Every fortnight, Helen Wyman will be bringing us insights from her travels through the cyclocross season. In this week’s Wyman Wednesday, she welcomes the Belgians to her South France training camp and introduces them to Helen’s Hills, which it turns out, are much steeper than those found in Belgium. 

by: Helen Wyman

Just over two years ago I bought a house in a little village called Rennes Les Bains in the foothills of the Pyrenees in South France. I’ve been training here every spring for about 10 years—it’s safe to say Belgium in spring is not endurance riding-friendly—so I know the area really well and I always thought it would make an amazing training camp location. This last week I have gotten to try it out with the Belgian Donen/Vondelmolen Women’s cyclocross team.

The weather has been occasionally terrible in Europe this summer, so I’m pretty sure they were excited to come down here despite not knowing quite what to expect. It’s a new training area for all of them, as they’ve stuck to the familiar paths of Spain in the past.

I really feel this area could become a huge centre for training in the near future and it’s certainly my intention to open the doors to as many up-and-coming riders as possible. Although the first day it did actually rain on them for a few minutes, I believe it was just to ease them in gently because after two days of training we hit 35°C and the Belgians started evaporating!

© Stef Wyman

Helen also got some practice descending the “small hills.” © Stef Wyman

Helen’s Hills for the Belgians

Geert Wellens (ex-Belgian cyclocross national champion, superstar) founded and manages the Donen/Vandelmolen team. He asked for specific terrain on different days, starting with small hills—big to most folks who’ve grown up in Flanders—and moving on to medium hills.

Well, basically, my medium hill rides are most peoples’ holy cow that was a lot of climbing! ride. I took the team on my favourite Gorges of Galamus epic ride with a smidgeon under 1,000 meters of climbing in 2.5 hours. As we crested the top of the first hill, I pointed at the col sign and said, “Look guys, we are already higher than the highest point in Belgium!” It turns out they call that a lot of hills.

I’m kind of used to training with just me, or just me and my husband, so riding in a group has been nice. We have been able to keep the pace high and rotations in the valley are such good fun. There is the occasional shout of “kak” or “pas op.”

Here are my two Belgian words for you today:

Kak: Turd

Pas Op: Look Out

© Stef Wyman

Helen and her guests got some chances to ride together. © Stef Wyman

Learning From a Master

Geert told me how he had been training for La Cannibale (a really long sportive that included Mont Ventoux) by just riding in Belgium. He has a 15km route that takes in 6 motorway bridges and he just repeats it to get climbing in. If nothing else in life, it shows you why Belgians are so disciplined at training and ultimately so successful. It’s similar to the respect I have for Canadians training all day, every day on the straightest of straight roads. It takes so much discipline to enjoy that kind of training.

I have also been able to share my cyclocross training venue with the team. The ground by this time of year is cracked and dusty like molting snakeskin. The Belgians’ lack of toe spikes meant they were all a bit like Bambi on Ice on the dusty steep run-up but it didn’t faze them. We could definitely have done with some sponges on strings though for the heat!!

“He has a 15km route that takes in 6 motorway bridges and he just repeats it to get climbing in. If nothing else in life, it shows you why Belgians are so disciplined at training and ultimately so successful.”

© Stef Wyman

The run-ups got a little loose in the parched summer conditions. © Stef Wyman

Geert has a great depth of knowledge from his cyclocross career and it’s awesome to see how my ’cross training sessions compare to the ones he runs for his team. Although I’m here to help and provide insight, I’ve also learned some stuff from him, showing you are never too old to listen to others and improve yourself.

Resting and Recharging Before ’Cross Season

It’s 25 days to the first race of the season for me, which will be the Brico Cross in Belgium. Good news is I hear this will also be televised live. Then I’ll be off to the USA the following day to get my annual fix of ’Merican life. I think it’s been five or six years since I actually started a season in Europe and I guess with Belgium in September you never know what you’re going to get.

Everyone knows I perform a rain dance most Friday nights from September through February, so fingers crossed we can have a less dusty start to the season than I remember the last time I rolled up to the start line in Belgium in September. [Ed. note: We will work on getting a video of Helen’s Friday rain dance]

Wyman gets being interviewed by a fan with a phone in portrait mode after her UCI C2 win. 2016 Jingle Cross Day 1 Cyclocross Night Race. © D. Mable / Cyclocross Magazine

File photo: Helen Wyman after doing her Friday night rain dance. 2016 Jingle Cross Day 1 Cyclocross Night Race. © D. Mable / Cyclocross Magazine

Since the last Wyman Wednesday, I’ve headed home from the Alps after a successful training camp. It’s not just training, it’s a break, a change and a chance to refocus from build up to final preparation.

I was also lucky enough to be able to confirm Verge Sports as my clothing supplier for the next two seasons. It’s always humbling to gain the support of a partner, and of course with that comes the responsibility of proving a sound platform for their promotion. You might have seen my new look for the start of the season, but this will change again on January 1 of next year. You’ll have to wait a bit longer for the new design though, as there is still much to be put in place.

Right, I’m off to open a window as it’s tub gluing season and I need some air.

Tot Straks