it has been tweeted on twitter that, in the light of the lance affair, several of those who have withdrawn their sponsorship dollars might just consider pointing this excess budget in the direction of a professional woman's race team. i believe the general expectation is that, should this actually happen, and i can see no reason why it's an outlandish expectation, that the bulk of the cash would head in the direction of a road team. but there's no real reason why it shouldn't incorporate a smidgeon (in this case, a big smidgeon) of cyclocross. sven nys' sponsor, landbouwkrediet do both as did the late lamented rabobank. perhaps christmas will come early this year and corporate largesse will do the decent thing, though i think i'd be the first to suggest that holding your breath would be a less than immediate proposition.
women's cycling garners differing levels of commitment across the world. i believe that the north american rapha focus team now has more women riders than men, one of whom is brit gabby day. nikki harris, riding for the telenet fidea cyclocross team won her first of the season at rudervoorde only the other weekend, while helen wyman has found it necessary to base herself in belgium, racing in both europe and north america to join the dots that make up a professional salary. all are tough, hardy individuals, otherwise they'd not be making such sacrifices to earn a living at their favoured flavour of cycling: cyclocross.
though it's presuming rather a lot, wouldn't it be just dandy if they all raced for the same british team?
the video displayed above was filmed by nick czerula, a photographer and videographer who first came to my attention via his photo book of a year in the workshop of richard sachs. by the benefit of good fortune, i met the man himself on richard's booth at the north american handmade bicycle show in march of this year. perhaps understandably, our conversation revolved principally around photography; in this case, black and white photography. i had no idea the guy was also a film-maker.
"I shoot quite a bit of video for work. Mostly technical and promotional. So when I have the chance to mix what I do all day with bikes, I take it."
now this is where i get myself into trouble (of sorts) and manifestly display my ignorance when it comes to matters of competitive sport. however, in mitigation, those of you who have watched the movie from end to end will perhaps allow yourselves to become complicit in my cluelessness. did anyone see any other cyclocrossers who looked as if they were about to trouble helen, let alone the timekeepers? exactly. so is it unnatural that i assumed the video was that of her pre-riding the course? thank you. i told you it wasn't just me. nick, however, had no intention of letting me off the hook...
"This was the RACE! Helen was off the front, crushing it. Awesome ride both days for her."
helen was perhaps a touch more willing to accept my glaring faux pax. ""The race the video was from Gloucester GP. It's a great weekend of racing on the north east coast, close to Boston. I raced last year on the same course and managed to win both days, and had a really good battle with Nicole Duke. This year it was Gabby Day who was pushing really hard. But I managed to win both day; Sunday was by a bigger margin than Saturday."
women's cyclocross in north america has a greater following than that of mainland europe if geoff proctor's behind the stare is to be believed. the level of participation in the usa seems greater, while the belgian thing is contracted to a handful of professionals, mostly, i'm led to believe, as simply a support event to the men's racing. therefore america ought to provide a greater number of personalities to support and shake cowbells at. with such a choice, why did nick opt to film helen wyman?
"Helen is great. She is sweet, kind and fun to be around. It doesn't hurt that I have a junior cyclocross racer who adores her. Plus, women's cycling needs more exposure. What better way to do it than with someone like Helen? My kid just might be the number one Helen Wyman fan."
as averred to above, i had not realised that nick shot video as well as his excellent stills photography. however, with seemingly never-ending development continuing apace in the digital camera market, it's becoming very hard to purchase a stills camera that doesn't have high-definition video capability as well. in which case, does nick use one of those all singing, all dancing dslr cameras to shoot video, or has he taken the plunge with a more dedicated offering?
"I shoot on a combination of cameras, dslr and dedicated. Depends on the shot, etc. My wife Ginelle also worked a camera for portions of this video."
the video, however, concerns only one person (no disrespect to those shaking their cowbells behind the barriers): helen wyman. putting aside my misunderstanding regarding just how far it is possible for one woman to be ahead of her competition, it will not have escaped your notice that the video opens with mrs wyman churning a turbo trainer. is this part of her regular race preparation?
"I always use a turbo trainer to warm up. I'm lucky to have CycleOps as a sponsor so I use their turbo trainers and also the PowerTap. Of course i can't take a turbo to the USA with me, so I have to rely on my team or the good folk at the races to lend me one. In the USA, the racers themselves are very friendly and always willing to help out. So I always do a turbo warmup, to a set power-defined session, and in time to a special and super secret music playlist."
if i might encourage you to take a second or third look at nick's video, paying particular attention to the ground under helen's fast-moving wheels, it seems that there's a wide range of surfaces on which the glouceter gp took place. there's grass, hardpack, squishy mud, sand and everything in between. is there any race surface which helen would prefer to avoid, or does she simply take everything in her particularly capable stride?
