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Blog: Riding with the Wiggle Honda team

By Eleanor Doody

I never win competitions.  Well almost never, I think I won a pass the parcel when I was about 9 years old and I win the odd 3 Euro on the EuroMillions.  But that doesn’t really count, does it?.

Nevertheless, I still buy my Lotto tickets now and again just in case.  Similarly when I spot a nice competition on Facebook or Twitter that I like the look of, then I “Like” or “Retweet” just in case!  So when the chance to ride the test route for the inaugral EtapeSuisse and ride with the Wiggle Honda team came by via HumanRace Events then I gave that a good thumbs up “Like” on Facebook to enter.

But you can imagine my surprise when I got a message from Robert Simpson at EtapeSuisse to say I was the winter of their competition.  I honestly thought he was winding me up!  But I was totally thrilled to win.

Etape Suisse Switserland & Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling
Eleanor and Sarah (middle) with Wiggle Honda’s Mayuko Hagiwara, Linda Villumsen and Emilia Fahlin.

The competition win was for two people and we were leaving in 4 days time so this then started a frantic round of phone calls and re-organisation of my plans.  I wanted one of my sisters to join me in Switzerland .  Two of them were committed to work as they had just finished a week of cycle training in Mallorca but I was delighted when my sister Sarah said she was free to join me.

After the shock and euphoria of winning passed, my thoughts turned to things like… should I do some panic hill training now or is that going to fry my legs?  “Oh man, I would have done more training if I had known I was going to win..  And eaten a bit less chocolate to make it easier to get up the hills.”  So my feelings were a real mixtures of happiness mixed with fear and trepidation!

Sarah and I set off for London City Airport at 5:30am on Friday morning. We joined the EtapeSuisse organisers and the journalists who were also cycling the test route to see for themselves what lay ahead in September.  The group were really welcoming to me and Sarah and we immediately felt at ease.

Etape Suisse Switserland & Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling
Eleanor descending the Fluelapass on the team’s Colnago C59

In typical Swiss style, we left Zurich airport bang on time to travel to Grensch, home of the Velodrome Suisse and BMC.  Some of the press group were excellent on the boards at Velodrome Suisse, although I enjoyed the experience I don’t think I will be challenging for a place on the Irish Track team anytime soon!

After a really insightful tour of the BMC research facility, we left Grensch and headed off to Davos. At Hotel Grischa we were given a briefing presentation about the route that lay ahead the following day.  It was the first time that most of our group had seen the profile.  There were two peaks that looked a bit like chunks of extra large Toblerone.  And although the presenter was reassuring, you could sense the nervousness amongst the group about what lay ahead.

We then had a brief introduction to Rochelle Gilmore who is the founder of the Wiggle Honda team.  It was at this point we found out that not only were the Wiggle Honda athletes riding the route, but Sarah and I were going to be wearing the Wiggle Honda kit and even riding Wiggle Honda Colnago team bikes!  No pressure then! Eeeek.

Etape Suisse Switserland & Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling
Wiggle Honda’s team manager Rochelle Gilmore

At breakfast next morning at the Sheraton Davos, Rochelle gave Sarah and me our fabulous new black and orange Wiggle Honda dhb team kit and then off we went to sort out our bikes.  Firstly I swapped my own green and white Lazer helmet for a more coordinated black and orange team one so I could look just that extra bit “pro”!  Then I was allocated Rochelle’s Colnago C59 and it fitted so well that Jarrod the Wiggle Honda mechanic didn’t even need to move the saddle.  I took this to be a good omen. However, I did look with slight trepidation at the large 53/39 front cog and tried not to panic at the thought of the profile that lay ahead!  But it felt a very special bike as it had her name on it as well as a small sticker on the top tube with “The bosses” written on it!

And so just after 9:30am the group of almost 40 people riding the EtapeSuissse test route rolled of Davos in the bright warm sunshine.  Although the first 20k were downhill and fast, the group stayed together and knew that the hard work lay ahead. As we started to climb I really began to notice how fantastic the Colnago C59 was. It was light and very easy to control. It felt very comfortable to ride at the start of the day and it was equally comfortable at the end of the 120km and endless hours of climbing.  I don’t have electronic gearing on my bike at home but I adored it and found it real help on the climbs as its shifts so smoothly and easily. Rochelle has a power meter on her bike which again is something I don’t have on my bike here. This provided a nice distraction at the start of the day as I looked at my power output. But on the last climbs of the day it was a cruel reminder of how tired I was and taunted me with the hard evidence of how much power I had dropped by that point!

Etape Suisse Switserland & Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling
Beautiful scenery in Switzerland

The first climb was up to the Abula pass. It was over 30km long I think but I know we were climbing for hours!  It has a pretty steep gradient the whole way and never really flattened out much.  So you were working quite hard the whole time.  But my legs were fresh so I managed to make it up and actually enjoy it!  I was riding with two other guys and we were joined by Rochelle about half way up.  It is a sign of a true pro that they can move up and down the groups on the mountain without giving it a second thought!  They can accelerate away without missing a beat or seemingly taking a deep breath while the rest of us mere mortals continue our slow steady survival cadence to get us up the mountain!

The most surreal point was being over taken about ¾ of the way up by one of the group who had switched to one of the fleet of the amazing Stromer electric bikes that EtapeSuisse will have for the event.  She cycled, or rather drove, past on a bike outputting 500 watts up the hill with a gentle breeze in her hair!  I cursed my legs and continued to slowly grind upwards!

