Interview from Laura Hannan
When did your interest in cycling begin?
I have always ridden a bike from long before I can remember as my parents took us away on cycle touring trips when we were very young! But I first started racing when I was 15 because my brother wanted to race and I had to do everything he did! In my first season of racing I remember racing with Nicole Cooke in under 16 races.
Did you have the support of your family and how did that contribute to your commitment to the sport? Do you still have that support?
My parents were and still are very supportive of what I do and used to take me to all the races I ever wanted to go to. I think it is important that they were keen to make it a family event so there was never any pressure it was purely for us to enjoy it, make friends and grow as people as well as athletes.
I am very lucky, my husband, who is also the manager of Vision 1 Racing, is an ex-racing cyclist and understands completely what it takes to be a professional cyclist so is able to support me in everyway.
(Vision 1 is: a four-year programme with the focus on preparing young talented athletes to perform and develop to the best of there abilities. It’s not necessarily based on results but giving opportunities to cyclists to learn
When did you begin to focus on goals and targets within the sport?
I really started to take racing seriously when I turned 23. I had finished University and had completed my junior rotations as a physiotherapist in the NHS. I won my first National Series Cyclo-Cross race and felt the time was right to take my cycling career to the next level.
In that season I was able to race a full road program riding with the national team and learnt pretty quickly what I could or couldn’t achieve within set time scales.
How did you feel the first time you reached a goal you set for yourself?
I think I probably felt excited and content but then you have to set yourself a new, higher goal and maybe you are never quite satisfied until you have reached the highest one.
One of the ultimate sporting achievements for any athlete has to be an Olympic medal and the good news for Helen is that Cyclo-Cross could feature in the Winter Olympics on 2010; a target for the future no doubt
There are many variations in cycling, what made you head towards Cyclo-Cross?
More due to the time factor than anything. When I was at University we had shorter holidays due to our placements at hospitals so I didn’t have the time in the summer but did in the winter. I came 4th in my first National Cup Cylco-Cross race and rode two World Cups in the same season.
If you ever get the chance to see a World Cup Cyclo-Cross race in Belgium or Holland, instantly you would be able to understand my inspiration!!!
Out of all your achievements, which ranks highest?
So far I think it has to be either winning National Cyclo-Cross Championships four times or winning my first Belgian road race. That felt pretty good after three years of second and third placings!!
2006 stands out as a particularly pinnacle year for you, becoming British National Cyclo-Cross Champion, among other titles, was this the case?
My first Nationals win was my biggest victory, the previous year I was capable physically of it but I don’t think I was mentally ready. The silver medallist in the 2000 World Cyclo-Cross Championships, Louise Robinson was my main competition both years but I managed to get a gap on her and stay away the entire race. After the race she said she knows how to peak to win and I beat her fair and square. To me at the time this was the biggest compliment coming from her and maybe the point that I started to believe I could compete at the top in this sport.
Helen went onto finish 5th in the World Championships that year.
How did you re-group and motivate yourself to go on and win the Nationals again in 2007?
Motivating myself to win a National Championships is never a problem when you have worn the jersey once you couldn’t bear to imagine not being able to wear it at every other race, as the prestige is enormous worldwide.
Britain has shown massive strength in the sport of cycling in recent years and seems to have been rewarded with the recognition it deserves; do you think this bodes well for the future of sport?
I really hope it does. I think that Vision 1 racing is the way to develop those young talented riders into the next Nicole Cooke. In the environment being established by the new team I really feel all the team can learn a lot from Nicole and each other as we all have different complimentary attributes.
British cycling has invested a lot of money in Olympic cycling disciplines which has led to increased participation numbers in those sports as well as huge success which allows Nicole to have a greater choice of riders from Britain to ride along side her.
For me, the most exciting event is going to be Cyclo-Cross at the Winter Olympics, I feel this, for me, could be amazing.
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By Mike Valverde