Interview: British champion Nikki Brammeier recovered and ready for UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships - Road Cycling UK

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Interview: British champion Nikki Brammeier recovered and ready for UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships

Boels-Dolmans rider reflects on Rio 2016, marriage and celebrity status in Belgium

When Nikki Brammeier rolls out to contest the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships on Saturday, she will do so as a proud member of Team GB, even if regulations dictate that her cherished national champion’s jersey – a title she has won on three occasions, most recently in Bradford earlier this month – will have to remain at home. 

But Brammeier’s latest national triumph, and indeed her appearance on the start list for the worlds, represents further evidence of an indomitable spirit, following a collision with fellow Brit Helen Wyman at the European Cyclo-Cross championships last October and a concussive blow that split her crash helmet.

Yet the recently married Brammeier (née Harris) insists each day of the life she shares with husband Matt, formerly of HTC, Quickstep, and Team Dimension Data, and now of Aqua Blue Sport, is a “dream”.

“Not many people would be able to do a job with their partner, and ride bikes for six hours in the mountains,” she says. “A lot of the guys Matt knows are envious that he gets to go out training with his wife.”

Nikki Brammeier was crowned national ‘cross champion for the third time and will now lead Great Britain at the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships (Pic: Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)

The couple have been together for 11 years; long enough, she says, for the trial of long separations to seem normal, and even the stresses of elite competition.

When we speak, Nikki is in Belgium and Matt is in Girona, and while this is not always the case, racing schedules often mean that the two halves of the couple are in different places.

Two years ago, Matt – a three-time Irish road champion – suffered multiple injuries in a high-speed collision with a car at the Tour of Utah.

Nikki’s more recent accident in Pont-Château provided another test, but while the life of a professional cyclist is indisputably hard, there are significant upsides too.

The Brammeiers have become minor celebrities in Belgium, where, if cycling is a religion, cyclo-cross is the denomination with the most fervent worshipers.

“Everyone here rides a bike,” Brammeier says. “People know where Matt and I live and we’ll get postcards, or people knocking at the door. That’s Belgium. It wouldn’t happen anywhere else. For me, it’s just nice that there are such fans and that they want to support you.”

Brammeier enjoys celebrity status in Belgium, where ‘cross is hugely popular (pic – Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

The global rise in the popularity of ‘cross has pushed her profile still higher. What is it about such a debilitating discipline, one synonymous with mud, sweat and gears, that inspires such devotion?

“It’s different racing, on a different course, every week,” Brammeier says. “As a spectator, or even as someone racing, you go to race and you can see every part of the course. You don’t get that on the road. ‘Cross takes place in much more of an enclosed space and so there’s much more contact between the fans and the riders.

“When you’re on the start line, it becomes your job and of course things change; everyone is a competitor. But a lot goes on around the race: warming up, speaking to the other riders.

“Cyclo-cross is more welcoming than other disciplines. There’s more of a family aspect.  On the road, you turn up on a bus with your team-mates and people don’t really see you before the race, only during it. ‘Cross is a lot more open.”

Nikki Harris Brammeier, Great Britain, Rio 2016, road race, pic - Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
Nikki Brammeier, Boels-Dolmans, cyclo-cross, mud, Specialized CruX, pic - Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
Nikki Harris Brammeier, Boels-Dolmans, 2016, road race, climb, pic - Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Brammeier is well placed to comment on the separate appeals of road and cyclo-cross. She has been a British junior champion in a host of disciplines, including ‘cross, road, track, and mountain bike.

She represented England on road and track at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, and in 2007 was crowned under-23 British road race champion. As a senior rider, she has won national titles in ‘cross and mountain bike.

Last year, Brammeier combined a ‘cross campaign with a season on the road, a two-pronged strategy that culminated with a place on the Team GB squad for the Olympic Games in Rio, where she rode in support of then world champion Lizzie Deignan.

The Brammeier-Deignan axis extends to their professional team. Boels-Dolmans supports Brammeier in both ‘cross and road, a mix she believes is complementary.

The women’s road race in Rio was a formidable test, marked by the sickening crash of Annemiek van Vleuten, from which – miraculously – the Dutch woman escaped with no lasting injury. Brammeier remembers the race as “definitely intense”, even if her experience of the Games was brief.

“It was cool to see athletes from other sports and nations, but at the same time you’re in your own bubble,” she says. “I was straight out of there afterwards, because I wanted a rest before the ‘cross season. But the memories from the race will stay with me forever.”

She will be hoping for another memorable experience on Saturday. A quality field, headed by six-time world champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands), will offer no quarter, but Brammeier’s strategy – to ride her own race and see where the chips fall – seems eminently sensible.

Brammeier says the memories of the Rio 2016 Olympic Road Race will stay with her forever (pic – Sirotti)

“I’m excited for the World Championships, and obviously it would be a dream to win, but I never think about a specific result,” Brammeier says.

“I just need to do the best possible ride I can and whatever comes from that, considering what happened to me [the crash at the European championships and subsequent battle with the effects of concussion] will be a bonus.”

Win or lose, there is little doubt that Brammeier will give it her all.

A formidable collection of national champion’s jerseys would be further enhanced with the addition of one bearing the rainbow stripes. You can bet she will give everything in its pursuit.

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