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It's all about Australia on the road... Rochelle Gilmore interview, on the Bay Crits, RoadNats and her brand-new Dream Team

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2015 starts with a bang for the Australian road riders - we've already had the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic (aka Bay Crits) and the National Crit and ITT Championships, and we're gearing up for the women's road race on Saturday. At the heart of all the action has been Rochelle Gilmore, whether as owner/manager of Bay Crits winning team Wiggle Down Under, or commentating on all the races for Channel 9 and Fox Sports, or, today, launching her brand-new Australian development squad, the High5 Dream Team. She took time out of her hectic week to talk to me about all this and more. And if you've missed any of the action, I'll show you where to find videos, as well as how to watch the women's Road Champs as they happen.

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This is a transcript of a podcast interview that you can listen to on my website

Sarah: This has been a crazy week for you!

Rochelle: It has been a crazy week, I haven't had much sleep, I can tell you that, but it's been exciting.  I didn't even sleep last night, with the [High5 Dream Team] announcement coming this morning.  We have eight athletes, but we have six of them at the National Championships this weekend, and I was catching up with them yesterday, talking about the programme and the equipment, and where we're going with this and what we can achieve, and it was so exciting, I got back to my room at 11 o'clock, and I knew that the release was going out at 5am, so I didn't sleep, I was just too excited.

The idea to do something in Australia was actually born at the World Championships in Ponferrada in September, when I was staying in the same hotel as the Australian cycling team whilst I was there for the BBC, and we had a lot of conversation about which athletes might be ready to put into the Wiggle Honda professional team, and I had received a list of requests to join the team from about 15 really really talented names, and I wanted to find out more about these athletes, and which ones Cycling Australia would recommend to put into our programme.  I'd already signed Chloe Hosking and Annette Edmondson, and I had one more position open for an Australian rider, so I got into some discussions, and even to this day, I haven't been able to decide which Australian rider to put into that third spot, so it's still open.

But talking to Cycling Australia about how much young talent there is and athletes that are losing their way a little bit, because it's a big step over from Australian to European cycling, the idea was born to create something that would give them the opportunity to race and act as a professional team, go through all the paces of giving sponsors Return on Investment, how it is to feel like you've won a race when you've actually finished 20 minutes down, and all these really important things that athletes need to learn really quickly, before they go to Europe.  So we've created that environment with professional staff, professional equipment, professional everything for these athletes, and they're super-excited that they're going to be racing in an environment like we have in Europe but here in Australia, preparing themselves and knowing they've got a lot of people behind them to try to open some door for them in Europe when they're ready.

Sarah: I saw on your press release that you're going to have some slots for them to actually ride in Europe in the summer.

Rochelle: The plan is to bring a team of six athletes from Australia over to Europe and have them race as a team, so get them some guest rides in UCI races, and race with similar riders to those they've been riding with back in Australia, and seeing how they can execute their race plans in the .2 races in France in August/September.  What the Australian national programme have done in the past is brought some athletes over for a six-week programme, that'll be enough to give them a taste of what the racing's like in Europe, what the lifestyle's like being on the road for six weeks.  It'll be quite testing for the athletes,  and they'll find out if that's the lifestyle they want.

It's like dangling a carrot in front of them, give them a bit of a taste of it, and they can come back to Australia and decide "I want to be a professional cyclist, I want to go to Europe", or they can decide "ok, I've done that, I wanted to see what it's like, and it's not for everyone".  All I want to do is provide the opportunity.

Sarah: And they're starting racing straight away after Nationals

Rochelle: Yeah, after Nationals they'll have a week to recover before we come together in Adelaide for the Tour Down Under, so obviously to start their NRS season with the Tour Down Under is massive.  All the new bikes, new kit, new staff, they'll be treated like professionals - we're supported by Oakley, so they're going to an Oakley party the night before TDU starts, so they're really going to be in that mode of wow, we're professional athletes and we're at the Tour Down Under.

Sarah: And then they go to the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, and then the National Road Series - that's fun.

