Cyclo-cross specialist Nikki Harris is making quite the splash in her first-ever season with a professional contract to compete on the road. The new Boels Dolmans rider has raced every one of the Classics since the start of the season, proving to be a natural talent, helping world champion Lizzie Armitstead to two victories and placing in the top 10 herself.
"I've never done the Classics before, it's all totally new to me," Harris told Cyclingnews. "At the same time, I've been racing a long time. I have watched the Classics on TV, and my fiancé [Matt Brammeier of Dimension Data] races the Classics, so I've watched him, and remember thinking, 'thank God I'm not there racing in the cold weather for four or five hours', but now I'm doing it myself."
Boels Dolmans offered Harris a contract that started in January, partway through the cyclo-cross season. She had a standout fall-winter in cyclo-cross, especially in the World Cup series with a win in Namur, second at Koksijde, and third in Hoogerheide. She also finished fifth at the World Championships and won the British national title.
"I think I've come out of 'cross season well," Harris said. "During the 'cross season I'm not just doing 45-minute rides. I do a lot of endurance riding during the week. I also had a good summer of training last year and that has given me a good base and confidence in knowing that I can be at the front in these road races and do my job."
Harris said she spoke with Boels Dolmans team manager Danny Stam in November and December, and they planned for her to go straight into the Classics after finishing her cyclo-cross season. She would then take a break in April.
"I finished 'cross season three weeks ago and then met the team in Alicante at the training camp," Harris said. "I had one weekend off and started the Classics last week with four races in one week.
"Everyone has been so nice and welcoming on the team. It's great to be able to just jump into a team like that and be able to race with them and do the job that they are asking of me."
Harris helped Armitstead to victories at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche, where she finished 22nd and 23rd herself. She also placed sixth at Le Samyn des Dames and 13th at Omloop van het Hageland.
"I wasn't meant to race Het Nieuwsblad but one of the girls was sick and Danny asked if I wanted to race. I said, 'Yep, definitely, I'll give it a go and that went really well," Harris said.
"I'm not going for results for myself at these races, so it was a bonus that I finished in those places. I've been on the front flat-out for the team, and it just happens that when the race splits up I'm there doing my job."
Targeting Great Britain selection to the Olympic Games
Only at the start of her first full season of racing on the road, Harris has set her target high as she aims to earn one of the remaining two spots on Great Britain's national team for the road race at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Her plan is to be strong enough to help Armitstead win the goal medal. Armitstead said she would give up any result this year to win a medal at the Olympics.
"I want to get to the Olympics to help Lizzie do a good job there, and that is a huge goal," Harris said. "Obviously, there are a lot of races before that and a lot of races where I can do a good job."
Harris will race the Classics and then take a much-deserved break in April, and during that time, she and Brammeier plan to get married. "Danny Stam and I spoke about everything and decided to go straight from the cyclo-cross season into the road season, which I have done, then race until April and have a bit of rest, which is when I'm getting married, so that fits in well."
She will pick up racing again in May at the Tour of California Women's Race, but she was not sure of the rest of her schedule. She said late spring and early summer would serve as a good opportunity to build form and earn a possible Olympic selection in her hopes of supporting Armitstead in Rio.
"That is what I would like to do," Harris said of her potential role on Great Britain's Olympic team, should she earn a spot.
Although the quota for nations' Olympic spots won't be announced until the end of May, Harris is fairly certain Great Britain will have three spots. Armitstead has an automatic spot on the team, and Harris believes the second spot is likely to go to comeback rider Emma Pooley, in which case, Harris will work to earn the third spot.
"At the moment we only have three, and that's pretty much what it's going to be," she said. "Obviously, it will be Lizzie, and then there are two more spots up for grabs.
"I know that Emma Pooley is making a comeback and wants to do the time trial as well, so she is pretty much going to be the second spot. There are a couple of us going for the third spot."
Other riders that could earn a spot are Dani King, Lucy Garner and Hannah Barnes, among others. "There are a few of us going for the spot, but I think it will be Lizzie's call, and GB's call, for who goes and does the job for her."