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Helen Wyman interview: living life to the full

25 November 2014

Helen Wyman is one of the very best cyclocross riders in the world, and she’s a hero to many young riders.

We caught up with the multiple champion with the Milton Keynes Cyclocross World Cup now just a few days away.

Her positive attitude shines through –  read about her advice for girls, making the most of whatever talent you have, and living life to the full.

On early years…

How did you discover cycling and get involved with cyclocross?

I have ridden a bike since the very first moment I could sit on one. We used to have cycle touring holidays when I was a kid. When I was 14 my brother wanted to start racing and I wanted to do everything he did, so I took up racing too.

I did my first cross race when I was 18 years old. I was at university studying physiotherapy so had work placements through the summer holidays and couldn’t train, so I took up a winter sport!

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Ruddervorder – © Tom Prenen

Did you take part in other sports, and do you come from a sporting family?

My family are active. My Dad used to race a bit as a kid but he has always ridden a bike and my grandparents before him. My Mum is more of a hiker but we always went cycling together as a family. We did a lot of cycle touring including in France.

As a kid I was really into cross-country running. I was actually quite good at it on a local level and won all the regional championships from under 9s up to 16 years old. But at that point the national schools championships was on the same day as a bike race – and I choose the bike race. Ha ha!

What is it about cyclocross which attracted you?

It required less hours of training so I could still be competitive even while at uni, and I was pretty good at it from the start.

On a really heavy steel Shimano 105-equipped bike that didn’t really fit me I was 4th in my first National Trophy, against the likes of Louise Robinson (Worlds silver medallist 2000) and Isla Rowntree (World Cup podium rider), etc., etc.. It had those thumb-shifter gear levers that stuck out and I remember my thumbs would be bleeding by the end of a rough race as they just rubbed constantly!

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Ruddervorder – © Tom Prenen

How did you balance school and college study with training and racing?

When I was at school that came first. I never missed a day of school for a cycling event. My parents always said if we couldn’t get there then we weren’t going.

Strangely I actually missed a few afternoons of school for cross-country running but that was with the school, so I guess that’s different. Ha ha!

At university I had a fantastic co-ordinator for my work placements and she basically ensured I got all of them within a 15 mile ride or train/cycle from my house so I could always train on the way to or from work (every hospital has a shower somewhere a sweaty bike rider can use).

I only once was late in three years when I punctured riding to Barnet hospital from Hatfield where I lived, so I did okay really. When I turned up covered in dirt and chain grease (it was a proper commuter bike) they believed me!

At what age did you take responsibility for your own equipment?

Well I’m 33 now and, yep, I don’t see it happening anytime soon…

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Zonhoven – © Tom Prenen

On training, coaching and support…

What are the key skills that you think a young cyclocross rider should try to master?

They should try everything. They should watch the pros and see if they can do it the same. Power to get over things is something that comes with age, but skills to get down descents or round corners fast is something anyone can master from a young age.

Having said that, even Sven Nys makes mistakes, so don’t think you can ever “master” cross and you will be fine.

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Valkenburg – © Tom Prenen

How much time do you spend practicing skills?

I do cross training once a week and then I ride the courses the day before, and I race most weekends. I probably ride my cross bike on average three to four times a week.

What kind of coaching have you had, and what makes a successful coaching relationship for you?

I have always been heavily involved in my own coaching along with Stef, my husband, and we also work with a guy called Mark Walker who is a sports scientist. He has all the latest information at his fingertips and he does all my lab testing.

It’s great to have a large team to help as lots of different people have different skills and can input exactly what you need, but they do it collectively. This means you don’t miss important things.

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Valkenburg – © Tom Prenen

What kind of support have you had from British Cycling?

Well, they allow me to race championship events. They have tried a few times to help in some way but unfortunately there isn’t a “national coach” whose job is solely cyclocross so it’s hard for them to really help.

Stuart Blunt is the new appointed person and he has a lot of history in the sport and he understands what it’s like to be based here in Belgium, so for the young guys coming through at least he has been there. But, equally, ultimately he has to report to people who haven’t!

How do you feel about cyclocross being outside the British Cycling Performance Pathway?