Although the lower parts of the climb were steeper, the scenery was stunning with lush green grass and cows grazing everywhere. I was quite amazed to see that the cows actually do wear those swiss cowbells you see at the airport.  Its not just a tourist gimmick!  The higher we climbed the lushness gave way to the more snow and the climbing gradient seemed to ease off a bit and the air was cooler.  I loved this part of the climb. I am not sure if it was because subconsciously I knew we were nearing the top!

Etape Suisse Switserland & Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling
Eleanor enjoying the ride together with the Wiggle Honda team.

Once we reached the top of Abula pass we took some pictures and waited for the others behind to join us.  The fastest group were further up the road and heading for the lunch stop.  The entire group was very well supported by the EtapeSuisse team, who had organised two vans to pick up people.  The combination of the broomwagon van and the electric bikes meant that no one was left behind on the mountain.  EtapeSuisse plan to have this in place for the main event in September also, which will help ensure that everyone makes it up the challenging mountain climb.

Once everyone was accounted for we pushed on and towards lunch. Lunch was down in the valley and those that were in the fastest group were already relaxing and enjoying the beautiful day when we arrived.  The cold drinks were very welcome and it was good to refuel after the first 80km.  Those that wanted to do the full 120km distance and tackle the second pass remounted and we rolled out for another flat 25km.  This was my favourite part of the ride.  The group flew along surrounded by the Wiggle Honda team like a pro peleton!  Everyone was relaxed and chatty and there was a lovely happy vibe amongst the group.

Etape Suisse Switserland & Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling
Enjoying the lunch halfway through the ride

And then the second climb began and the silence descended and the group splintered again. After the previous night’s briefing was expecting a 3km “easier” piece somewhere along this climb. I am not sure if it was the fatigue or my mind had gone but no where did I find that magical easier 3km, it all felt hard!  And by this point, I really felt like I could have done with some easier gears as my cadence slowed.  But the Wiggle Honda athletes stayed with me, bless them.  They had the team car along with us doing some filming.  This was quite surreal but at the same time I felt quite embarrassed that the poor Wiggle Honda athletes were on film having to ride at my pace.  Hopefully with some editing they can speed that film up a bit!

My biggest regret was stopping to refuel towards the top because my legs felt shot to pieces and the climb felt never ending. The High5 bars and gels saved me, but I felt like a complete idiot when we remounted and then found the Fluellapass peak was less than 1km up the road!  I should have guessed with the snow that we were almost there.  Next time I will know where the top is!  After the peak of Fluellapass it was a lovely fast descent back down into Davos and the end of our 120km adventure.

Later in the evening we had a big group dinner at Hotel Grischa. EtapeSuisse also plan to hold a celebratory dinner at the event in September which is a great idea. It was a really lovely way to unwind and celebrate the challenging fun day we all had. There is nothing like forming new friendships over 120km of challenging climbs!

Etape Suisse Switserland & Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling
Rochelle Gilmore teaching Eleanor the skills of a pro cyclist.

I really enjoyed my 120km ride along the EtapeSuisse route and would love to return in September for the main event. The route is challenging and will test even the most able cyclists but with the innovations that Robert is planning (such as the electric bikes) and the support of the vans it is also inclusive to those who would normally be hesitant to try the route. Also, the option to just go as far as St Moritz and stop the ride at the lunch stop should also make it a very accessible sportive also.

However, for Sarah and me, the trip was transformed into a once in a lifetime and a “money can’t buy experience” by the presence and involvement of Rochelle Gilmore and her Wiggle Honda team.

I have been aware of the Wiggle Honda teams since its formation. The founding of a team which included many of the big names in British Women’s cycling was very notable and the success they have had since their foundation has meant that their high profile has continued.

What I had not fully appreciated before meeting the athletes in Davos was the strength and depth of the entire team.  Wiggle Honda have a huge depth of talent and every single one of the athletes riding with us had won World or National Championship titles or medals. For example Emilia Fahlin was riding in her current Swedish National champion Wiggle Honda kit during our time in Davos.  Peta Mullens is a good road rider and a successful MTBer and is such a big deal in Australia that Sarah had to and get a photo with her to send to one of her Aussie friends!!  Mayuko’s achievements are similar in Japan and Linda is a multiple UCI World Championship ITT medalist and competed in the Olympics and was only 2 seconds of a medal in the time trial.  It definitely seems that Rochelle has scoured the world cherry picking the best girls nationally and forming a super team!

Etape Suisse Switserland & Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling
Etape Suisse founder Robert Simpson

What Rochelle has created through Wiggle Honda is amazing and her energy and enthusiasm is inspiring. Right now she is the ultimate player / manager!  I am still in awe of how she manages to cycle professionally and run the business also. I am convinced she has cloned herself and there is a Rochelle on the turbo whilst there is another Rochelle holding business meetings somewhere! It’s the perfect example of how women are excellent at multi tasking!

The Wiggle Honda athletes’ love of cycling is infectious and to see the ease with which they climbed was inspiring. But most of all, what will stay with me and Sarah is how their humble demeanor belays their achievements. They were so welcoming to everyone, always chatty and smiling and patient with our slow progress on the climbs! They are natural ambassadors for the sport and their team.

There is clearly a growing demand for increased coverage and visibility of ladies cycling on TV and in the press and I hope this will translate into increased prize money and funding for women’s pro cycling in the future. After spending time with these ladies I can honestly say they deserve every bit of this current positive momentum. They are excellent role models for any girls thinking of cycling and older ladies (ahem) to aspire to get that little bit faster!

Etape Suisse Switserland & Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling

A huge thanks to Robert Simpson of EtapeSuisse and Rochelle Gilmore of Wiggle Honda and their respective teams for making the weekend so special for Sarah and I. We had the time of our lives!

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