Part two of our conversation with Cyclocross British National Champion Helen Wyman (KONA/FSA) continues with the World Championships on a “savage” course in Koksijde, Belgium. Her aim is to podium, or better. In her dry wit, Wyman tackles the differences in racing and living in the United States compared to Europe, spectators. And we had to end with chocolate, a favorite of Wyman.
In part one, Wyman discussed her decision to not only start her cross season in the United States but also to stay in the New England and Mid-Atlantic region.
podiuminsight.com: How important to come here with the World Championships over here two years from now? Is it important to see what the racing is like here?
Helen Wyman: Yeah. At Worlds, you won’t have the same racers you’ve been racing against, it’s the same riders that will be coming over from Europe, all the Dutch, the Belgies, the French, all the same so it’s not like in terms of competition. In terms of style of racing, yeah, you get to see something pretty cool which is actually different, the courses are actually different. I made a joke but there are a lot more corners, unnecessary corners (chuckles) but I think the Worlds course will be pretty standardized because the UCI will be so on top of it.
But it’s good just to get the feel of things, to see how stuff works, just answer simple things like you know what the time difference is, you know what it feels like to be able to do that, to not get jetlagged. You know where you can shop in supermarkets, and you know what are good things and what are bad things, so if you have something in Europe that you have to bring with you, you know ‘I’ve got to bring that’. So yeah, in that respect, it’s good to do that. We’ve been here, just for me really it’s for my sponsors and for Ian it’s totally points grabbing (laughs) because for him, racing Superprestige and GVA against Sven Nys, Bart Wellens and all those guys, Niels every week, there’s no opportunity to win races so for him it’s about points grabbing.
So did you identify something that you can’t get here that you’ll need to bring for Worlds?
Not yet. Maybe some fruit juice that doesn’t have added sugar, saccharine, glycerine. Although we’re kind of sourcing that, we find the Whole Foods Supermarket and we go there, Whole Paycheck. We’re pretty much showing ourselves out nicely and we’ve worked out that if we go to Supermarket first and buy your drinks, there’s a lot cheaper than the gas stations. We’ve worked out that Starbucks will screw you for breakfast, it’s very expensive there. It’s pretty much good so far really. I don’t think there’s anything I’ve missed from the UK, yet.
You mentioned that the World Championships was your big goal this year. Do you have any other goals before you get there, something that you’d like to accomplish?
Yes, I really want to win a World Cup. I’ve said it for the last couple of years, and I’ve had seconds and thirds and I just want to go out and win it. Early in the season last year there was a couple of opportunities and I don’t think I took those and maybe I’m stronger this year and maybe I can take that chance and see what happens really. I want to win Nationals again but if that means I have to sacrifice Worlds, then I’d sacrifice Nationals because I’ve done it six times now. I love it, it’s great to win and it’s great to win on home soil and it’s cool to be National Champion and I don’t think people would recognize me if I wasn’t in the kit but still if I have to trade for Nationals then yeah I have to trade Nationals for Worlds. So just win a World Cup really.
It sounds easy (laughs).
Yeah, piece of cake. At the end of the day, I am a professional cyclocross rider and it’s important I do my job day to day, ride as well. I don’t disrespect myself and what I could do but equally you do have to sacrifice some races for others. This year with the C1s having to have women’s race, there’s a lot of races for women, I could be doing fifteen more races than I did last year, some of those you can’t race full on, not every single one.
And what’s your goal for the World Championships?
A podium. I got fifth in 2006 or 2007 so it’s got to be podium (laughs). You can’t go fifth again ‘well I’ve done that’.
And fourth is off the podium.
Yeah, fourth is just not quite on the podium. Second or third which is fine because you get to stand up there, fourth is just not even up there. And I’ve had so many seventh, eighth, ninth, twelfth, fifteenth places in the World Championships, they just don’t mean anything anymore. For someone that’s never achieved something like that, you think okay, tenth place is an amazing result, and it is, but when I’ve had fifth, and I’ve had eighth, ninth, it’s like I want to be on the podium, I just want to be there so bad. (laughs) And if you’re going to be on the podium, you’re going to be in the fight for the win and if you’re in the fight for the win, then the win is your only option really. It’s going to be a tough one.
So tell me about the Worlds course. That’s one (race) I didn’t go to last year.
It’s pretty savage. A bit savage start, and then it goes a bit more savage, and then a bit more hard. It’s going to be really weird because I’ve never raced that time of year in Koksijde. Belgium has a bit milder winters but you don’t know what it’s going to be like but then equally sand doesn’t really freeze does it? It would have to be a real deep frost for it to freeze, so there’s going to be a lot of deep, deep sandy rutted lines and for days before hand people are going to be riding the course so there’s going to be different lines. I think it will actually be quite tricky as well as tough and the sand just makes it hard. And the running up the hills makes it hard.
