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Worlds Week - the Helen Wyman interview

It's Cyclocross World Championships week! So of course we had to catch up with friend-of-the-Café, the British Kona rider Helen Wyman, who was bronze medallist last year, to talk about the Tábor course, who she predicts to win, how her season's been disappointing, but the activism has made up for that a little, and more....

Helen Wyman, Milton Keynes World Cup 2014
Helen Wyman, Milton Keynes World Cup 2014
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

PdC: World Championships on Saturday - what can you tell us about the course?

Helen: It's on the side of a hill, it's going to be freezing cold.  It'll be exactly the same course as the World Cups. 

Starts at the bottom of the hill.  First off, the road section with twisty turny banks, then you head over to the steps followed by an immediate uphill, and zig zag down to the first pit before the uphill planks (Clearly they don't like us riding uphill)

Then you hit the main climb.  You have a couple of gradual uphills and down then you go up a straight long drag to the very top of the hill.  There's a short steep descent over a small bridge, a little technical zig zag out of the hole before you start the main descent, which has a couple of bends to slow it down.  Before you reach the short downhill with the pirouette corner, which is where Mike Teunissen did a 180.  Then past the second pit and a left hander before the sprint finish - hands in the air

PdC: What's your favourite part of it?  Or is that dependent on the weather?

Helen: Well, there's a bit after the planks where you are trying to accelerate uphill and then you ride a flatter section, and I like that bit because you can really put people in the hurt locker.  I also quite like the first off road section.  If you get the right lines on the descent to the first pit that's a lot of fun too

PdC: And what's your least favourite bit?

Helen: The little hole over the bridge. If you get the wrong line it fires you into the metal railings!

PdC: We don't want that!  How different is it, in different conditions?  I know CX courses are all about the weather, but specifically in this one?

Helen: It will be frozen, maybe snow too.  So it will be fast and the person with the biggest balls will probably win! It's about taking calculated risks

PdC: Snow means good for Pavla Havliková and Kateřina Nash?

Helen: Nash definitely has a strong chance.  Pauline Ferrand-Prévot is fast, but I don't remember what she's like on ice.  Marianne Vos is obviously fast and skilful

PdC: Nash won the World Cup there in 2011, right?

Helen: Yeah, and she's really strong this year

PdC: It's going to be a weird one, though, because was Vos injured at the weekend?  She's so good in snow races.  And Katie Compton won here before, but she's had breathing problems... and you're sick too, aren't you?

Helen: There's not a lot of 'cross technique required for this course, there are only two dismounts, and not a lot of little twisty cross cornery stuff. So if Katie can breathe, it's good for her - she won last time, in 2013 World Cup.  Katie said she has set up for this race all, year - we shall see how that works.

Vos I don't know about - whether it is more than we think or less than we think.  As for me, it's just a throat thing so far.  I haven't missed any training days yet.  We shall see if I can train this week.  And I was very controlled in the race on Sunday, so I haven't made it worse.

PdC: So, back to the course - any chance it will melt and get muddy for you?

Helen: It's already frozen, and doesn't warm up, so it's an ice worlds.  It's predicted as -5c for out race, wind chill of -7c  But I did good in Zeddam in 2006 when there was no snow just ice. 

PdC: How do you prepare for that?  Don't you freeze on the startline?

Helen: I have a proper warm up and just hope for the best!  I have been racing in my half thermal skinsuit for most races already, but you just go for legs. 

PdC: I've always wondered about that - you work hard warming up and then lose it - or does embrocation 3 inches thick help?

Helen: That and full thermal.  Its good under gloves and on feet!  But we are only out in it for 45minutes racing

PdC: 45 cooooold minutes!  Which is worse, freezing or boiling?  Or as a CXer do you ever meet boiling?

Helen: Both! Vegas was 35c at night. Colorado was around 20c with 0.1% humidity - the moon has more water than Colorado

PdC: Racing on Mars!  So how many kinds of tyres will you take?

Helen: All of the Challenge tyres.  So I have limus, baby limus, chicanes, wymans, gruff, Griffo silks, griffo xs

PdC: I love that you have Wyman tyres!  Have you raced much on them?

Helen: Not so much this year.  But last season I think I did 10 races on them. I won my first European Championships in Ipswich on the wymans.

PdC: Is it difficult, preparing for an ice race when there isn't ice most places? Or is everyone on the same boat?

Helen: Yeah, and genuinely it's just about taking the risk - it is Worlds after all

PdC: That's what I love about 'cross!  You have to trust your instincts and have luck on your side, but trust your decisions...

Helen: That's why I love mud, the risk to pain ratio is way lower!

