The growth of women's racing in the UK
Here I am, once again, sitting in my ‘office’ for the weekend thinking how busy I have been of late. You’d think being a cyclo-cross rider that I should disappear for the summer with training only to return for the first week of September. As much as I love this idea my coach has others. So, I’ve been back racing with narrower tyres, better brakes and many more riders to contend with.
I say my ‘office’ however I don’t expect any sympathy as this weekend is being spent in La Roche-en-Ardenne in the hilly south of Belgium - close to the famous World Cup mountain bike venue of Houffalize. It’s sunny and I’m playing on a mountain bike in preparation for the Mountain Mayhem 24-hour event next weekend. Eventually I will return to this point during my blog once I have provided you with detailed description of the excitement that is my life between my last blog and today and in a way only a woman can.
As mentioned, I’ve started doing a bit of road racing. This is always a bit strange as I am always less fit at this time of year and expect more than my poor little body can actually give. It’s always a bit of a slap in the face. The first race this year was no different and delivered a very wet slap in the face with a wet fish or should I say my first drowning in Bedford.
The standard of women’s racing in the UK continues to improve. Gone are the days when strong but technically inept late 20 and early 30-year-olds drop into the sport. These are riders who either sink or swim. Now the best girls are much younger and the UK now has a junior world champion in Lucy Garner. We also have strong young teams like Matrix Fitness-Prendas with an average age of 19-years-old. Suddenly even with the usual dropout rate we have a potentially fantastic future. This coincides nicely with the progression of the only televised race series in the UK for women, the Johnson Health Tech Grand Prix series. This has grown from just one round two years ago to five this year and the IG Nocturne for women was also televised.
During this series of races there have been a few features discussing the opinions on the discrimination between men and women’s racing. I want to put it out there that I genuinely believe women’s racing in the UK is truly in exciting times. We have the talent across all levels from junior to elite, we have opportunities to reward our sponsors in the form of the ever-coveted television time and we have structured teams desperate to take every step they need to grow to the next level. Of course there are inequalities between genders but for a sport that is historically dominated by the men from the grass roots and up, this is what we have come to expect. We do have to remember our sport is not alone. However, I do believe change is happening and in life I have always found things that progress slowly have a much higher chance of surviving into the future.
Anyway, off my high horse, I can tell you I have really enjoyed the JHT GP series as it has been fantastic to be part such a progressive event. Although, as the series went on, I had a few near death experiences as the races became faster and more aggressive. In Woking, the penultimate round, I actually had to elbow a bike-less rider out of my path or crash. I realised how outrageous this story must have seemed when recalling in great detail to Annie, the series winner, and how brave I had been. Maybe the description of the bead of sweat rolling down my brow or my life flashing in front of me didn’t help with the realism part. However, it really was true, honest.
Having decided that lady luck was definitely starting to get bored of helping me I made a concerted effort not to get in a position to require her help in the final round. That and the fact that I am a cross rider and hate people or at least racing in close proximity to other people. This spurred me into attacking after approximately 500 metres and riding entirely alone for the next 40 minutes. Luckily there was a team competition going on behind which, being the only member of my team, was not involved and I was allowed to stay well clear and celebrate my first victory of the road season in style. My mum said after the race that’s the best birthday present ever, hmm yeah I have an admission mum, that could be the only one this year!
This last race brings me neatly back to the Ardennes. Well, firstly via Bedford for a short five-hour sleep, a ferry and a bike swap in my Belgium home. I loved every minute of my first proper off-road ride on my new Kona 29er despite scaring myself a few times. It seriously rocked and I can’t wait for tomorrow.
My next race is the 24-hour mountain bike event that I will be riding as the token girl with Hargroves Cycles. It should be a fun event except for the night shift which I will obviously be trying to shirk due to my rubbish night vision. At least there will be some interesting stories to tell.
- Helen Wyman
Follow British 'cross champion Helen Wyman during the 2012-2013 season as the Kona factory team rider competes in both the United States and Europe through to the 2013 world championships in Louisville, Kentucky. Based in Belgium for seven years, Wyman has won the British 'cross championship seven years running, notched victories in the US and Europe and has stood on the podium at 'cross World Cups.
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