An interview with Wendy Simms, November 25, 2005
Having spent most of her racing career as a privateer mountain biker, Wendy Simms has enjoyed an excellent 2005, riding 'cross for Kona and accumulating an impressive tally of results in both MTB and 'cross. At last weekend's USGP of Cyclocross final round she managed to beat Lyne Bessette and take second overall in the series, exerting a level of dominance over Bessette not seen this season. With a wedding just around the corner and her job as a biologist keeping her busy, she managed to squeeze in some time to talk to Cyclingnews' Les Clarke.
When Cyclingnews interviewed Simms earlier this year she spoke about the fact that nobody really knew who she was, even when amongst the leading riders at the Sea Otter Classic. Riding as a privateer and sponsored by her partner Normon Thibault's running shop Frontrunners and Helly Hansen, Simms took second place overall in the cross country race, beating the likes of big-team riders such as Alison Dunlap, Mary McConneloug and Dara Marks-Marino over the four stages.
During this 'cross season, Simms has been a part of the Kona team, riding the USGP of Cyclocross series and finishing second to Lyne Bessette at the Canadian national championships held earlier this month. But at last weekend's USGP of 'cross final Simms took her revenge, becoming the first rider to beat Bessette all season, propelling her to second in the final series standings. Simms wasn't exactly expecting the win, but knew what was required, saying, "I definitely knew it was going to be a big challenge - I was gunning for it and it was definitely a goal, for sure. But I knew everything would actually have to come together to beat her and it happened last weekend."
Simms' preparations for the two races in California weren't exactly ideal, and a long season of racing appeared to have caught up with her. "Actually, I've been really tired - I had to go back to Gloucester, then come back to BC for work and then go back for nationals all in a week. So, I was pretty tired after that and the week before San Francisco I just said 'screw it, I'm resting - nothing's going to change that now' and it ended up working for me," she says.
The 33-year-old from Nanaimo, BC, has been Bessette's closest rival all season, and after winning the Canadian national cyclocross championships in 2003 and '04, Bessette's incredible form shone through this year - something Simms recognises, even if it means wins are tough to come by. "I stuck with her [Lyne] a lot but then she opened up a pretty serious gap; I was bummed about that. I raced against her the next day in Aurora where I had a better race and managed to stay closer to her - about 20 seconds - but still didn't feel like I was on fire. This season she's really strong - I think she's been working on her technical skills and putting in her time."
Simms has enjoyed riding with USGP series champion Barry Wicks plus Ann Knapp, Ryan Trebon and manager Mark Peterson at Kona, but is making the move to Velo Bella/Kona next season where she'll race MTB for the Bellas and possibly cyclocross, although that's not final just yet. Of her time at Kona Simms says, "I've learned a lot from Ann and Ryan and Barry; they're really laid back and there's not a lot of pressure. They've had a great year but they don't put that pressure on you and let you think about the things you need to think about. It's a really fun group for sure." She made the team move through her connection with Kona, and was part of the deal when the Canadian mountain bike specialists signed up to support Velo Bella. Simms is very positive about the move, saying, "I was hoping to talk to Kona about mountain bike and then this Velo Bella deal came up - it means I'll be taken care of for mountain bike as well. They've been really good to me; they're awesome and really experienced."
Simms will be team captain at Velo Bella/Kona, something that's foreign to her, but she's hoping it can all work out with her fellow Bellas. "I've mostly been a privateer, on my own, with Normon helping me out," she says, "It's going to be different having that support to go to some of the bigger races. It'll be interesting and a bit harder because I'm from Canada and no one else is out here [in BC]; I'll have to fly in close to the event because of work, then race and fly out straight after. I hope it works out." She's looking forward to being part of a bigger, yet tight-knit group of racers she respects. "Everyone's got something different to offer the team, and there are girls who are really talented and strong with tactics - I think I can learn from that. I've got to know a few of the team just through cross and they're great. I'm really excited about it."