PdC: So who would you put money on for this one? And who's your bet for the podium?

Helen: Me (laughing)  Okay excluding me: Nash, Vos and Sanne Cant.  In any order.  I think Eva Lechner will crack, I think Ferrand-Prévot will crash hard.  And I think Compton will be up there too

PdC: How much of an issue is the mental pressure at Worlds?

Helen: Not really for Lechner, she's world number 1 in MTB, but I don't think she likes ice, I could be wrong. I just don't remember her ever being fast enough for it.  There's a difference between being strong-fast and speedy-fast.  Vos can be both, Ferrand-Prévot is speedy fast, Lechner and Nash are strong-fast.

Sanne Cant is clever-fast

Helen: She's also technically extremely good this year.  I don't know how that will cross over to ice but we shall see.  It's wide open this year.

PdC: It's been an interesting season, with lots of different riders up there.

Helen: Yeah, 5 different winners of the World Cups, that's a first for women's cross

PdC: And Cant winning her first World Cup, riders like Sophie de Boer winning her first big race - and Sabrina Stultiens too.

Helen: Yeah, there's a lot of strong riders

PdC: What's the atmosphere like in the Czech Republic?  Do they love the Worlds?

Helen: Yeah they do.  There are a lot of Belgians there, and there are less people than Holland or Belgium, but you are more missing the drunks rather than the proper fans

PdC: What's the best thing about Worlds?

Helen: Winning. (laughing)  Podium

PdC: Only 1 rider can win!

Helen: I know, that's pretty much what the whole race is about.  No one actually remembers 2nd - sad but true

PdC: I remember Eva's awesome ride last year, and there was that one in 3rd....  whatsername....

Helen: Yeah but who got 3rd at Louisville?

PdC: Aaargh!  You're right!

Helen: Bet you know who won

PdC: Well it's been Marianne, what, 7 out of the last 8 times?

Helen: Must be boring winning all the time… Not!  Winning is a lot of fun, I miss it this season

PdC: You'll get it back - and you won Nationals for the 9th time - how was that?

Helen: That was great.  I felt like Helen for the first time since my crash at Koppenberg.  It feels good to be able to drop a quality bike rider like Nikki Harris in a one-on-one battle

PdC: You've had a lot of bad luck this season - how've you kept going?

I have Stef, he's good for that.  He keeps me level and helps me when I need it.  He's a tough love kind of guy as my coach, but a loving husband so it's good.  He also makes me seek advice when i don't really like to.  Like when I got a tick bite at Nacht van Woerden, he made me go immediately to the doctors, get a blood test and have the Limes Disease test done so that I would know instantly, whereas I would have waited till I had a problem then got it fixed.  But his way is time saving.

PdC: Good call - was it ok?

Helen: Yep I was fine

PdC: What I've loved seeing is that while the racing hasn't been as you'd like it, you've been pushing on the betterment of the sport, the push for equality, and the activism

Helen: Yeah, well that's important too, I'm an oldie now, so I need to one of the ones driving the sport on.  The equality blog was to gauge opinion.  I really wanted to know if what I have proposed to the commission is the way forward and I think it is.

What was the reaction to it like? 

Incredibly positive, even amongst the riders it would effect in the men's race. 

PdC: I loved your pushback on twitter too - the dudes saying "you don't deserve it cos you don't ride the same distance - and you pointing out a) UCI bans you from hour-long, and b) they don't pay your proportionally anyway etc etc

Helen: A lot of people just aren't aware of it, and at the end of the day it doesn't cost me less to be the best I can in my sport than the equivalent man, so why should my prize money be less?  And I want to race for an hour, the same as the men. 

When a male rider says to me "yeah well I'll probably race the World Cups next year cause I can get 300 Euros just for showing up", I know what I am saying is right.  We are not rewarding participation - it's a World Cup, we need to reward the best for being the best.  It's called prize money for a reason.

PdC: I hadn't realised the stuff about dudes who don't finish getting paid to what is it, 50th?

Helen: Yep as long as they pull the rider you get prize money.  What upsets me most is that only 48 riders finished the men's race in Valkenberg.  Prize money is to 50 in the men's, for the women it's to 25, and 11th place gets 220 Euros, while the 50th man gets €300.

PdC: It's interesting, people cite the alleged lack of depth in the women's side as an excuse not to improve prize money, but there's such a huge difference in the men's side too.  So what did you learn from this round of activism?  And what's it inspiring you to do next?

Helen: I learnt that it has to happen.  Top 30 is enough prize money places.  Add it up, divide by 2.  There is no other cycling discipline that pays beyond 20th in a World Cup, so 30th is generous. It's purely historical based on start money.  Women have only had a world cup since 2001

PdC: Is Worlds equal-equal?

