women racers elite cyclocross cycling scotland

Scottish cycling podcast 13: Female racers stepping up from Junior to Elite

In this show I recap some thoughts from a conversation with Helen Wyman about women’s cyclocross, young rider development, sponsorship and her upcoming trip to Scotland. Unfortunately the recording failed but as I mentioned on my previous show, you need to bounce back from these sorts of setbacks, whether it’s in cycling, podcasting or life, by getting back to what you do as soon as possible.

With this in mind I thought I’d recap some of the key points we discussed in a short snappy show.

Listen on the player below, or on iTunes.


Helen Wyman has represented the athletes on the UCI cross commission for several years now and has achieved good things for women’s racing, starting with equal prize money at Koppenbergcross.

Read more in this article on Cycling Weekly.

Melissa Lowther and Sigrid Jochems of Matrix Fitness Vulpine

With 300-400 euros start money in Belgian cross races, as well as prize money and support from sponsors, you can race most weekends in belgium and make a living.

The television coverage for women’s race is getting better. They used to be a five minute highlights package shown before the men but are now often shown in full. At a recent race this January, the men got 1.3m viewers within Belgium while the women got 1m. Average viewing figures for the 2015-16 season on Sporza were around 500,000.  That’s pretty massive, given that Flanders has a population of 6 million people, and the live coverage for women has opened up a whole new market of exposure for sponsors, and in turn, for athletes looking to get funding.

I asked whether personality, giving time to the fans and your brand as an athlete had anything to do with it and the answer was no – it’s basically all down to sporting ability. The promoters want the best racers and the best competition for their event.

The downside is that the racing in Belgium is very hard! And that as a young female athlete you go from junior racing with under 18 competitors into the senior elite women – with the best in the world. There is no under 23 staging post to build up your ability, except in national and world championship races. So an 19-23 year old femal rider is in danger of getting a kicking in the races – either getting pulled out if you get lapped, or demoralised because it’s difficult to get a good result.

What she is trying to do with her team, Next Wyman, is to bridge this gap between juniors and elite women, and this year she has taken on Amira Mellor, a 19 year old racer who is focusing on cyclocross.

Back in episode 9 I spoke to XC mountain biker Kerry Macphee, whose goal is to make the step up to UCI world cup mountain bike races.
She was looking for a way to get points but also to get higher quality racing than in the UK, but not as tough as the UCI World Cup. The way to do this was to travel to places like Turkey and Portugal for UCI class 3 or class 2 XCraces.

Helen recommended cyclocross in Spain as a way to get competition against good quality fields without getting quite as much of a kicking as you would in Belgium. These are UCI C2 races, so two levels below the UCI world cup – the same level as a British National Trophy but with better competition.

The French cup is possibly another place these are C1 races and there are three of them, in October, November and December.

UCI website cyclocross calendar

We discussed sponsorship how to make your racing career sustainable. Always looking to get value for your sponsors is something you need to keep front of mind. But Helen talked about how long she had been with her bike sponsor, Kona, and that she felt part of the family there. Finding a company you can be a part of, you can work with as well as for is important. A company that shares your values and what you are trying to do is a sponsor that you can enjoy a long term relationship with.

My own views are that to share the values of a sponsor, you have to know what your own values are! If you can articulate what you stand for, why you are racing and what you are looking to achieve, you can offer something deeper and more compelling that sponsors, fans or even your clubmates and community can get behind. The reasons, if you can put your finger on them, are often bigger than bike racing itself and might be things like equality, the environment, health and wellbeing, fighting disease or poverty, helping young people. Organisations like MTN-Qhubeka or Axel Merckx’s U23 team are run with this strong sense of purpose in mind.

This takes me back to episode 11 when I talked about my own motivation (or lack thereof) and the fact that the reason I was training and racing was an escape from my problems. Not necessarily the healthiest or most productive reason to be riding a bike.

Good luck to anyone looking to step up their own racing next season. I’d love to hear your plans or ambitions.

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