Helen Wyman: A Ball of Cheese and Three Litres of Beer

Whoever said that racing should be solemn and serious is wrong. This week I have done two of the most enjoyable races I’ve ever done, over completely different terrain, atmospheres and even different random prizes.

I’ve kind of got a bit hooked on night time races this season after having thought that being practically blind I would hate them. Technically I am just short sighted but to qualify my statement, I once went to a new swimming pool, took my glasses off, turned to go to the pool and thought some one had stolen it. I had to return to my locker, locate the pool with my glasses on and then tentatively slide my foot to the edge before getting in.

Anyway, by some stroke of genius I actually find myself with less of a disadvantage in these night-time races as I can’t see the tape or barriers and just find myself racing faster each lap. So Tuesday’s Nacht Van Woerden was a great success.

A five minute lap made up of 27 corners is always going to be fast but not suffering hard as you couldn’t ride more than 100 metres in a straight line before you got to the next corner. Just in case anyone wants a tip for night racing, pre-ride in daylight! This we managed to do although the race was so well lit that I don’t think it made that much difference on this occasion, except for one corner where as the night fell a tree root suddenly appeared in the only section with shadow.

Near the pits on the circuit there was a fairground with one of those rows of seats in a straight line attached to a backboard that goes around in circles (the ones with a man shouting: “If you want to go faster, scream!”). Associated with this was a Dutch man shouting what I can only assume was something similar and clouds and clouds of dry ice interspersed with flashing multicoloured spotlights. It felt a little bit like I was on Stars in Their Eyes on bikes every time I passed by.

Other highlights of the evening included walking straight into the women’s changing room that was full of naked men. Another was winning a big ball of young Gouda cheese that has a very nice creamy taste and melts well, just in case anyone wondered.

On Sunday I raced the Koppenberg cross, another fun race but this time more for the amount of spectators and the general atmosphere. As we were getting ready to ride the course a small group of spectators marched past the car in all matching Sven Nys supporters’ kit with the obligatory Flanders flags. One of the guys shouted ‘Hey Mario, it’s Helen Wyman’, to which the majority started laughing and making random ‘oh la’ style comments. I’m assuming he was the rather sheepish guy looking directly down the entire time, but Mario, whoever you are, thanks for the support.

In order to get a place on the hill you have to be there early and take a lot of people so you have extras to go for the beer and frites at regular intervals.  During the race it’s amazing. On the last two laps the entire crowd on the off road climb were shouting and cheering for me. It’s difficult to describe exactly how fantastic it feels but it definitely made me ride even harder than I thought was possible, especially as there were quite a few English voices amongst them!

For this race the podium prize was – to Stef and Jurgen, my mechanic’s, delight – a three litre, six kilo (I know: I just weighed it for this diary) bottle of Primus Belgian beer! When coupled with the litre and a half of cactus genievre from Namen, it’s going to be one interesting after season party.

Next stop for me is the European Championships in Hoogstraten this weekend before we go to Nommay for the second World Cup of the season. I am looking forward to some seriously muddy races so fingers crossed for a bit more rain.