Helen: Yes but there are only prizes for top 3, and it's €3,370 ish for first.  First man gets 5,000 in a World Cup, first women 1,000.  Thing is Worlds is ALL about the jersey, and so it should be.

Who are you betting on on the men's?

Helen: Tom Meeusen

PdC: Oh, interesting!  What's your take on all the Tom drama?

Helen: I think it's sad that it's dragged on so long. It's been over 2 years, and they decide once a year he can't race a race?  Either he is guilty of this or not.  Stop him from racing until you find he isn't.  You can't just pick a race he can't ride.

PdC: You had an unlucky season from November on, with the crashes and so on, but you've come back to won your 9th Nationals - despite the sore throat, how are you feeling?

Helen: I think its going to be okay.  I felt strong at the weekend just not zippy, but zippyness is freshness.  And I trained through to Friday in Spain knowing I would be a bit tired

PdC: How do you prepare, in the week leading up to it?  When will you travel to Czech, and what's the ratio of training to resting?

Helen: It's basically cut out the fluff in training and keep some intensity - just let your body soak up the training and be fresh for the race.  I will be riding the course as much as I can as I haven't raced a single icy race in the last 2 years.  We arrive on Wednesday and hopefully can get on the course in the afternoon

PdC: Do you pre-ride at top speed, or slowly, or just pick the tricky parts and practice?

Helen: I do all of that!  I will do hot laps with Mike Garrigan and I will do technical training with Stef, and then I will pre ride with speed in the technical parts and just easy in between

PdC: Do you watch your opponents and try to suss out their weaknesses?

Helen: Yes I like to see parts that crack them (laughs)  But otherwise I try to learn from the best riders.  Like Saturday I did ride the course at Hoogerheide.  Sunday I rocked up did 2 laps on the course just riding the technical bits fast. I kept catching people, and then they would sprint a straight away from me.  Then I would catch them on a corner so different people do different things and you cant judge their skills until you are in the race situation, racing them.

PdC: That's the thing that interests me, the extra race day bit.  I'm guessing Tábor will have a fast start, as people try to drop the field but especially Katie.

Helen: Yeah everyone gets excited for Worlds, and staying out of trouble at the start is really important, so everyone tries to start fast.  You can't win the race at the start, but you can loose it.

PdC: I was thinking of Koksijde, with Cant, Stultiens and De Boer zooming off at the start.

Helen: Yes, well there the start is important as you hit the little bank immediately.  Tabor does get quite narrow but the most important part is being on the front group by the stairs really

PdC: So race for the stairs in every lap?

Helen: Just the first lap, after that it changes.  If someone is better at something you may try to get ahead of them, or hide behind them so they cant see you're not as good.

PdC: And refuse to come through when they want you to and so on! How much of it is mind games?

Helen: When it's group racing its majorly important.  In Heerlen last year me, Nikki and Sanne had a huge gap.  We kept dropping Sanne, but she would come back cause we sat up on the headwind road section.  One lap me and Nikki just looked at each other and refused to go to the front.  Sanne came back and then said "Come on I can't", and we kept looking at each other and she went to the front.  I giggled a lot.  We then dropped her for good shortly after.  Don't think she'd do it again this year!

PdC: I wanted to ask you your very favourite trick! But you won't give that away before Worlds -  maybe a better Q is what is the best trick you've seen another rider use?

There's not really tricks in races. it's more just racing hard.  And that was just a battle of wits!

OK, if not tricks, psych-outs - who's best at that in the field!

Helen: Vos is smart. Sanne is tactically aware and knows her limitations

So one very last question - if people aren't convinced yet to watch Worlds, give them a good reason to!  What'll they get if they watch it?

Helen: They will get to watch the most wide open world championships race since Hoogeleide Gits where Salvetat won as all the big favourites cracked.  It will be fast, exciting and full of eventful moments I'm sure

Worlds is always exciting and fast and crazy racing, and this year especially so. 

PdC: and only 45 mins, so much easier to watch than road!

Helen: True fact!


Watch the women's Cyclocross World Championships on Saturday 31st January 2015.  The UCI will stream the race on their Youtube channel - coverage will start at 13:50 European CET (12:50 UK GMT; 7:50am USA EST; 11:50pm Aussie AEDT). The stream will be here, list of live tv broadcasts here, andmy guide to watching it live in other ways.

Follow Helen through Worlds on her website and twitter, and her pre-race blog is on Cyclingnews.  To find out more about her, I have previous interviews with her: