Report: Cross Belgian Style – Koppenbergcross

1-2 for Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris — Paul Burgoine reports on a trip to Flanders and the the famous Koppenbergcross held around Oudenarde and its brutal climb the Koppenberg

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Report & Pictures Paul Burgoine

This day had been a long time coming, a trip to Flanders for the famous Koppenbergcross held around Oudenarde and its brutal climb the Koppenberg, used also in the Tour of Flanders. The grim weather that was forecast didn’t materialise and it was almost summer in Belgium so my four to five layers of clothes were a bit excessive. But you never know in this part of Europe.

As per usual at these events, the organisation was impeccable and the ten euro entrance fee was well worth it. There were plenty of shuttle busses to get you from your car to the circuit. The place was very busy as you would expect as it was a bank holiday in France and Belgium, but there were still plenty of good spots to view the race from.

A few high profile riders were missing from the women’s race in particular Sanna van Paassen and Katie Compton but the conditions probably would not have suited them anyway.

While chatting to a Belgian journalist, I predicted a one/two for Britain today – “Maybe” and a shake of the head was his reply, grasping at straws he picked out Sanna Cant, who for my money hasn’t shown her best form yet this season. I went for Helen Wyman who lives a stone’s throw from here in Oudenarde. “Maybe” he said with another little shrug of the shoulders.

It wasn’t long before Wyman and Nikki Harris had established a lead over Sanna Cant, “One – Two” I said to my new friend still, “Maybe” was the reply again but there was no maybe about it, and there was only doubt in my mind which of the pair would win.

I left for the finish with two laps to go and up the Koppenberg on the last ronde they were still neck and neck. But as they came towards the line Wyman got the better of Harris. It felt good to get an away win as well as first and second as well. “Maybe” Ha Ha…. these two ladies could well fight out the European Championships in Ipswich on Saturday as well.

After the race I managed to catch up with Helen Wyman for a short chat while she was warming down.
How do you feel the race went for you today I asked? “It was tough, but good. Me and Nikki were basically racing on our own with Sanna Cant just behind us but never really in touching distance.”

“Nikki would go hard then I would go hard and we couldn’t lose each other but on the last lap I managed to get a small gap over the top of the hill then she slipped on the descent, so I went full gas and she couldn’t get back to me”

You’re local so have you had plenty of practice and time to get the gears right for the course? “We came here yesterday and put compacts on the bikes because we realised it was going to be tough. Also the weather forecast was bad. I had a 36 inner ring and I think that’s useful. I was able to spin for longer”.

Were you happy to take the race down to a sprint with Nikki? “No, that’s why I attacked her into the final and I knew if I got into the final before her, I had a chance of getting a gap so I took her line that she had been using so she couldn’t get past me”.

Ian Field riding for Hargroves Cycles

Why do you think the women cross races are enjoying more success in Europe as opposed to the men? “ I think there are many reason. The women historically been incredibly good. Louise Robinson was second in the Worlds and I’ve been doing this for eight years and got on the podium in World Cups. I also think it’s easier for the women to break into a sport that’s dominated by Belgian’s.”

“If you’re not Belgian, it’s hard to get a good team and the support and the people behind you to make it happen so as a man, you’re always chasing the Belgian’s where for women, the sport isn’t as big over here. In Holland, it is much bigger and they integrate both men and women into their teams. If you look at the Belgium Telenet team that Nikki rides for they have all foreign riders not a single Belgian.”

What with all the issues around the men’s pro scene at the moment, the performances of the British women cross riders has been a like a breath of fresh air, can you see that?

“I don’t know. We have always done well. Maybe we have not always had two people up there, this year in particular people come to races thinking they can win it so that makes for good competition and makes the sport more exciting and aggressive and more action packed. So that in one way is quite a good thing but like I said, we have always had success in cross and on the road I mean Nicole Cooke has been racing for years on the road and been successful at that. Now there’s three or four people doing it, women’s sport is getting bigger every year.”

“I first started racing in 2000. Also, that was when the first World Champs were held so you can’t expect the sport to be as big as the men’s version. They have had a Championship since the 50s. I think America is helping to progress women’s cross as well massively – there’s not many teams over here that will pay the riders but over there, they pay the women so rider’s like me and Gabby Day for example go to American teams and we get paid. We even get equal prize money in a lot of the races. Not all of them though but you don’t get that in Belgium and I doubt it will ever happen. You do get some start money here where in America you don’t but I would rather race to win say 2000 euros than I would race just to get start money.”

So now you are off to the Euros in Ipswich. Is that one of your targets? “I will tell you after…”

With a flat rear tyre, Field races on trying not to lose position in the race.

I also had the honour of carrying Helens huge bottle of champagne back to the van that was parked almost outside their house think (miles away). I then made my way back through the mud and cow pats to view the men’s race and give some support to Ian Field who had a solid start to the race and was holding his own in a top class field (there must be a joke in there somewhere).

It’s just a matter of time before you will be able to purchase Ian Field body warmers and umbrellas. It wasn’t long before the two favourites Neils Albert and Sven Nys pulled away from the field and battled each other like two gladiators until one of them cracked, it happened on the final lap as Nys pulled out a 30 second gap that broke Albert although he did get it back down to about 12 seconds by the finish.

Neils Albert and Sven Nys

I caught up with Ian Field (Hargroves Cycles) for a short chat after. How did the race go for you Ian? “It wasn’t too bad. Pretty chaotic at the start going straight into a real boggy mud section but I just about got through it unscathed then had a pretty steady but satisfying race. I should have been 20th but I punctured on the final lap on the stony bit just after the pits but I didn’t notice till I was on the road so I had to ride the road section and up the Koppenberg on a flat and lost four places but got three back after changing my bike on the decent which was quite pleasing.”

“It’s always disappointing when you don’t get the result you deserve. I felt good today and it does take time to get back into the rhythm of things after America. But in those conditions out there today I am pretty happy with my ride”.

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