Helen Wyman reports on the 2016 World Cyclocross Champs (and on mechanical doping)

Wow, that was an incredibly exciting weekend of bike racing at the world championships in Zolder. I’m pretty sure every event had incredible heart stopping moments although not all for the right reasons. For me it was never going to be my world championships; it was too fast and too tactical. These are both things I have worked really hard on but I just didn’t have the legs on the day. I put myself in the right position at the start, but sadly nothing else happened, the legs weren’t there.  The women’s race was incredibly exciting with so many lead changes, so many attacks and such a hard fought battle for the win. Cross really is an exciting sport to watch when the level of the riders is so equal. Although to be fair Thalita de Jonge’s last lap was significantly faster than anyone else’s in the race.

For the worlds Stef and I have stayed away from the team hotel for a few years now as we like to keep the same routine we have for every race, so this time last year I booked us a hotel. We normally stay in a cute little house on the edge of the Zolder course but they were already booked. So I just found a place on the usual websites I use. On Saturday, tailwind assisted, I rode from the course to the B&B to spin my legs a little.

At this point I should add that I used to live this side of Belgium and used to drive or ride past establishments called ‘Gogo girls’, ‘motel session’ and ‘cupido’ most days. All stood out with the private parking areas and neon lights. Anyway, arriving at the hotel, on the corner of two main roads, with neon lights around the ‘luxe kamers’ sign by the enclosed court yard I was starting to question what I had done. I couldn’t imagine how a brothel could possibly be listed on bookings.com but I guess you can never really know! I did relax slightly when the lady was discussing if we wanted tea or coffee in the morning.  I realise my knowledge of the inner workings of such places is based on hear say from young male bike riders, however none of them ever mentioned breakfast when recanting their tales! It turned out to be a lovely little hotel but funnily Stef’s initial first impressions had matched mine.

Saturday saw the first ever women’s under 23 cyclocross world championships. Which in itself is a big deal but for me personally it meant a huge amount as I’d played a role in making it a reality. To top off the icing on what was already a very tasty cake, was a win by the British rider Evie Richards. Britain has always been successful in Elite women’s cross and this just shows me that now and the future for GB is covered.

Then Saturday evening the news of the alleged “mechanical fraud” broke. For all the wrong reasons women’s cross was in the news. I cannot even begin to understand why or how this happened. I love my sport and I try so hard to progress the women’s side to the point where we can be equal to the men. I put my neck on the line to make changes for all the up and coming riders, and certainly to my own detriment at times, and then this.

We are a long way from equality, but we are equally so close. We have raised the profile, raised the potential and raise the media attention. Then I read this. I mean WHY. I just do not understand what a 19 year old girl could possibly gain by cheating. How can being successful at this level be that important to the people around her that they are prepared to do this with/for her. Winning u23 worlds is obviously huge, but it’s not completely life changing. It doesn’t guarantee you huge sums of money or massive salaries; you will not be famous overnight from it. So to me doing this is just plain stupid, if it’s proved to be real or true. I don’t even know how to describe it really.

The very top level of elite level racing is genuinely not that hard to be part of. I do train incredibly hard, I do work on technique, I do core stability, I watch what I eat, I go to bed early, I study races, I study racers, I do all those things that athletes do but with hard work it’s possible to get there. This year it seems like more riders have won UCI races than ever before, we have had 4 different winners of 6 world cups. There’s not one rider who can’t be beaten on the right day. No one needs an engine to be there, we are all just doing it on hard work and determination.Helen - Zolder - Bart Raeymaekers 1

Having said all that I do think that if it’s proven to be real or true and it actually happened, she and her immediate pit crew should be banned. I don’t however think she should be made an extreme example of. I have read a lot on the Internet stating how this is worse than doping. To me personally it is not, they’re both cheating. The culture of doping is to me something that makes it such a horrid thing. When a 17 year old British kid took EPO last year because he wanted to see why the pros did it, this is terrible. That kid could have already damaged his health, he could have killed himself, as riders did back in the 90/2000s because he was following what others do. Even if the same 17 year old wanted to see what it felt like to ride a bike with an engine he would suffer no physical consequences.

To me this is about cheating and should be treated as such and punished appropriately for the fraud that occurred, not as a witch hunt to prove a point. No one has to agree with me this is just how I feel.

So then we move on to day two of the championships and that poor Czech u23 who thought the race was a lap shorter than it was and celebrated a win before realizing his mistake. Absolute drama.

In the afternoon the men’s race was way more interesting than it had looked set to be. As the MVDP show down just didn’t work out. Obviously not helped by the foot in wheel incident! Instead we got a thrilling, lead changing, down to the wire race. A fantastic way to end the weekend. Plus I got a few minutes in the UCI TV channel booth with Anthony and Simon, to see a different way to watch the race, this time from the commentators viewpoint. That was a lot of fun and significantly warmer than standing outside! If you heard me hope I sounded knowledgeable. Plus I did call the winner FYI

The season for me isn’t quite over yet as here in Belgium we have the final bpost bank trofee, two Superprestige races and Oostmalle on the 21st February. More importantly it’s the cross commission meeting at the end of February where every thing gets decided for next season. I have plans people, women’s cross will be equal and this is the time to sort it. No rest for the wicked!!

Till then