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Helen Wyman aims to build communities around cyclocross to keep girls in the sport

Jack Elton-Walters
11 Jan 2019

Helen Wyman targets 11th Nationals win, and looks to make a community of riders around her Helen 100 initiative

Taking the start line as defending champion, Helen Wyman will line up at the Cyclocross National Championships on Sunday looking for an 11th career title. However, regardless of the outcome of that race, she will continue working to improve the future of the sport and in particular the place of female riders within it.

The Helen 100 initiative, which saw a whole new category of race introduced at Azencross at Loenhout last month along with the funding of 100 entries to this weekend's races, is part of an overall push to build a community around cyclocross in the UK.

'There are a lot of really good clubs for young riders in the UK, male and female, and they do fantastic jobs but there are pockets of riders in the UK that don’t have other riders to ride with,' Wyman tells Cyclist over the phone on her way back to the UK for the weekend's racing.

'Parents are more reluctant to allow 14 and 15-year-old girls to go riding on their own, which I understand. But equally, who can they go riding with? So trying to create a kind of local community is also part of what we’re looking into with the Helen 100.'

Since its inception, the Helen 100 has already grown in scope and its founder is thinking about where to take it next.

'Initially, getting the entries in the Nationals for all riders was really important, and then we had a donation from the women at [cycling collective] the 5th Floor and that allowed us to run Loenhout as a junior girls race,' she explains.

'It was the first proper international junior girls race in Europe, and that was a huge success.

'There were 44 junior women from nine countries and there were still 70 elite women in the race later in the day. That’s along the lines of where I want to take the Helen 100 next, and also along the lines of increasing the community aspect of it.

'I believe that everybody should have the opportunity to race, and the same opportunity for girls as for boys.

'It’s not just about being able to compete with the elite women in the elite races, which they can, it’s much more about providing a new category for those girls so you increase the number of girls that are coming through the system.

'There were 114 women racing Loenhout which is, I’d imagine, the most women at any UCI day in Europe. By having that extra race you’ve already done that, and that’s really important as well, and that’s probably the direction the Helen 100 will go in.'

Community is a word Wyman comes back to time and again, and it's clear that she's trying to engender a wider structural change to the way cycling is participated in, partcularly by girls and young women here in the UK.

Despite the chosen riders having their entries paid for, Wyman doesn't believe that's the key to the Helen 100's growing popularity.

'I don’t think it was the money itself, I think it was the fact that these young riders really felt like they were part of a community and they wanted to be part of it,' Wyman explains.

'I had all these messages coming to me saying, "I’m so excited, my daughter’s in the Helen 100," and "Am I in the Helen 100? My friend’s in but I haven’t had an email!"

'You promote an excitement around it and that excitement creates a community, and that community is how riders stay in sport, and that’s the kind of thing the Helen 100 was more about and it’s that direction I want to take it in the future.

'You still have the elite element in terms of racing but you have a community element.'

Can her legs take her to number 11?

'The Nationals is always a much different race to the races on the Continent,' Wyman says when considering her chances of success on Sunday.

Wyman knows without question which rider is most likely to come between her and the top step of the podium: Nikki Brammeier.

'If you look at Nikki’s form over Christmas, it was really good and she was up there battling at the front of races whereas I haven’t been in the World Cups this year,' Wyman says.

'Nikki is the favourite for the race. But when it comes down to one-on-one racing it’s much harder than it is when other riders can take you away.

'I think I have as good a chance as any. With it being so fast, I think it will be much harder to make a difference and I wouldn’t be surprised if Anna Kay, Ffion James and Beth Crumpton were in a group as well towards the end of the race.'

On what looks like a fast, dry course, we should be in for some very frenetic and entertaining racing.