As a number of significant international cyclocross stars make their way back to Belgium after the mid-season break to begin the crazy Christmas ‘cross schedule, I thought it appropriate to reflect on the season so far for two of Britain’s leading ladies.
Great Britain are the UCI number one ranked nation in women’s cyclocross. Let us take a moment to reflect on that. Number one. In the World. Not the Netherlands, not France or the USA, not even Belgium. Great Britain.
Helping to put the ‘Great’ in Great Britain are Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris.
Helen and Nikki have accrued an amazing number of top results so far this season, and have, on a number of occasions, made up two-thirds of the podium! It is really special to be able to watch them race, to hear their names in the muddle of Flemish commentary and to recognise their praises sang, to see their skill and their strength, and to watch them lead some of cyclocross’ biggest and most prestigious races.
The girls have followed different paths to the top of cyclocross, but they share the fact that they, at one point or another, went it alone. Not a product of British Cycling, their successes are sadly overlooked. As cyclocross tries to globalise, we can increasingly live-stream races and get access to more results and reports. However, nothing tells the story better than the riders themselves.
In the first of a two-part piece, I talk to British Champion, Nikki Harris
I exchanged e-mails with Nikki, and as she flew from her training base in Girona back to Belgium a couple of weeks ago, she summed up her season to date.
For Nikki the season started with harrowing news of the loss of her team mate and friend, Amy Dombroski who was killed in a training accident. After suffering from chest infection in the lead up to the first races of the season, Nikki’s sense of self-pity was brought sharply into context. With preparation for the season climaxing and all the emotions and stress that this entails, coming to terms with Amy’s death was very difficult: “to be honest when it happened just a few days before the season began it didn’t seem real”. “Then there was my first win of the year in Ronse, just a day after her funeral. It was one of my proudest moments to win there, yet it felt so wrong to celebrate”.
Though emotionally it was not time to move on, physically Nikki left Ronse and continued on into her season.
Nikki describes the travelling circus of the sport as the “cross circle” –
“It seems to be that so much happened in the first part of the season, that I can’t remember driving from one race to the next. I’ve had messages and people saying congrats for my results and I’m having to stop and think what races they are talking about.
I say that because with cross it’s not like the road; you don’t just turn up, get your bike out and race. There is so much that goes along with it, and after a while it’s just one big rotating circle of getting to a race looking at the course, bike set up and pressures, getting in the camper, getting changed in and out of muddy clothes, pre race food, roller warm up, start, race, finish, podium (hopefully), cool down, talk about the race a little, washing the kit, eating, sleeping, then getting up the next day and doing it all over again. The song eat sleep rave repeat, with the ‘rave’ changed for ‘race’ fits pretty well“.
Upon reflection, and having some quiet time free from the cyclocross orbit, it seems Nikki can begin to piece everything together. There is a lot to consider, to be fair. It has been a hugely successful season, but also one fraught with sadness.
“I really needed this time to just take a breath away from racing and take a few things in. First and foremost was the death of Amy. Going to races knowing someone should be in the camper with you going through all these race emotions and then it hits you that they aren’t there because of sickness or an injury, but because they were killed. Her face on the camper every time we turn up to a race or her voice in my head with her Americanisms before we raced are all still there. That’s been really tough and now is the only chance I’ve really got to let that sink in. It’s not the same for the other girls who just get up and carry on racing every weekend because we are still in it, she was our team mate who should be there with us at the races. I’ve tried to put it in a big box in my head and break it down, use all her positivity she carried around and the love of the sport to really help me drive on in these races. I think that’s helped me a lot”.
“I guess that it is only now that I have had a chance to really look at the podiums I’ve had already this season and be happy. Second at the Europeans , a few wins and I still can’t get my head round being on a World Cup podiums. When I started cross back in 2009 I would always dream of that and think to myself, ‘Jesus how will I ever get there?’, and now I’m sitting here having 3/3 World Cup podiums this season. It makes me smile and know that all this hard work I’ve been doing is going somewhere and it’s pushing me more and more to dig that bit deeper in training to get the most out of myself so I can keep getting results. I’ve had Podiums and another 2 year contract signed with team Telenet which I’m hugely happy about”.
Being part of one of the largest and best renowned cyclocross teams in the World is no less than Nikki deserves. The security and support that Telenet Fidea give Nikki is superb to see, and I hope it will encourage young riders to see that although there isn’t a well-trodden and specific pathway to the top for cyclocross in Britain, there are big teams supporting British talent.
As Christmas nears and many of us begin to unwind for the festive period, the World’s top ‘crossers begin to ramp up for the most intense spell of racing all season.
“I’m really motivated at the moment…before the major races over Christmas begin and I take a deep breath before the cross circle of races start all over again”.
It has been a second successive ‘breakthrough’ year for our National Champion. After emerging into the top ranks last year, it is now no longer any surprise to see Nikki at the business end of the World’s biggest cyclocross races, maybe because now she is pedalling with the power of two…
[‘The Seaon So Far with…Helen Wyman’ is coming very soon. Keep those eyes peeled! Over and out for now]