British champions Helen Wyman and Ian Field will take the start line in their respective UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships races in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, this weekend as they look to continue their impressive seasons on the continent.
European champion Wyman, alongside defending her European jersey and winning the national title for the eighth time, also won the prestigious Koppenbergcross, placed fifth overall at the World Cup, and currently leads the Bpost Bank Trofee standings.
Field meanwhile has enjoyed his best season to date after a number of consistent showings on the international circuit before he won his third straight national championships earlier this month.
Wyman will race on Saturday against defending champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands) and World Cup winner Katie Compton (USA) and she believes she faces fierce competition for a first-ever podium spot.
“Anything can happen in a race,” she told RCUK. “I’m one of ten favourites – it’s not just a case of taking a podium spot, there are at least ten of who could after Katie Compton and Marianne Vos.
“For me, I have no pressure. Yeah I got second last week – which would have been a third if Compton was still in the race – but then Eva Lechner got third the race before so she’s a favourite, Nikki Harris has had three or four podium places so she’s a favourite. Sanne Cant’s had a podium place so she’s a favourite.
At the minute I’d say it is just tough, but if it slashes it down tonight then I think it will be a brutal course!
“It’s cool, it’s exciting. I’m just really looking forward to riding a course I really love, and I enjoy racing my bike, so it should be fun!”
Wyman was bound for a practice ride on the course at Hoogerheide as we spoke, but with torrential weather forecast, she admitted it was too early to predict how the race might play out.
“I’ve raced it obviously in the past, just not as it is now,” she explained. “We’re supposed to have a weather warning tonight of rain and gales. At the minute it’s quite dry.
“The bottom field, apparently, is wet and yesterday when we saw the bikes coming back there was quite a lot of mud on the tyres, but they were all still using standard tyres so at the minute I’d say it is just tough, but if it slashes it down tonight then I think it will be a brutal course!”
Wyman will compete on the back of second place at Nommay in the final round of the World Cup – although she admits she believes Compton would have been on the podium had she not been forced to abandon due to asthma, brought about by a grass pollen allergy.
However, the eight-time British champion is delighted with her form heading into the race having planned her season around peaking in time for the Hoogerheide showdown.
“You never know what you feel like until the race – you can feel amazing on the turbo just before the race and then you can get to the race and think ‘eurgh, that didn’t work out’. But I think I’m coming into good form,” she said.
“I had a really good nationals and a really good Nommay and that’s the best I’ve felt since the Euros so it’s good. It’s exciting.
If I was to get a medal at the weekend it’s just the icing on the cake really, or maybe it’s more the chocolate sprinkles on the icing on the cake!
“I’m really happy, I’ve had a really, really good season and it’s not over yet – after this I have three or four races and two are really important as they’re part of the Bpost Bank Trofee.
“If I was to get a medal at the weekend it’s just the icing on the cake really, or maybe it’s more the chocolate sprinkles on the icing on the cake!
“At the minute, I’m really happy with where I am. May the best people be on the podium, and let’s hope it’s because they’ve been the best and not because of bad luck.”
Despite a pragmatic approach to the race however, she admits a podium place on Saturday would be a great achievement – at least on a personal level.
“It would be amazing to be on the podium. It really would,” she admitted. “My best result at Worlds was fifth in Zeddam in 2006.
“For me, I know I’m a better rider than I was then so to be able to do that would be incredible but equally, nobody remembers second or third – it would just be a personal victory.
“You ask people, and they say that’s not true but then you press them and they can’t tell you who got third the previous year! The winner’s the only thing that matters at a major championships but for me it would be a personal victory if I could get a podium.”
As for the top step of the podium however, Wyman believes it is a two-horse race and a battle between two inseparable thoroughbreds at that.
On the two rivals, she said: “Marianne is racing well and in her home country – she lifts her game so much and she’s a really smart bike rider. Compton has been technically really good this year, really super strong and she’s beating Vos legitimately.
“I really have no idea who will win and either would be a good winner. It would be awesome for European ‘cross for Vos to win and it would be awesome for American ‘cross for Compton to win. I think it will be an exciting battle.”
On a more local level, she also hopes it could be an exciting day for British ‘cross, with team-mates Harris and Gabriella Durrin completing a strong line-up alongside National Trophy winner Hannah Payton.
“I think it would be really exciting to get a Brit on the podium,” Wyman admitted. “I think we’re already raising the profile of the sport. British women historically have always been really good. Louise Robinson got second at the Worlds [in 2000].
“It is no surprise to see we are doing well. Whether a Brit can get a medal this year, sure we would probably get a bit more publicity but we’re already getting loads so I think it will be awesome – and I hope if I don’t get a medal then the person who gets it will be Nikki or Gabby – but equally I think we’re working hard week in week out anyway!”
Ian Field – men’s preview
While Britain’s women have been enjoying success on the continent however, three-time British men’s champion Field was Britain’s only male competitor at World Cup level, where he placed a career-best 22nd overall.
Hopes of a top-20 finish in Hoogerheide on the Sunday however, rest on a recovery from illness after the Hargroves Cycles rider was struck down by flu after his national championship win.
He said: “I’m not 100 per cent sure about how I’m going at the moment – after the nationals I had flu for a week and then the final World Cup was last weekend and I finished 35th, which was below-par.
“I’m just hoping I’m back to full fitness this weekend. Before I got ill, the goal was top 25 so I guess the goal remains the same, I’d just have to take everything into perspective afterwards.
“I’m going to the course this afternoon, but people were there yesterday and the feedback is it’s pretty much the same as what I’ve done for the last four years, so I kind of know what I’m up against. It now just depends on the weather.
“At the minute I think it’s still reasonably fast with some muddy sections, which suits me better than a total mud fest.
It’s normally pretty quick around here even when it is really muddy, so I will be trying to make the selection over the first couple of laps into a decent group and then take it from there
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s normally pretty quick around here even when it is really muddy, so I will be trying to make the selection over the first couple of laps into a decent group and then take it from there.”
On his performances throughout the year, Field admitted he was happy with the form he showed at World Cup level though.
“This year I’ve been a lot more consistent, and I’ve just been pretty pleased with how I’ve ridden,” he said. “I ended up 22nd overall in the World Cup which is my best result ever, and I had two top-20s along the way so I’m just really pleased with how consistent I’ve been.”
Cyclo-cross legend Sven Nys will be defending his rainbow jersey in Hoogerheide as part of a strong Belgian squad, while Lars van der Haar – the overall World Cup winner – is also a favourite in his home country.
But Field believes the outcome of the men’s race will depend on the course conditions on the day.
He said: “I think it will be the usual candidates at the front of the race – the Belgians, the Dutch and then with the introduction of ‘Stybby’ [Zdenek Stybar] back into the fray it should be a good race.
“It really depends on the weather. If it stays like it is – dry, not really that wet – then Lars van der Haar, as home favourite, is going to be hard to beat. If it gets really, really muddy then I think Sven will be the favourite.”