Bike Envy talks to Helen Wyman

 

Helen Wyman has carved out a life for herself as a cyclo-cross pro and a successful one at that.  Originally from Hertfordshire, Helen now lives in Belgium.  Unbeaten at the National Championships for the last five years, she also medalled at the European Cyclo-Cross Championships this year and had finished as high as fifth in the World Championships.  Bike Envy talks to her about life on and off the bike.

 

BE: What was it that first got you into cycling?

 

HW: I have ridden a bike since about the same time as I could walk! My Dad loved bikes, so we had loads of touring holidays and stuff like that, but I first started racing when I was 14. My brother wanted to race and, at that time, I had to do everything he did so I started racing too!

 


 

BE: What was your motivation in the early days?  

 

HW: It was all social in the beginning.  Yeah I won races, but it came easy to me and I only really rode locally. As a teenager, I loved the attention of being one of the few girls in a boys world – it was easy to make friends and I always had a really good time at races.

 

 


 

 

BE: You have shown serious talent on the road, so how did you come to choose cyclo-cross?

 

HW: It’s pretty simple really, although I have achieved some great results on the road, they have never been comparable to my cross results.  In Belgium ‘cross is so much bigger for women than road - we have the same number of spectators, tv coverage and good money.  Plus why choose a dry road for four hours when you can get cold, wet and muddy every week for 40 minutes?!!

 

 

 Picture courtesy of Kona

 

BE: What skills do you need to be successful in ‘cross?

 

HW: Power, speed, endurance and bike skills help.  The ability to kill yourself for 40 minutes, plus a love of getting muddy, wet, cold, oh and crashing of course!

 


 

BE: You have also had some great results on the road, including representing GB at the World Championships, does road racing compliment cyclo-cross?

 

HW: Yes, I definitely think it can.  Although now, as the seasons get longer, it’s not possible to have a complete road season and ‘cross season year after year.  But all of the ‘cross pros use road in the summer for base fitness and then speed work from June onwards.

 


 

BE: Racing both road and cyclo-cross must mean that you have limited opportunity for a break and a typical pre-season build up, how do you manage that?

 

HW: The pre season build up can be a problem, but during the ‘cross season I still have endurance weeks, so I don’t lose that much really.  As for a break, most women would take the break after the early season classics, but at some point you do have to take a longer break, or you become a jack of all trades and master of none!

 


 

BE: What does your training look like at this time of year, how many hours do you do, how is it split between road and cross bike, do you add in running?

 

HW: A typical week is around 15 hours.  I have just given back my Glider GPM, so I’m actually doing all my road miles on my 'cross bikes.  I normally have three days each week off road, including the race and training, so its pretty even.

 


 

BE: What are you primary goals for this season?

 

HW: The first goal was a podium at European Champs.  The second goal is a medal at Worlds, after that everything else is a bonus!

 

 Picture courtesy of Stephan Wyman

 

 


 

 

BE: How does it compare racing ‘cross here in the UK to the rest of Europe?  Why is it so different and do you ever see it the UK catching up with the passion for ‘cross in Europe?

 

HW: For women, unfortunately, Europe is the only place to race.  There are no UCI races for women in the UK and it is just too expensive for me to come back to race for no incentive.  It’s a shame, but I don’t know how you could fix that.  In Europe, it’s a cultural thing and it’s been there for many years.  When it’s televised you get more coverage, which makes the sport bigger, but to get televised, you have to have the viewing base, so it’s always going to be a problem.  I would love the UK to catch up, but I don’t see it happening in ‘cross life time!

 


 

BE: How is cyclo-cross changing here in the UK?  Do we nurture talent properly in the UK?

 

HW: For women it is definitely smaller than when I started.  At the height of the UK women’s scene there were five internationals plus another 20 women making up the field.  I think in one of the national trophy races they had a field of just nine!

 

There are a lot of young riders currently taking part and that can only be a good thing for the future, but then when riders like me, Gabs (Gabby Day) and Nikki (Harris) return for nationals, we tend to win by a long way.  The riders never see how much they have to do to be the best in their country, let alone the world.  If you don’t know what it feels like to go that fast, at least for one lap, you will never know how much more you have to strive for.  Having said that there is a lot of talent in the young riders and I hope some of them realise you can make a living from ‘cross, like me Gabs and Nikki do, and maybe it can inspire them to focus purely in this discipline.

 


 

BE: If someone was thinking about trying a cross race for the first time, what advice would you give them?

 

HW: Go along, have fun and just ride.  Mirjiam Melchers (a prolific road race winner, including Tour of Flanders) used to ride lightening fast in a straight line and crash at every corner for her first season.  She still got top 10 placings in every world cup, by the worlds she was in third place.  If you do that, you soon learn how fast you can go around corners and that crashing off road very rarely hurts!

 


 

BE: What do you do when you are not on your bike?

 

HW: Drink coffee, watch telly and go shopping mostly, and I live in a house where there are always a lot of other people, so mostly we talk….a lot!

 

Picture courtesy of Stephan Wyman

 


 

 And now for some trivia

 

BE: Who is your sporting hero/heroine and why?

 

HW: I don’t really have heros, but I massively respect Roger Hammond for what he was achieved.  Plus I truly admire Marianne Vos, she is incredibly talented and has achieved so much already and she has to be one of the nicest people you will ever meet, truly humble yet an incredible multiple World and Olympic Champion across every discipline.

 


 

BE: Which superpower would you choose for yourself and why?

 

HW: The ability to remove ‘gossip’ from the world.  I’d fly around with a small machine a bit like a shredder that turned the gossip into nice appreciative words about people, that would make the person feel good about themselves!!

 


 

BE: Tell us the truth, do you ever stop for tea and cake when you are out on a long training ride?

 

HW: No sorry, I hate stopping on a training ride, you get cold and then your legs are stiff and then you are never as motivated to start again.  Just do the training, then go home, wash, eat and go out for tea and cake.  But on an easy one and a half hour spin, when its over 25 degrees C, that’s ok.

 


 

BE: What does a champion like you typically eat for breakfast?

 

HW: Porridge and fruit, boring sorry!

 


 

BE: Do you watch bad TV when you are on the turbo trainer?  What programmes keep you focussed?

 

HW: Not really while I’m on turbo, but I do love all of the CSI programs and stuff like Lie To Me and The Mentalist.  The program I have to watch alone - every one refuses to watch it with me - is ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition!  It’s brilliant!

 


 

BE: What do you listen to on our iPod just before you go out to race?

 

HW: I have a whole playlist which changes so it doesn’t go stale,  but currently my last song before the race is Joss Stone, You Had Me, as I love the lyrics ‘you had me, you lost me’.

 

 

 

 

 Picture courtesy of Stephan Wyman

 

 

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