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  • Journal
    Riders
    25.02.15

    Helen Wyman: Career Opportunities

    British Champion calls for young women to make a living from cyclo-cross: "Rewarding, fascinating, and financially pretty good – and getting better."

    Words
    Paul Davy
    Photographs
    Paul Davy
milton keynes world cup, helen wyman

Helen Wyman published an open letter to young riders following the World Cup weekend at Milton Keynes offering advice on cyclo-cross as a career path – not an obvious choice for a young woman, you’d think. Eminently do-able, says the nine-time national and double European champion. 

Summertime and the living is easy…

For me the summer is very relaxed.  It’s just training. I take on a mentor role with the Matrix team for any young riders that want some advice, and sometimes I race alongside them. I enjoy road racing, but it’s not something I want to focus on. I’ve done that before, but ’cross is where my passion lies.  I love ’cross, and for me the summer needs to be relaxed as the winter is very intense.  The MK World Cup was very special in terms of the atmosphere, but we have that kind of thing at most races I go to. There isn’t as much support for me, but there are more fans and huge noise and focus on each event.  You can’t keep up that intensity of competition all year round. 

Cyclocross track section, short incline, muddy, huge crowds, riders with bikes over shoulders runningMilton Keynes, special atmosphere

Mental strength

It’s very important. The amount of things I had to do off the bike at MK was pretty insane, to be honest.  I spent about 4 hours on Friday doing interviews. Around that, I had to try to ride the course, and absorb the features and come up with some tactics. I don’t have a PR crew, I do everything with [my husband] Stef, so you just have to be careful. I’m not moaning at all. It’s a total pleasure to have these opportunities and this interest in the sport. I love that part of the job, and hopefully, some young riders can see the interviews, the race, the TV coverage, and want to be a rider in the future.  

I guess another part of it is dealing with the disappointments when it doesn’t go your way, but I’ve had enough ups and downs now to cope with all that and have a good, supportive, crew around me who ensure my environment is positive.

Mechanic attending rack of black cyclocross bicycles Under pressure: Stef and the crew

Support network

My team is Kona Factory Racing. My boss is Barry Wicks. He’s a great guy, and a top racer himself. I enjoy my time with them at the start of the CX season in the US. He’s really helpful and makes sure all of my requests are dealt with in terms of equipment. I’ve had 6 years on the same team, and they are hugely important to me.  

Aside from Kona, Stef is important: he’s my coach and also helps me understand what’s happened in a race, where I can improve, where I’m better or worse than others, and what we need to do in training. I also have two people I ride courses with when they’re available – Jon Page and Mike Garrigan. The input they have is very important.  

Then there’s Patrick and Monique.  They are my start and finish line crew. They are the nicest people on the planet and without them, life wouldn’t be quite as simple. 

Racing cyclocrossers, bikes shouldered running up muddy incline, crowd cheering, Helen Wyman, Nikki HarrisRunning up that hill: Wyman followed by Nikki Harris

Slip sliding away…

Crashing is part of racing. If you never crash, you aren’t riding hard enough. To win a race like MK, you have to take risks. You have to put the pressure on others.  Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have won ten championship races in my career, and I didn’t win them by soft-pedalling in corners, or walking when it gets slippy. ’Cross is a fast, aggressive, slippy and great sport. I fall off often, but then I know my limit. 

The key to reducing the amount of issues you have is practice and equipment. Having good equipment, and understanding how to use it, is very important, like the right tubulars and understanding the correct tyre pressures for you. 

She’s a model and she’s looking good

I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in. I might inspire people, but I’m not so sure about that. I want to help the next generation of riders make it. I want to help them understand that CX is a good career: rewarding, fascinating, and financially pretty good – and getting better. But to be honest, very few people ever get in touch. So it’s not that easy to pass on the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years. That's a shame. All I can keep doing is being myself, being honest, being open, and hoping there are some good riders to take over from me, Nikki [Harris] and Gabby [Durrin] when we stop.

Cyclocross cyclist, on stage, addressing crown, white jersey, muddy, Helen Wyman"Non, je ne regrette rien." Wyman waxes lyrical

But I do okay. I’ve had around 50 career wins in pro CX races. That’s not bad for a girl from the UK. I’ve travelled the world, I work with great people, and I love my job – and this is a job.  When people go to work and process insurance claims for a living, if they don’t quite get a job finished in the way they wanted, they don’t consider retiring, or giving up. It’s the same for me. I go to work every day to do my best. I try to make people proud, I try to represent my sponsors in the best way I can, and whatever happens, I look forward to going to work the next day. It’s the best job in the world.  

If I get second, sometimes people tell me I’m no good. They really do! If I win, I’m a hero and people tell me: again, seriously, they do. This includes the postman knocking on the door to deliver post if I have a good result, or people in the supermarket.

I just say thanks, and smile, if they tell me I’m good, or if they tell me I’m bad. I’m doing this for me ultimately, and it’s great to have people along for the ride, but I’m not sure I’ve ever let those comments get me down, or give me a big head. 

 

Interview and photos courtesy Paul Davy

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