the dreaded ‘R’ word, retirement, it becomes clear quite quickly the challenge this stage has posed for her.

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“Was there a defining moment that made you think the time was right?” – I ask her.

The answer comes simply: “No. There was never one, I started the cycling team in 2012 [Wiggle Honda] and continued to ride on it. The idea of me riding for a team I was in control of was something that I was really interested in. But the team got so big I started finding myself sacrificing races just to be on the management side.”

She re-iterates that retirement hadn’t really entered the equation until someone asked her when she had retired, “I didn’t know, but it then hit me I hadn’t raced for a year.”

It’s clear there is only one speed in Gilmore’s life, full throttle, but there’s also a calm persona, it’s not chaotic. The analogy of a swan gliding on water springs to mind; although it’s clear who is in charge, swan like, she commands respect. Which partners well with the business side of the sport. A new-found strength for her, another string to an already well-aimed bow. Along with creating the ‘most professional UCI women’s team’ there have been a handful of other business ventures.

My next question delves deeper: “Has running numerous ventures helped smooth the retirement process—a kind of therapy?”

“My way of dealing with retirement was to keep extremely busy”

And so the answer returns with more insight: “My way of dealing with retirement was to keep extremely busy, I think [retirement] for a lot of people is super hard, especially if you’re forced out by injury, which I wasn’t, I just felt maybe I was better at business than I was as a bike rider.”

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Team manager Rochelle Gilmore getting ready for a ride with the team.

For the unlucky ones who don’t have the retirement ventures mapped out, the process must be a complicated one. Gilmore explains how it very rarely comes without depression, and considers herself extremely fortunate to not have experienced it that way: “It’s something that isn’t spoken about, there’s not enough support networks to help people who haven’t planned retirement.”

“There’s not enough support networks to help people who haven’t planned retirement.”

Still having such a huge part to play in a professional team and living in that environment eases the blow. Intriguingly though she steers clear of the topic with her own team, advising them only to make their careers last as long as possible. Explaining as wages increase within women’s cycling, career longevity becomes a more viable option.

Her management style and team ambitions are certainly different to a lot of pro-cycling team owners. Her response when asked to describe her management and business style is considered: “It’s hard, everyone says I’m hard, it’s cold and it’s hard on the outside, but I’m understanding on the inside.”

“On the outside I’ll look like I’m cold as ice, but I’ll have spent two weeks deliberating a decision.”

When a business is your life-long passion, it can be tricky to extract your emotions out of the decision making. Feedback she’s received from trusted mentors and friends, “I care a lot, and people closest to me say too much. On the outside I’ll look like I’m cold as ice, but I’ll have spent two weeks deliberating a decision.”

Cold was not my first impression; direct, yes, but with an overwhelming openness. The team ethos is clearly set around this. The Wiggle High5 videos have a visceral display of emotion, showing to the world the tremendous highs and lows of the sport. Sharing rock bottom takes guts, it’s uncommon in the peloton, usually only viewed by the people within the four walls of a team bus.

I ask how the athletes deal with this level of intimacy being on display, and she tells me: “It’s well written in their contracts, it’s not the normal contract a cyclist would sign, it’s about giving more back to the sport.”

Gilmore can’t emphasise enough that if you’re only about you and results, they are not the right team: “This is a team where we have a greater goal—to inspire women to get into cycling and our methods of doing that is to share our lives with people.”

With an unwavering dedication to promote women in sport, it seems this indefatigable character is one of the best spearheads you could ask for. It’s obvious her determination to succeed as a business woman was founded and is fuelled by sheer passion for the sport. I leave Chantilly inspired, not intimidated, but certainly relieved I don’t have Gilmore’s diary commitments.

Read more: 

Wiggle High5: What makes the La Course 2016 victors tick?

Video: Rochelle Gilmore interview – realising a dream with Wiggle Honda

11 Inspirational Women in Cycling to Celebrate

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