Words by: Maria David
Rochelle Gilmore has been the General Manager of the Wiggle High5 Professional Cycling Team since its inception in 2013 (then known as Wiggle Honda). Not only is she involved in team management of one of the leading women’s cycle racing teams, she is also a sports broadcaster and a Commonwealth Road Race Champion. With all Rochelle’s years of experience in cycle racing, we were keen to hear her views on conditions for women’s racing, as well as finding out the key to success for Wiggle High5.
Sitting in the Spring sunshine by the pool at the training camp hotel near Alcudia, Mallorca, Rochelle Gilmore is enjoying a rare moment when she is not running around dealing with her cycling interests. Life is very busy these days, but her tasks are made easier when she finds herself in her new favourite place.
Team Wiggle High5 have enjoyed a lot of success in its four-year existence, from the success of Laura Trott at the Ride London classic during the first year of the team’s existence to Lucy Garner placing 2nd at the Tour de Yorkshire last year. Rochelle sees the key to the team’s success as maintaining a decent quality of life for the riders and making sure that rider well-being is at the top of the agenda.
Rochelle explains: “We have a kind of atmosphere where the quality of life is the priority so we don’t want any unhappy athletes or any unhappy staff. You can’t expect riders to get results if they are unhappy. We really look after recovery and the personal interests of the riders. One unique thing about this team is that riders all have some buy-in in the decisions, and the riders really feel like they are important to the team.
“Also, all the athletes are really good friends. They have chosen the riders that they like to be around. We make it a priority that everyone is happy with the composition of the team and the personalities we have, and everybody really has each other’s back. That’s one of our mottos within our team, that we have our staff and our team-mates’ back all the time."
While Rochelle sees the difficulties and discrepancies in conditions between male and female cycling, she also feels that the reason comes in part from the lack of history in women’s racing compared with the many years of the men’s game. Rochelle explains:
“It is hard to accept, but if you analyse it there is way more history in men’s cycling and way more spectators watching men’s cycling. The business side of the sport is the men that are generating the majority of the money because of their history. For that reason, it’s hard for women to walk onto the stage and demand exactly the salaries and prize money that the men are getting. Women work just as hard, and in some ways, the women are more professional than the men, but our sport – women’s cycling – is relatively new compared with male cycling. It’s not rocket science that there are challenges. We can’t just say £50k for the men, £50k for the women at every race if there’s only 1% of the viewers watching the women. Organisers want to do a great job, but it’s the difference between what they can do and what they can justify."
Progress is being made in women’s cycling and conditions are very different now from what they were five to ten years ago. In addition, TV coverage of races has really helped women’s cycling and raised the sport’s profile.
“Conditions are definitely much better than they were ten years ago, for sure! We are progressing every year with the prize money, and women can now make a career out of racing. The TV coverage has been the biggest advance. Obviously Ride London, Tour of Britain, Tour de Yorkshire have TV coverage and that makes a huge difference to our sport. Having the races on when the crowds are already there to watch the men, and getting to use the same finish line means the spectators and fans are increasingly becoming aware that if there’s a men’s race, there is probably a women’s race too."
As women’s cycle racing grows, the calendar has become very intense. Sadly, some races like the Route de France have ended up being removed from the calendar. Rochelle accepts the crowded calendar as a trade-off for trying to increase the profile of women’s racing.
“It’s a very busy and difficult schedule because we want those monumental races. We want to have Tour of California, Tour of Britain, and these big races that give us the opportunity to race alongside the men’s races or within the same week and have all the publicity that the men get. But as a result, we have a very heavy programme and we have to travel a lot. The UCI obviously don’t want to turn race organisers down but now that we have a Women’s World Tour, with TV coverage, that’s distinctively the pinnacle of women’s cycling so they are the races that the top riders and top teams will focus on."
In light of this, Rochelle does not feel that a three-week Tour de France cycle race in parallel with the men’s race would be workable. Rochelle continues:
“A Tour de France for women would be great, though perhaps not three weeks. Women’s teams are a lot smaller than the men’s teams, so if you want your best riders to prepare for a two- or three-week Tour de France the other races would definitely suffer."
Regarding the current controversy at the centre of British Cycling, in which bullying and sexism allegations have been made, Rochelle is circumspect in her opinions on the situation.
“The topics that British Cycling are facing at the moment and their treatment towards women are a difficult one as there’s always two sides to the story and we don’t really know everything because we are not inside it and we don’t experience it first-hand. Genuinely, I’d like to think that the coaches and the management staff put the welfare of the athletes first and that the victories are just the result of that."
For 2017 Wiggle High5, now into their fifth year, would like to build on their success after finishing second in the Women’s World Tour rankings in 2016. The team aims to win as many of the World Tour races as possible.
“We have a new kit this year which looks really elegant with the bikes, and we have some new riders including Grace Garner, an exciting prospect for the future. Our focus this year is to win as many of the big races as possible – particularly Classics, and the ones in Britain which we struggle with the most. Being a British team, everyone depends on us to do the work because they know that it is important for us. It would be the gold mine to win The Tour de Yorkshire, The Women’s Tour or the Ride London GP."
Number one international cycle retailer Wiggle is the proud sponsor of Wiggle High5 women’s pro cycling team. You can follow the progress of the Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling Team on Twitter, and by heading over to their website.
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