Helen Wyman is an accomplished cyclist by anyone’s definition. A highly experienced road cyclist, she switched her focus to cyclocross in 2009 but is part of the lineup for the Matrix Fitness Vulpine team for the inaugural Friends Life Women's Tour.
She'll be mentoring the team, the only domestic squad to take part in this game-changing event. On the eve of the race itself, we caught up with her to talk about what it means to her to be riding in this historic event.
What does it mean to you to be riding in the Women’s Tour?
It’s really exciting! It’s the first women’s stage race in the UK and, other than a World Cup race in Wales once, you don't often get to ride against the best riders, in your own country.
This was an amazing opportunity to race in East Anglia where I grew up. I was born in St Albans, and one of the stages finishes in Welwyn. I went to university in Hatfield and the Tour goes through Cheshunt, on the training grounds I used to ride on, and my parents moved to Norfolk when I was little.
As well as racing, what will your role be for the Matrix Fitness Vulpine team?
I’m mentoring them; for me it’s more about helping the girls get as good a positioning as they can. To make the most of the race, to not burn too much energy, to keep eating and drinking and all those things that are normal to you in a national level race but in an international level race you forget because it's new and it's exciting and it's different to them. It’s going to be so ridiculously hard that they won’t have experienced anything like this before.
I’m there to make sure they are okay, then to help Sigrid Jochems get to the best position before the finish, and hopefully get up there in the finish. But anything could happen! It’s road racing – so much is out of your control.
You've been involved in the sport for a long time, do you feel that things have changed?
I think that the biggest change has come in terms of the professionalism. I think that there are a lot more professionally run teams than there have ever been before. When I started there was like one, and now you can list at least four or five that you know are run in a very very good way.
I know when you compare it to the men, and it will be a long way until we are, but equally, they’re not doing a bad job, and the new races that come into the racing calendar are much more professionally come. Like this race, which is run by a professional company that run cycle events.
And the number of riders, the strength and depth and quality of the riders in the professional peloton is much higher for sure.
What do you think the impact of The Friends Life Women's Tour will be on women’s cycling in the UK?
I think the biggest thing is opening people eyes to that this is happening around the world. They’ll be able to see these riders that look like athletes that are racing at the best of their abilities and everything that goes with it – the carnival that goes alongside professional women’s cycling.
Maybe it will inspire different people, because its something they can relate to, and hopefully it will get kids excited and generally more people riding their bikes.
When you are racing, what goes through your mind?
Not a lot? I couldn’t really tell you! I could in a cross race, but in a road race…?
“You need to move up, when was the last time you drank, who’s that moving to the front, why is that team there, who’s just attacked….’ You’re not actually thinking anything, it’s just happening. The more races you do, the more automatic your responses get.
I’ve no doubt I’ll be rusty as it’s been a long while since I’ve been in a UCI race, which was last July, and it was a .2 race and a very different kind of race.
If you’re in a big team, that’s contesting a race, it’s different and you’ll have a job. It’s different for our team; we’re there to represent national level cycling in the UK, and for us it’s all about doing the very best we can to showcase how good we are.
Do you ever get any low moments when you are racing, and if so how do you deal with them?
I don't really get low moments. Racing is tough, but you can’t control how people are racing around you. You put in the best performance that you can and I’m the kind of rider that I know if I’ve put everything in. If I haven’t then I’m disappointed in myself.
For me, there’s no such thing as a low moment in a race because that's not really what its about. As long as you put everything in, you can’t really be disappointed in what you’ve done.
You'll be training hard, but do you have any guilty pleasures?
Belgian chocolate? Not a lot though – that would counteract the training I’d have done.
Do you have any pre-race rituals?
I always have my cuddly toys with me; lucky ratty, who’s Ratatouille, and Harry, who’s a cat. He’s currently dressed in a monster outfit. They’ll be at the tour.
Which stage are you most looking forward to and why?
I’m looking forward to all of them. Probably the fifth one the most because it’s the last one!
They’re all very different, they’re all exciting, and it’s going to be interesting to see how people race on British roads. It's a lot different terrain to what people are used to as it’s constant rolling hills.
I’m just excited to ride the tour! And to see all the exciting things the towns have planned; Bedford have said they want 10,000 people out and that would be amazing if they got that! Oundle has a four-day festival. I’m kind of interested to see what everyone has planned.
Have you got many people coming out to cheer you on at any point?
Loads of people are coming out to cheer us, and we’ve met a lot of people over the years that I know will be out watching. I think overall this event will have a bigger reach than people anticipate!
Could you describe youself in three words?
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