"Snow, I dislike snow. And ice. I'm pretty thin, and when it gets to ten degrees below, my body doesn't function so well. Plus hitting the ground in ice hurts a lot more. In sand you can normally laugh it off. But I love mud. That's where I'm most at home. Give me a muddy hillside any day of the week and I'll be hard to catch."
i've really got it in for myself today. having already admitted that i thought this video concerned itself solely with helen's pre-riding the course, i proceeded to compound the felony by asking helen just what it is she's looking for on this pre-race ride. happily, she yet again kindly overlooked my ineptitude and answered the question as if i had the faintest idea of which i speak.
"In a pre-ride I look for rocks, curbs, roots, or anything else that could make me flat. I look for grip, I look for ruts, I look for dismount and remount points. I look at the start grid for the best spot to pick, I study the last corner, and of course the first corner. I look for recovery zones, I look for technical challenges. It's the pre ride that gives you the best chance to win a race. You control your pre-ride, you can't always control your race."
warming up on a turbo trainer, riding in kona branded race kit, taking time to pre-ride the course in order to present a better chance of the win and running 'cross workshops for adulatory juniors (from which nick's daughter has gainfully learned). are these all signs that women's cyclocross is becoming more professional?
"Women's cross is becoming more professional. More teams are taking women riders on and the depth of the field is getting better. We are also getting more respect from some race organisers and from TV companies. The first World Cup got 25 minutes of highlights in Belgium. Fantastic news for the sport."
helen and husband stefan have based themselves in belgium, a not unnatural location of choice for a professional cyclocross racer whether male or female. though the racing may be more participatory in north america, and prize money might be more evenly distributed across racing for both genders, it's quite likely that there's a better living to be earned in europe with the possibility of start money and possibly a larger purse overall. why then, does helen endure the considerable travelling involved to compete across the pond?
"I go to the USA because I ride for an Amercian team, Kona. They have backed me for four years now and I love being a part of their team. I feel that I can reward them by getting results in their home country. The bonus of it all is I have some great friends there who I've met through racing. The people we stay with in the USA are like best friends and family rolled into one, and that environment brings out the best in me in terms of my racing. But there is a good and improving racing scene in Europe, and more and more races to choose from."
it is an often repeated story that glasgow's robert millar was once asked by a journalist how he earned his living when he wasn't racing. this as if wearing the king of the mountains jersey in the tour de france wasn't enough of a job in itself. i have perused helen wyman's considerable palmares: ranked fourth in the world and holder of the british cyclocross champion's jersey an incredible seven times. however, there is no mention of any competitive results other than those in 'cross. at the risk of receiving a millar type riposte, i asked what she did in the off-season?
"My off-season is the summer. I focus my year on 'cross; that is my chosen sport. I've ridden pro on the road, and I've been to several world road championships and most of the major races. I've had my success on the road, but 'cross is where my heart is. So I take a break after the season and in the summer I train and focus on putting the lessons I learnt the previous winter into action.
I also help a road team in the UK (Matrix Fitness/Prendas) as a mentor for their younger riders, so I spend quite a lot of time with them. I also eat cake and drink beer (not really, I hate beer) and try to enjoy life away from the stress of top level cyclo-cross."
all of which brings us back to a question that i should have perhaps led off with. what on earth is the connection between one of the finest women cyclocross racers in the world and a photographer whose day job involved painstakingly snapping images of motor car innards?
"Nick Czerula is a new member of American Family. A great guy, with a daughter who is hugely talented on the bike. He is a close friend of one of our closest chap-chums in the USA, Jerry Chabot. We all spent time together out there and basically the help these guys give me make the trips possible. If it wasn't for them I'd be back in Europe training. To be American about it, they are AWESOME!"
a vote of confidence and approbation from mrs wyman. in which case, does nick have any plans to produce more cycling related moving pictures in the near future, particularly now that there's an awful lot of cyclocross season left to run?
"I have some other things in the works. More promo, maybe some of it will be cycling related. You'll have to stay tuned..."
all photos copyright nick czerula. reproduced with permission.
thursday 25th october 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................