The athlete and sports fan alike often have a funny way of explaining bad occurrences within the realm of competition. Such pitfalls are commonly attributed to a superstitious phenomenon that transcends space, time, and even sport: the jinx.
That’s why some could make the argument that Union Cycliste Internationale’s (UCI) new president Brian Cookson doomed women’s cycling when he recently named it “the fastest growing section of the sport.” Just three months removed from Cookson’s promising comment, women’s cycling took a devastating hit.
Rochelle Gilmore. (Courtesy of Wayne Taylor)
Earlier this month, Cycling Australia (CA) announced that its women’s program would be suspended indefinitely due to budgetary constraints within the organization. CA, which relies on public funding, is a feeder organization dedicated to the development of cyclists that serves as a pathway between amateurism and UCI professional teams in Europe.
Women’s cycling has had a proud tradition in Australia for decades, as several Aussie cyclists including Kathy Watt, Sara Carrigan, and Rachel Neylan have experienced great successes at both the Olympic and World Championship levels. While the Australian men’s development program remains intact, CA’s National Performance Director Kevin Tabotta insists that the removal of the women’s program is “not an issue of gender discrimination.”
Up-and-coming Australian cyclist Chloe Hosking recently denounced the removal of CA’s women’s program in a statement to the Sydney Morning Herald. The 24-year-old, who is currently one of Australia’s best female professional cyclists, believes that CA’s announcement will serve as a detrimental setback for the future of women’s cycling in Australia.
“I think it’s really, really upsetting for the young girls coming through,” Hosking said. “It means that if young riders want to get to Europe, they will have to pursue it themselves.”
Cycling Australia previously sponsored six-week invitational development programs in Europe for a group of promising amateur cyclists. Through the publicly funded program, road riders were exposed to the lifestyles and regimens of professional cyclists, and were also granted a stage on which to earn professional contracts.
Following CA’s announcement, however, former standout cyclist and women’s cycling advocate Rochelle Gilmore, who is currently the owner and manager of the British-based Wiggle Honda professional team, responded with a solution to bridge the gap to professional cycling for Australia’s top-amateurs.
Last week, Gilmore officially introduced her latest creation, the High5 Dream Team, which is a domestic cycling squad comprised of Australia’s eight most-promising amateur female riders. The Dream Team members are Kimberley Wells, Rebecca Wiasak, Jess Mundy, Georgia Baker, Tessa Fabri, Kendelle Hodges, Ellen Skerett, and Sam de Riter.
“(They) are the best that Australia has who aren’t already on pro teams,” Gilmore, a former Commonwealth Games champion, stated.
Gilmore’s girls will make their debut ride at the end of January in Australia’s most prestigious elite women’s competition, the National Road Series. They will be coached by one of the most experienced coaches in the sport in Donna Rae Szalinski, and partake in 10 televised races within Australia during 2015. Gilmore will give her handpicked riders the opportunity to continue what CA started.
“What we’re going to do is create an environment for these athletes where they have the best equipment, the best of everything,” Gilmore said. “These athletes will be supported better than any other domestic-based athletes have been supported before.”
Of the eight High5 Dream Team members, Gilmore plans on sending either five or six of them to Europe on a fully-funded development trip in August. Following the model set forth by CA, Gilmore’s chosen ones will endure a six-week riding-intensive program in preparation for life in the professional cycling circuit.
While CA and Australia’s state cycling institutes have offered to partially support the High5 Dream Team’s financial needs, Gilmore will rely on team partners to help foot most of the bill to support her squad. The High5 Dream Team’s partners have committed to three year deals, and will cover equipment costs, as well as travel and living expenses for the riders.
So, have hope, cycling fans. With Gilmore leading the way for Australian women’s cycling, and a continued push for the development of budding riders being made, don’t expect any sort of jinx to thwart Aussie female cyclists in 2015. Rather, anticipate a breakaway from the pack and a surge towards great success in the future of the sport in the land down under; a reverse of the curse, so to speak, for you superstitious folk. That is, at least, if Gilmore has anything to say about it.