Rochelle: Cycling round the world has taken some massive, massive steps in the last 12 months - we've all witnessed how rapidly women's cycling has lifted its level to close to where the men are in terms of having those prestigious races, and now it's happening in Australia.  When there's a massive race for men, they're having a massive race for women, so to have the TDU and Cadel's Race the first two of the 10 NRS races, and televised, is absolutely massive.

Sarah: It's so exciting, because it seems like it's been quite a difficult time for women's cycling in the last couple of weeks, hasn't it?

Rochelle: In the press it has, but there's been a lot of exciting stuff happening within cycling in Australia.  I've only come back here for a very short amount of time, but I've been thrown into it because while I'm back here for two or three months, I'm on the road the whole time, going to races, and one things I've recognised this summer is that there's all these NRS teams that are really, really professional.

You will have heard of the Holden Team, the Suzuki Brumby's, the Roxsolt team that's been really successful this summer - these are like these mini professional cycling teams, and the riders are being treated like professionals.  And there is tv coverage nationwide for the NRS races that the women are doing.  30-minute to one-hour packages, on mainstream free-to-air tv, Channel 9, and Fox Sports also picking it up, and these programmes are being shown over and over and over, so the general public are getting to see cycling, and an equal amount for women's cycling as there is for men's cycling.  So for me, coming back from Europe and just seeing the enthusiasm in the women's cycling world here, it's just been overwhelming.

Sarah: Even before the Channel 9 deal, I could see more of the NRS races because of Cycling Australia's videos than I could of some of the big UCI races and most of the UK domestic scene here where I am.  I've been following it because it's so easy.

Rochelle: That's the great thing.  Channel 9 and FoxSports will put these programme up on their online avenues for people around the world to be able to watch, and the whole world is engaging in Australian summer racing.

Sarah: And congratulations - your team's first race of 2015, that's been a bit successful!

Rochelle: It was!  And for me, super, super satisfying.  People make these comments after the Bay Crits, they say "oh well done, how did you do it again, you dominated again" and I can tell you that no one on our team feels like we dominated.  If you look on paper we did have some fantastic results, and we dominated, but each and every one of our athletes and staff had to dig so so deep within themselves to get those results.  A lot of supporting each other, motivating each other, a lot of fatigue, the heat hit our Europeans really hard, we had a lot of things go wrong in our logistical side, staff had to drive to Melbourne to pick up equipment and blah blah blah.  So basically we had to pull together as a team and really, really get behind each other every single evening and every single morning to get the morale boosted, and the girls switched on.

Some people came in with a lot less form than they thought they had, so it was a lot of mental game.  I needed to go to my staff and say "I know that injury's not looking good, but we need to get her confidence for tomorrow", or we need to let her have an easy day.  A lot of big decisions had to be made, and in the end we obviously made the right decisions on a lot of things, but it doesn't come easy, so for our team, everyone involved, all the staff and riders, Bay Crits was super super satisfying because we were there for each other.  It didn't come easy, and the victory, it being the first race of the year, was so important to us, for the team going into the TDU, Cadel's Race and the really, really big one for us, the first UCI race of the season, Qatar.

Sarah: Bay Crits was so interesting because you heard "crit" and you just imagine "bunch sprint", but two of the stages were won in breakaways this year.

Rochelle: And those breakaways were unbelievable.  I've got to tell you, I still can't believe that those breakaways succeeded, and how strong those riders were.  On Day 2, when Gracie Elvin [of ORICA-AIS] went, our team tactic, and I'm sure the team tactics of Roxsolt and other teams, was right from the moment the girls woke up, "DON'T LET GRACIE ELVIN GO!".  That's all anyone was thinking - if she moves, they jump straight onto her, don't let Gracie Elvin move!