Next season Simms will be concentrating on making the Canadian MTB world's team, saying, "My goal is definitely to get on the world's team for Canada and go to mountain bike world's. I've had that in the back of my mind for the past few seasons." Work has prevented her racing any qualifying races during the month of May, when she heads overseas for her work as a biologist. "I go away a lot in the summer for work; I'm not there for all the selection races and I got passed over this year, so I realised I have to be there for all the right races and stuff like that," she says. But Simms' workplace, Malaspina University College, has a flexible attitude to her racing, and has been very supportive. She doesn't regret missing out on riding for Canada and appreciates the opportunities she's had, saying, "They're really flexible - I've just had the opportunity to go to Belize every summer for the past three years - so it was pretty hard to give up that opportunity. I've taught for the biology field school anywhere from three to six weeks which definitely jeopardises your mountain bike season. I can't really ride my bike there, but it was a great experience and I really enjoyed my time there."
With her many commitments, including work, racing, her partner and just maybe a little spare time, how does Simms handle having so many things to do? "It definitely throws a little twist into it - sometimes I have weeks where I go 'why the hell am I juggling two things? I'm doing two things crappy and I should just pick one.' It really helps that my work is supportive - they were the ones who raised the money for my airline ticket to world's the last two years, and they cover me when I go away. I don't feel like I'd be able to do this if they weren't as good as they are."
Speaking of next year's world's, Simms has a different training schedule in store for the race in Zeddam, which includes having a tan at the end of January. "I won't be able to go to world's until the week before, so my next race will be the Hoogerheide world cup in the Netherlands just before world's. But my partner Normon and I will get married in a week and a half and we're going to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon - that'll be my racing and training! We're going to take our bikes and ride. It's been a busy fall so I'm definitely looking forward to it. It may not be the traditional world's training, but I'll take it, and I'll go to world's with a tan!"
Simms says she loves to get some adventure racing under her belt when she can, and it's also time she can spend with partner Normon, who's her number fan and supporter. "In the spring and summer there's a lot of adventure racing I use as cross training, which is really good for the brain. I can go out and do a one-day or a two or three-day race where there's a whole bunch of disciplines and you're not just on the bike the whole time. And Norm does tonnes of training with me - we do adventure races together so it's really fun. He's a good partner for that," she says. They met through Thibault's running shop in Nanaimo when she had just moved to the area and was looking for some good trails - and according to Simms, "Norm was able to show me where the good stuff was, and it went from there."
At 33 years of age, Simms isn't the youngest rider in the ranks, but believes her late start at the elite level means she can keep going for longer, saying, "I started late for sure - after I finished my undergrad - because I was working I never thought I'd do it seriously and I didn't want to have two jobs. I told myself I'd race as long as I was having fun and improving." When she kept improving rapidly she decided it was time to get serious, but keep having fun. "I never had a coach for the longest time, but when I made it to world's for the first year I got a little more serious - that was ok, but it still felt like a lot of work, so I got my brother [through the Hardwood Hills training Centre] to start coaching me and he's been really good. He understands the work issue and that I need the cross training - I can't just be on the bike all the time. He's an adventure racer himself and the one that got me into this stuff, so it's definitely been really good for my brain and I'm having a good time."
Simms' brother Kevin places emphasis on cross training and time off the bike, something she believes gives her an edge while on the bike. "I had my best Sea Otter ever last season, and two weeks before that I did a six-hour adventure race; everyone thought I was nuts because they knew I was focussed on Sea Otter," she says, adding, "My brother was like, 'yeah, go do it, whatever, you'll have a good time and get your hours in, it doesn't matter if it's off the bike'. It just kept my brain away from the number of hours I'd been on the bike - it was great." And her results at Sea Otter speak for themselves.
So with a small but dedicated team of supporters including partner Normon and brother Kevin, both of whom Simms describes as "awesome", she's been able to achieve a lot in the MTB and cyclocross ranks. And with even greater objectives for the coming season, she's going to need all the support she can get, including her new teammates at Velo Bella and the crew at Kona. But doing things a little differently, and maintaining a positive focus on and off the bike has helped Simms become a force in North American off-road racing; 'next stop, world's'.