It means I can do what I do in my way and nobody interferes. Which is nice. Equally, it does mean that some young kids get steered away from the sport into an Olympic discipline when they clearly have cross talent which is a shame as it starves our lovely sport.

There are many pathways to the top of any sport. It would be nice if those pathways were shared so kids knew that they don’t have to be on the ODP (Olympic Development Programme) to succeed in cycling. And what works for one kid may not be the right path for another.

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Boels CX Haarlen

On motivation…

What is it that motivates you to train and race?

Winning!!! Ha ha!

How do you feel as a major race approaches?

Sometimes really nervous, but mostly excited. I love racing, especially when I’m riding well. If I didn’t I wouldn’t do it anymore.

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Boels CX Haarlen

How do you handle the occasional disappointments that everyone has?

My “Team Wyman” help a lot. Stef is my rock.

What advice do you have for teenage racing girls facing peer-pressure not to cycle or race?

Get your friends involved. I used to take my school friends out for bike rides in the summer. We would take a picnic and go to a park somewhere.

They all enjoyed it because it’s freedom when you are fifteen or sixteen years old, away from your parents. You are actually going somewhere you couldn’t go without them driving you!

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Boels CX Haarlen

How do you feel when you’ve won an important race or achieved a big goal?

Happy, obviously. But sometimes it takes a long time to sink in, like my Worlds medal {Ed. Helen won the bronze medal at the 2014 World CX Championships}. At the time you don’t realise the impact until people are still talking about it months later.

Have you had any role models or heroes in cycling or in life generally?

Roger Hammond and Louise Robinson – both legends in cyclocross.

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Boels CX Haarlen

On being a pro…

How much do you enjoy road racing and other disciplines? How do they affect your CX performance?

I don’t mind road racing. I have been to three World Championships on the road.

I’ve won a few King of the Mountains jerseys. But I do it for cross. It gives you a good base and speed for the winter.

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Pilzen – © Balint Hamvas

How easily did you adapt to life and racing overseas?

Life is easy for me. I have Stef with me at all times, we are a family so emotionally it’s no different to being at home. We are having the most amazing adventure along the way too.

Personally I just think you have to embrace what is thrown at you because every day is another life experience that you wouldn’t get doing a nine-to-five job. If you’re lucky enough to have the talent to do well at cycling you should try to use it, as so many people would switch with you tomorrow if they had the same natural ability!

How do you cope with the effects of travelling when racing?

I am mostly only sat in a car so it’s not taxing really! Only flying to America, but I’m really used to that now.

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Tabor – © Balint Hamvas

How does US cyclocross differ from European racing?

It’s a much friendlier family atmosphere, and it’s participation-driven rather than spectator-driven. It’s a very different world but still really good.

How do you maintain a healthy diet and rest despite the disruption of travelling?

I travel in a motorhome with a fridge, cooker and cupboards for all my food. Genuinely there is no disruption – I just plan ahead. Which is what I do anyway at home!

What are you expecting the Milton Keynes World Cup CX to be like?

A
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How much difference to your performance does a very supportive crowd make to you?

It makes such a huge difference. I don’t think I would have won the Euros in Ipswich if it wasn’t for the home crowd in the sprint finish. I genuinely cannot wait.

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Tabor – © Balint Hamvas

On the future…

What changes would you like to see in the sport?

An Under 23/Junior category for women at world level.

Equal prize money.

What advice would you give today’s keen youth riders to help them enjoy cycling and racing?

Keep smiling.

Treat every experience as a life lesson and embrace what is thrown at you.

In the long run you will look back and think “yeah, that was seriously awesome!”

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Boels CX Haarlen

Many thanks to Helen for her time, and the very best of luck to her at the first ever cyclocross World Cup to be held in Britain – come and ring your cow-bells to cheer her on!

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2 responses to:

Helen Wyman interview: living life to the full

  1. Linda cantelo
    November 25, 2014

    Helen Wyman is such a great model for young female cyclists and she has so much time for them. Her enthusiasm for the sport is second to none.

  2. val saunders
    November 27, 2014

    Cyclocross is also a great but safe way for young people to develop their bike handling skills whilst having fun well away from traffic.

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