It’s been a great year for Great Britain’s Helen Wyman who has just achieved 5th place in the Womens World Cyclo Cross Championship, her best ever performance in a World Title race. We caught up with Helen to ask her how it feels to hold the National Champion jersey and to chat about her team’s new UCI Pro status.
Tell us how you first got into cycling.
My mum and dad have always been into cycling, my dad used to race when he was young and then stopped and just kept riding his bike. So we’ve always been on cycling holidays. Then when my brother was about 15 he decided he wanted to start racing. I had to do everything my brother did, and I had to try and do it better than him, so I took up racing as well. I started racing when I was 14, just doing circuit racing and grass track and things like that, and I raced all the way through until I was 18 and then I went to University and started Cyclo cross.
Was there a turning point when you thought – this is something I want to take really seriously?
In my second year of Cyclo-cross I went to a couple of World Cups, and I’d never done any racing outside of England before, and it was just a totally different experience. I rode a couple of World Cup support races and the atmosphere and people asking for my autograph was just incredible. It was just totally mind boggling and it was at that point that I thought well ‘yeah this is something I want to do in the future but I’m at University at the moment’ so I had to focus on what I was doing. But then when I was in my first year of work I was going well enough again to be taken to the World Cup and it was at that point that I thought, yeah I want to be good at this. It was the Cyclo-cross first and then from the Cyclo-cross I started doing the international road races and then that was brilliant and I really wanted to do that but it was really from Cyclo-cross that I got my drive and wanted to do well.
Tell us where it all started with Team Fat Birds for you.
The shop always sponsored me from when I was about 15 or 16. When I was doing Mountain Biking they gave me a bike and it was just me at the time. Then about three years ago there were a couple of extra girls, so then there were three of us, and then last year we took it onto the next level and applied to become a UCI trade team. This year we’ve got 16 riders.
It’s brilliant, it’s really good that we get the invitations to races and it means that we have a little bit of respect among the other teams. It also means that we can really take the team further and it’s an advantage for the sponsors because they get to be seen on the international market and it’s an advantage for the riders because they get to race against the best riders in the World. it just makes a little bit of difference in the fact that it means we get the invitations to top races.
How significant do you that that will be for women’s cycling specifically?
I think it will be really good because at the minute, in the UK road scene a lot of the riders don’t even know there’s an international scene out there and they don’t know that there are races that are equivalent to the Tour de France that the women are racing. People may hear that ‘oh Nicole (Cooke) rode in some race’ but they don’t really understand what it’s about. But with a UCI trade team in Britain they can see that there is a step, and there is a way that they can go from racing domestically, from racing the women’s team series, to racing the National series, to racing lower grade one day races in Europe and they can see that there’s a progression. They can see that there’s no longer this huge gap. People can see that there’s a pro team in the UK so maybe we could go as a guest with them and maybe we could see what it’s about and so I think that’s a big advantage for the UK and it’s also good that there are teams that work as a team. Last year we worked as a team properly and people could see that we were getting results because the team worked and they worked for each other and we really did get fantastic results. I think in the past the scene in the UK hasn’t seen this sort of a team and therefore riders don’t necessarily know how to work as a team and it’s only by seeing that example that they can work really.
It’s brilliant. It’s really really good. The way that things work is that we have to respect each other. We decide who we’re going to work for and everybody will put in their all to getting the win for that person and if i’m going well and the team are riding for me, in return I work so hard to get that result. And the same goes for if we decide to work for Claire. But if I decide, no it’s not going to happen for me today then I say no don’t work for me I’ll work for you so it’s really good.
What advice would you give to women that want to give it a go?
As a women I always found being a member of a club quite a good thing to do because men tend to take you under their wing a bit and all the clubs I’ve ever been to have love the fact that there’s a girl there and help her and take her out training and look after her and I think that’s good. But to get into the women’s scene you need to work up. It can be daunting going along to a third/fourth cat and women’s/vets road race to get absolutely annihilated so you could then go to a team series, and there are a lot of them around, and they’re great starter races because you can go road racing and not get a pasting. You can still finish in the bunch or you’ll still be racing with people at least so I think that’s probably a good place to start.
How intense is your training/racing schedule at the moment?
In the cross season I’ll do anything between 15 and 20 hours a week, I’ll normally do about 15 hours. On the road I’ll probably end up doing about 20 hours a week and if you do a road race you’ll end up doing 24, 25 hours that week.
It’s brilliant, there are loads of people out there, I was out yesterday and there were 150 riders out together. All these people that are so good, riding in the group with you all the time. It’s so easy to train, it’s really really good, I love it!How does it feel to hold the National Champs jersey?
Brilliant! It feels great! Yeah, it’s the thing that I’ve always wanted and I’ve always wanted it in Cyclo cross really and it’s good to know that you’ve actually achieved something that so many people want. I’ve always said that, well in cycling, people have always said to me you have to learn through apprenticeship, because you’re never going to be World Champion just by riding the world championships, you’re going to World Champion because you’re capable, because you’ve been National champion, and you’ve won a local road race. Everyone’s got to start small, Nicole was racing me when she was a kid and you do gradually build up and the only way you’re going to be successful is not going to be a fluke, there’s no fluke involved in racing. There’s luck, but there’s no fluke!