Then, there’s one little section of mud before the finish, which last year made me have to use a mud tire because you couldn’t get through otherwise, and then mud tire in sand just makes sand really hard, so it’s just going to be a tough course really. Tough, and I don’t think there’s going to be many chances to overtake people until it’s into smaller groups but yeah, I think probably it will be a contest between the stronger riders. I don’t think you’re going to get any surprise results.
Apart from the corners on US courses, have you found any differences compared to European courses?
The spectators are totally different. The spectators are really cool, they’re really into heckling but they heckle really well, and they heckle in a really jokey way, it’s really cool. And like, they really get into it, it’s not just a generic ‘oooh go, way to go’, there’s proper banter going on. If there’s an American rider with you, it’s ‘USA’ and then when you’re on your own riding off the front, then it’s like ‘oh this is boring, can you slow down?, come and have a chat with us’ and all this kind of stuff. The banter is really good, and I think the spectators are more into it over here. Whereas over there it’s just their favorite rider that they shout at, they don’t really shout any abuse, they kind of go ‘woohoo’.
I was surprised how quiet it got over there once the first group went by, it was so quiet.
Nobody is really interested in the other riders and then they heckle the people about to get lapped.
Speaking of heckling, what would be the best way to heckle you?
I don’t know, I don’t know. I think the group of guys that were going around to the earlier races we went to, they were obviously racing as well and watching the other races, they were like ‘stop and have a beer, come on and eat chocolate with us’, and ‘wait this is boring, just lie down, wait for someone’ and stuff like that. They held up a sign that said this is my email address, email me and will you marry me and stuff like that. And then Ian said that when he was racing, they put a sign up and it just said ‘generic heckle’ and everybody was totally silent, going wild but totally silent with a little sign that said ‘generic heckle’. That’s cool.
What is the silliest thing you’ve seen yet? Have you seen people dressed up?
No nothing like that, they were pretty standard. We’ve met some pretty interesting people and got some really interesting accents. We tried our hardest to make people say ‘you’re welcome’. Because everywhere you go, you go thank you and they go you’re welcome. So, we tried to make people say that as much as possible. So when you’re in a supermarket and go thank you for that, they go you’re welcome, and then thank you for my receipt, you’re welcome, thank you for my change, you’re welcome. (laughs) See how many times you can make them say it in one time. Things like that.
The Americans, general day to day ones, haven’t understood our sarcasm sometimes so that’s quite amusing in itself. There’s been a lot of fun in Wesley, we have considered getting a video cam but it would be PG-rated most of it. When you spend seven hours in a van with three boys, it gets pretty PG.
You mentioned chocolate and since we had some very good chocolate in Oudenaarde, Belgium, I have to ask what’s the best chocolate you’ve had and where? I know that you are a chocolate connoisseur.
I am. It has to be our little chocolate shop, it has to be. The chocolate buttons, they’re like massive chocolate buttons, that you put into the hot milk, they are just heaven. Belgian chocolate. I don’t want to disappoint myself by having extra-sweet chocolate here. I have noticed that everything has added sugar and salt, like everything, unless you go to a fancy little market or a Whole Foods or something like that, everything has added salt and sugar. It’s a bit weird. I bought cranberry juice thinking this will be healthy, and I started drinking it and it had 56 grams of sugar in it. 56, that’s more than a can of coke! It’s got added added sugar, added glycerine, added this, whoa. Just give me unadulterated cranberry juice please.
You can find it but you have to look at the labels.
Yeah. We’ve been to New York and we’ve been to Washington (DC), we’ve done a couple of cool things. We are in this amazing restaurant in New York that was about the size of a normal person’s kitchen, we’re not talking American kitchen because that’s ridiculous but a normal size kitchen. And, it was seriously cool and it was just how we imagined New York to be and it was really cool. Washington was good to say you’ve seen it, it was a bit clinical, everything looked a bit the same. It was cool, so we haven’t just ridden our bikes.
What’s next for you?
We go home, we race Ruddervorde the following weekend and then the first two World Cups the following week. Straight in. I’ve only got one race a weekend for a few weeks which is quite different from out here. But I get really good on the second day, when people seem to be tired, I can still go good, it works for me out here, we’ll see how the World Cups go, I’m quite excited.
Are you planning on doing all the World Cups?
Yep. Every one of them, the full GVA series and any of the Superprestige that I get a contract for, and then World Championships, Nationals and European Championships.
Thank you Helen for not only answering all our questions but for taking pity on me during my trip in January when I was feeling lonely in gray Belgium and taking me to her favorite chocolate shop in Belgium.