What happened?  She just hit them at the right time, I think Spratty did a little attack, and then Gracie over the top, and no one could respond to it.  And you've got the whole peloton trying to chase her down [for half the race] to close it - no chance! Just an absolutely phenomenal display of strength.  It put a lot of pressure on Gracie, people were saying maybe she shouldn't have shown her cards, but how can you not?  She felt so good, she came across the line, the rest of the peloton falling off their bikes, desperately screaming for water, so much fatigue, and Gracie's just standing there having a conversation, no worries, got no water on the bike - I said "Are you thirsty?" and she said "Oh, yeah" - "Did you want me to grab you some water?", and she's all "I'll get some in a minute", cool as, just really relaxed, it didn't even look like she'd ridden a bike.

So going into Nationals, she's got fine form, but anything can happen within a week, we know that, so not too much pressure from me, because I know as an athlete, you come in with form like that, and everyone thinks it's going to be easy.

And then the next day at Bay Crits, day 3, and again at the Criterium National Championships, Peta Mullens, just attack attack attack, and it was the same story, don't let Peta Mullens go, that was our tactic - but these two riders on those particular two days, were just that strong that nobody could bridge the gap, nobody could even follow the move.

Sarah: FredMantis on twitter was filming on the hill on Stage 3, and you can see Peta forcing a move on the hill on a whole load of different laps - and then suddenly the next time round she's by herself - it's wonderful!

Rochelle: Nobody wanted to let that wheel go, so it's not like she picked the right moment or whatever, she just had it, she was just on a level above everyone else.

Sarah: So Chloe won the first stage, and then the overall, and Giorgia Bronzini won the last stage...  Chloe had to fight for that, because those teams didn't want to let it happen easily for her, either.

Rochelle: For our team dynamics it was the best possible result we could have had.  Chloe never ever wanted the pressure of being the lead rider at Bay Crits.  Giorgia was the one who, having won last year, we thought would be capable of it, and we were expecting and asking that of Giorgia to come out to Australia and win Bay Crits.  Even if she wasn't at 100% form we thought she could be capable of doing that.  But as it happens, Giorgia didn't manage the late arrival into Australia or the heat very well.  It was an extreme temperature change because we have this massive heatwave, and Chloe actually came into Bay Crits at a higher level than she thought she was at.  She realised pretty quickly on Day 1, and even on Day 2, that her level is quite good, so she said alright I'll put my hand up for this and the team said yes, let's support Chloe, and it was all about Day 3 - could Chloe hang on around that tough course in Portarlington?  She did an absolutely amazing job and then backed it up with good legs on Day 4.  So she's clearly got a really good level of fitness

Sarah: That must be so exciting to watch as a manager - but very interesting for you, because I don't even know how you manage to fit all your work into a day because you're team manager, you're doing the commentary for the tv coverage, and you're getting all these plans ready to launch.

Rochelle: My priority at Bay Crits was to let the staff run the team, but that didn't go exactly to plan, because it was new staff, and that was a learning experience for myself.  I'd accepted the job as commentator for the Australian cycling series a long time ago. I didn't want to bring my European staff out because as you know it's a really, really long season.  I brought out some of my PR team, but we had a new DS, a new mechanic, our soignie worked with us before, so I had to be around to advise on the running of the team.  So that was alright, but then I was taking off to do the commentary during the women's race, and then every evening I would have to go back to the location of the race to do the voiceover for the tv package, so I wasn't able to be around for dinner and afterwards because I was doing the commentary each night.

We did manage to do a debrief after the race each day, and I was a part of that, but it was just being on the phone all the time to manage logistics and big decisions I guess.  And then the planning of the launch for the High5 Dream Team, which happened today, was....  I wouldn't say we were on top of things as far as the imagery we wanted to get, because we hadn't had the team together until yesterday to do the final photos and videos and stuff like that down here at Nationals.

That was super-exciting for me, to meet the girls of the High5 Dream Team and just to sit aorund with everybody and talk about their ambitions for the season,their strengths and weaknesses and fears - just really great conversation with really inspiring women.

Sarah: Obviously Dr Kimberley Wells has just taken back her National Crit Championships title after a pretty rocky year of injury.

Rochelle: I'm really, really happy for Kimbers.  That was a difficult moment, because Chloe went out in that race, she was riding as an individual, and extremely tired from the four days of Bay Crits and then just the day off to recover, and she hadn't recovered, and not able to follow all the moves by herself, so that was a little bit disappointing.  But when Kimbers won, that was fantastic for me because she's one of our lead riders for the High5 Dream Team, and even though she wasn't in my kit, she will wear the High5 National jersey every time she rides a crit in 2015.  Our sponsors were ecstatic that she won, and we'll have the National Crit Champion!

Sarah: I was looking through your High5 riders' palmares, and you've got Junior Track World Champs, elite Track World Champs medallists, all kinds of NRS stars, riders who've been all over the podium - and very interesting riders as well.

Rochelle: These women are the cream of the crop in Australia.  They've already shown potential to represent Australia at the elite level in the next couple of years, so these athletes that have come together for the High5 Dream Team re the best that we have in Australia that are not already placed in UCI professional teams.  They've all had a bit of a taste of international racing, through the Junior World Championships or their short trips to Europe.  Now they just need to be thrown into a really professional environment for a 12-month month period, in order to develop themselves career-wise and make that conscious decision of "Is this what I want?  For what period of time?".

I think it's great to do a lot of planning with athletes at this stage.  They know what the sports going to be like, but they need somebody to introduce them to the professional side of it - the sacrifices you make with family and normal life in Australia are really big. So over the next twelve months, educating these womenon how their life plan and structure looks, and what they would like to achieve in cycling, and life in general, and put it all into a plan.

Whether the athletes stick to the plan doesn't matter, but it's a good exercise that we talk to the individual athletes, expose them to what it's going to be like as much as we can, and our Director, Donna Rae Szalinski, she's been in this game for a very long time, so on a day-to-day basis she'll be communicating with the athletes, and I'm looking froward to the reports that I get about which athletes are going to be the ones really want it, want to make it, are fitting into the team environment, are itching to get overseas.

I've had some interesting conversations just in the last 48 hours with the athletes, because they're already saying "That's me, I'm there, I'm going to Europe". The attitudes that you pick up just in general conversation, it's super-exciting to listen to eight of these really talented Australians.  They've all got results under their belt, they've proven they've got talent, now it's just a matter of what we're going to do with it.

Sarah: I loved reading on the press release and on your site that even if they do or don't make is as a professional cyclist, or as a full-time pro cyclist in Europe, you're teaching  the younger women things that can help them in a professional life anyway.  That's inspiring to me, because it seems like it's more than just developing their riders, it's helping them become businesswomen, I guess, if they're treating their own brand as their business.

Rochelle: That's what has really brought me alive with this project, because I have been doing that for the last two years with young Wiggle Honda athletes, but as you will have seen for the professional team in 2015, we've brought in a lot of athletes who are a little bit older, and more established professionals, who don't need so much guidance in life and have developed their own careers already.  We've still got riders we're developing, but we've got a lot of riders who are already established professionals in life in general and as a professional athlete.

What gives me a buzz is sharing what I've leaned over the last 15 years about how to make a career in cycling,and how the cycling world works, and what they can expect out of it - and also to put their feet back onto the ground if they're expecting too much from the sport, and just to paint a real picture of how it's going to be for them, and what they could possibly achieve out of the sport in terms of a career.  And just be that person that's able to give them.

Sarah: Going back to Wiggle Honda, I was super-impressed with your team videos from Bay Crits.  I always loved them last year, but they seem to have got even better - what's happened?

Rochelle: For this Australian summer, with so much happening with the High5 Dream Tea and having riders out from Europe with Wiggle Honda, and the fact that women's cycling in Australia is now going to be on tv during 2015, I decided that we want to document this, so we needed to have a really good videographer with us for the whole of January. This is an exciting time for women's cycling in Australia, and with so many athletes that I'm involved with with such wonderful great stories, I needed to get a great guy, and through Channel 9 I did.

He hasn't any experience with cycling, which can be a good thing and a bad thing, but we're getting some really nice pictures, and we're getting a different feel to our films that we've had in the past in Europe, because it's a new person with new ideas and new expertise, and I'm really enjoying the challenge, too, of having to be the producer all over again.  Cycling is obviously a very unique sport, and if you bring somebody in who hasn't been around it, there's a lot of education  and explaining to do in a very, very short amount of time. That's been quite challenging and really, really enjoyable, and I'm glad to hear that people are loving the films, because we put a lot of work into them.

Sarah: I love the mix of on-bike footage and camerawork, it's showing us something different - and I guess if you're having to teach someone what's new about cycling, they can then teach that to the audience because they're not taking it for granted.

Rochelle: And that's why it is good, because if you have somebody who's a bit raw, they might be intrigued about the way the bikes go onto the roof racks, and that's interesting to people who might be just thinking about getting into cycling. To have a new mind come into our team environment, you learn things about what actually is interesting to people on the outside of the sport.

We just had a discussion yesterday about how many bottles we need to pack for the Tour Down Under.  Nobody would ever think about this, but we have two teams, Wiggle Honda, High5 Dream Team, ten athletes, four days, six bottles a day - you're talking over two hundred bottles for four days of racing.  That's little things that you learn that people get a little bit blown away about.  He was just overhearing a conversation and said "You're going to have two hundred bottles?", and I'm like yeah, and if it's really hot we're going to struggle with that.  They're the little things that are interesting in the type of documentary films that we're putting together.

Sarah: One last question - what can we expect after Australia? The first UCI race is the Ladies Tour of Qatar, and obviously last year Chloe never missed a break and ended on the podium, the year before doing so well until her puncture,  Giorgia's an amazing sprinter - what should we expect from Wiggle Honda in Qatar?

Rochelle: Well...  we should expect...  that the Wiggle Honda team win in Qatar.  That's a scary thing to say, especially when my athletes hear that, but they want to win Qatar, it very much suits the style of riders that we have, so everybody should be prepared,because they've got this one month out in Australia. We will bring some riders from Europe, like Elisa Longo Borghini and Audrey Cordon and Jolien D'hoore so the team for Qatar is on paper the strongest team.  I think there's no excuses, everybody should be on form, and if everything goes well, we'll have a really strong first UCI race of the season.

Sarah: Obviously Kirsten Wild has won the last seven stages out of the last eight over two years, and the last two editions.

Rochelle: If Kirsten Wild's there, it's not going to be easy, but we have to try something. We've got the strength in numbers, and this is certainly the strongest team I've put on the startline for any race.  Our Director's done a lot of research on the strengths of the other teams, and our strengths, so we believe that if the tactics are right, with the strength that we have on paper... Bike racing' bike racing, so anything can happen, but everything's there, we've got all the tools that we need to try to beat Kirsten Wild.

Sarah: That's so exciting!  I love that race anyway, but you just gave me chills, I can't wait to watch it, because I imagine ORICA are saying the same thing, and everyone else is saying the same thing - it's going to be a really exciting season, and I can't wait!

***

Find out more about Rochelle on her website, and you should be following her twitter too.  In the summer, I interviewed Rochelle for ProCycling Magazine's Review of 2014 issue, which is available from online magazine stores (it's the one with Vincenzo Nibali on the cover).

There's a lot of information about the High5 Dream Team on their website, and make sure you're following them on facebook, twitter and youtube.  The first races you'll see them in are the Santos Tour Down Under on 17-20 January, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on 31st January and then the National Road Series from March.

Wiggle Honda has their website, of course, as well as their facebook and twitter, and all their great team videos are on their youtube.  All the videos I've found from the Bay Crits are collected in this post - and the videos from the Road Champs, including Dr Kimbers Wells winning the Crit Champs, and my guide to following the Road Race as it happens, are in here - but here's her moment

I interviewed Chloe Hosking for my podcast just before Christmas, and she talked about her hopes for the Aussie season, Qatar, why she moved to Wiggle, and more - and you can see her post-Bay Crits video interview too:

I'm able to do these interviews thanks to the generosity of my Patreon supporters - thank you so much, I really, really appreciate you.  As always, ask me any questions in the comments, or talk to me on twitter.