Image courtesy of Geoff Waugh www.waughphotos.com
Helen Wyman has won ‘cross races all over Europe and beyond. Switzerland, Italy, the U.S. and, of course, the Britain. Probably more besides.
Yet, until this week, there was one almighty glaring omission from her glittering palmares: a win in Belgium. Bearing in mind Belgium has been Wyman’s base for the past six years, the big win on home soil was a long time coming, but all the sweeter on arrival for being just down the road from her house in Oudenaarde at the Koppenberg Cross.
For those of you unfamiliar with this race, it is quite the most brutal course on the calendar. Koksijde’s dunes pose a myriad of potential pitfalls, but Koppenberg on wet ground is barely rideable. The bunch swings off-road before the infamous cobbled climb rears up appreciably, but that’s where the fun begins. There is plenty more climbing to be done on decidedly claggy ground, made treacherous by the preceding day’s rain. The snaking descent may be better approached with a snowboard than a bike. But bikes are a prerequisite.
Seeing Helen slip and slide her way down the hill in second spot on the opening lap seemed about right – she finished second last year and in the previous day’s race in Zonhoven – but two laps later she had dropped Sanne Cant and was totally in control while everyone else floundered. It was a genuine joy to behold.
To stand on that podium juggling one very heavy cobble, one extremely large bottle of beer and a bunch of flowers was a triumph of persistence and optimism. I have interviewed Helen seconds after crossing the line at the World Championships when her hopes have been dashed by less competent bike handlers crashing on the very first corner, and she was, understandably, pretty miffed. But it doesn’t last long. She learns and moves on, and that smile is soon back in place.
And what Helen has learned this week is that her handling has improved, she is in the form of her life and she can win in Belgium. And (let’s face it), if you can win in Belgium, you can win anywhere.
Also, a cobble looks great on the mantlepiece…
1 photographer Geoff Waugh was also at Koppenberg. See his tremendous gallery of the men’s race here.