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There was a lot of pressure on Wiggle-Honda going into last week’s Aviva Women’s Tour. Filled with stars, it is the top-ranked British women’s team, and this was its home race.
While the five-stage British race may not have worked out perfectly for Wiggle-Honda, it was a success. Belgian road champion Jolien D’hoore won stage 2 and finished second on the final day to secure second-place in general classification. D’hoore is one of the team’s young stars and adds this week’s successes to four other wins this year, including the Ronde van Drenthe World Cup on her 25th birthday — Wiggle-Honda’s first World Cup victory in its three-year history.
She is one of two riders on the team who are beginning to establish themselves on the world stage. Elisa Longo Borghini, 23, is another promising star. The Italian finished third in the 2012 world championships in The Netherlands, but suffered a life-threatening crash in the 2013 nationals. While her sprint is lacking, her climbing and time trialing ability see her at the pointy end of many races. She never looked back when she escaped the peloton with 33 kilometers left to race at this year’s Tour of Flanders, a 43-second gap allowing time for her to savor the achievement before embracing D’hoore who won the sprint for second place.
Both are new to the team this year and credit their moves for their success, “It’s a totally new environment, and it’s a different atmosphere there than a Belgian team,” D’hoore told VeloNews. “It’s more professional and you have to think in another way.”
Wiggle-Honda is one of the largest UCI-registered women’s teams and has a professional ethos which is now bearing fruit. Established in 2013, its riders notched 22 wins in that first year.
Giorgia Bronzini, 31, is one of the team’s anchors. She’s a double world road champion, winning the rainbow jersey in 2010 and 2011, beating none other than Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) on both occasions. She’s been with the team since its creation and, in the first two years, was responsible for the vast majority of their wins. She recently announced she would retire at the end of 2016.
A World Cup win in China is the Italian’s only victory so far this year, but the influence she has on her teammates is obvious. “Giorgia is always really focused on us younger girls and she’s always telling us what to do in the race,” Longo Borghini said. “It’s like having a sport director always next to you during the race.”
“She really takes care of me and Jolien [D’hoore], telling us the best moment to attack or when is the best moment for sprinting, and I think this helps me a lot and develops me as a rider.”
As for Bronzini, she sees nurturing young talent as part of her job, “For me it comes naturally,” she told us. “If I can give the girls the right atmosphere I really like that. Sometimes the stress is too much for them; obviously the expectations are high. I am the one who tries to keep everyone calm, to be normal, as that way we can achieve a lot more. I am like a clown, I make a joke to make then laugh.”
Acting as a team captain on the road, she is also the conduit for information from the sport director, Egon van Kessel, a job she would be interested in when she retires. “It would be my dream to work with Wiggle to develop the girls, maybe as a director or a second director. Whatever I want to stay in the team.”
So, notwithstanding the failure to win the Women’s Tour overall, the team is happy. “If you never shoot you never hit. I am happy that we tried,” van Kessel said.
With Bronzini’s influence on both D’hoore and Longo Borghini, expect Wiggle-Honda to continue building an enviable palmares over the coming months and years.