Interview: cyclo-cross ace Helen Wyman’s delight at second European title

Seven-time national champion follows Koppenberg success with second Euro title

Double European cyclo-cross champion Helen Wyman (Kona Factory) believes her form over the last week was the perfect tonic after a disappointing World Cup round in Tabor.

Wyman, the former seven-time national champion, finished 11th in the second World Cup event of the year as her main overall rivals all took advantage of Marianne Vos’ absence to rack up the points.

But the British star, 32, recovered to win at the Ruddervoorde Superprestige event the following day and followed it with success at the iconic Koppenbergcross before defending her European Championship title on Sunday.

Helen Wyman, pictured at last year’s Zolder World Cup event, has hit a purple patch of form (pic: Balint Hamvas)

Wyman told RCUK: “On Saturday last week I had an awful World Cup and then to come back and win on the Sunday was brilliant.

“My early season goal was the Koppenberg so it was pretty exciting to do that and then Sunday was just something special on top of that. I don’t imagine you could have put the conditions any more perfect for me. And I felt really good as well.”

Wyman currently lives in Oudenaarde, near to the Koppenberg, and was bursting with pride after her victory there in the Bpost Bank Trofee – the third of her career on the famous Flandrian slope.

“It’s special because of the prestige of the race,” she said. “To a Belgian person, winning at Koppenberg is probably second only to winning the World Championship.

“It’s a huge event, there’s so many people there and it’s such an epic race – well this year was actually quite dry, so it wasn’t as epic, but normally it’s wild and it’s the epitome of everything that cyclo-cross is about.

“I love it, I love the race, the course is good for me – it’s got a whacking great hill which is always good for me – and I really enjoy it.

“It’s nice to be able to relax on the morning before the race and just ride over at 11. It’s nice and relaxed, and I love winning that race – it means quite a lot to a lot of people.”

Wyman admits the muddy course at the European Championship was perfectly suited to her (pic: Balint Hamvas)

Wyman led home a British one-two in Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic, on Sunday – with British champion Nikki Harris second – to defend the title she first won in Ipswich last year.

Having jumped the field very early in the race, she went on to win by more than a minute and she admitted the nature of her victory – having won in a sprint finish in 2012 – had surprised her.

“It was exciting to be able to win by such a lot – I didn’t expect that to happen,” she said.

“All the girls who came in second, third, fourth, fifth are crazy strong and crazy good. They have all won races this year.

It’s a big deal to be European Champion. It’s exciting every time you pin your number on

“I really didn’t expect to win by that much, but I wanted to win, I tried to win and it couldn’t have been more perfect for me really.

“And to win like that meant I could actually celebrate properly, whereas last year – while it was really exciting – was a sprint finish!”

Wyman added: “You always know if you go well at Koppenberg then you’re going to have the right form going into the European Champs.

“It’s a big deal to be European Champion. It’s exciting every time you pin your number on. It’s really good, and that race – we rocked up on Saturday and I rode the course and I was thinking this is actually pretty good for me.

Wyman is now targetting World Championship success but admits Dutch superstar Marianne Vos is favourite to retain her title (pic: Balint Hamvas)

“It’s muddy, it’s a bit slick. Then overnight it slashed it down with rain, all night, all morning and I woke up thinking, ‘well, this is perfect for me now!’

“By our race, it was just mud. It was brilliant. I got a gap instantly, I didn’t have a great start but by about halfway through the first lap I had ten seconds so I just went for it.

“It was really awesome. I couldn’t have picked a better course for me.”

Having now achieved her early-season goals, Wyman has now set her sights on a much bigger target in February next year – the World Championships in Hoogerheide, Netherlands.

It was really awesome. I couldn’t have picked a better course for me

But she admits it may well be a fight for the podium rather than the rainbow jersey, with reigning world champion Marianne Vos seemingly untouchable whenever she climbs onto the bike.

“I haven’t had a good worlds since 2006, where I was fifth, so I really want to crack that,” Wyman said.

“Reasonably, in anyone’s mind, Marianne Vos is going to win the World Championships. It would have to be an absolute disaster for her not to.

“But, having said that, there’s still podium places up for grabs. I think top five will be the aim for me and it is a course I love.

Wyman will contend for World Championship glory alongside fellow Brits Gabby Durrin, pictured at last year’s Worlds, and national champion Nikki Harris (pic: Balint Hamvas)

“I’ve had podiums there at World Cups there and really enjoyed it. Last time I was there I got taken out on the start line so I didn’t have a good ride there! So I want to go there and get a good result this time.

“You can’t focus on everything in a season and because I haven’t had a course I know will suit me, or had the opportunity to go for it, I haven’t. This year, it’s trying to aim for the World Championships. We’ll see what happens.”

And Wyman also explained there is still plenty of racing to be done before then, with half of her calendar still to be completed.

“I’ve done 16 races so far this season, and I have 16 left – as it stands – so I’ve got a lot of races to do. It’s not like I can just take a training block and then do a few races before the Worlds.

As a ‘cross rider, you can’t just go banging in the miles, it’s not like that

“I’ve got the Bpost Bank Trofee series, where I’m currently second [to Nikki Harris] and only 21 seconds down so that’s important. In the World Cup, I’m still in seventh, even though I had a bad round and there’s not many points separating fourth and eighth.

“It’s important to be top eight to get a front-row grid at the World Championships and you need to get UCI points for that. So there’s a lot of stuff going on.

“I have a couple of little training blocks booked in where I go and don’t do racing. But you can’t really say, ‘OK, that’s one target done, I’ll go away now and come back later’ – unless you’re Marianne Vos and you do come back and win everything!

“My next race is in two weeks, the next Bpost Bank Trofee race, and then it’s the next World Cup the weekend after. As a ‘cross rider, you can’t just go banging in the miles, it’s not like that. It’s all about quantity!”

The next round of the World Cup will see Wyman and fellow Brit Nikki Harris, pictured, taking on the iconic sands of Koksijde (pic: Balint Hamvas)

The next World Cup meet, on November 23, will take Wyman and her rivals to the famous sands of Koksijde, Belgium.

And the British ace is relishing the prospect of tackling the iconic course.

“Koksijde is epic. It’s really epic,” she enthused. “There are three things you have to do, and then it’s down to luck basically.

“You have to go into the sand fast, which is scary, you have to ride the ruts which is even scarier – and hitting ruts at speed is not easy going – and you have to get off before you lose speed.

Koksijde is epic. It really is wild. And you’re going to crash

“It’s so hard to do all those three things in every section of sand. It’s just wild, it really is wild. And you’re going to crash. Katie Compton won by two and a half minutes one year but she crashed at least 18 times – it was just ridiculous!

“In the past, I’ve done alright there. I’ve finished fourth before, and last year I got sixth. I’m normally in the fourth to eighth region so it’s another good course for me, and it involves a lot of power as well.

“It’s all about just maintaining a good position in the rankings though, and getting individually good results. That’s the aim in the World Cup for me now.”

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