Dear cyclocross racers
Way back in 2014, following the Milton Keynes World Cup I wrote you an open letter. It was an unplanned blurt of words about how much I love cross and how I believe cross can be both a passion and a career as well. Roll on 5 years and not only is this still true but every year there are more and more young riders from non-traditional cross nations proving exactly what I’ve always thought. Amazing young British racers like Tom Pidcock, Evie Richards and Ben Tulett have become multiple World Champions and many more are finding homes in pro cyclocross teams across Europe, showing a legitimate pathway outside of road or track racing.
This year the nationals were one of the best I’ve been to; so many excited young people, record numbers of girls racing and equal numbers of girls as boys cheering from the side of the course. To me it was truly a pivotal point in UK cyclocross, which brings me neatly on to my pivotal moment. I’ve decided to hang up my racing wheels. For the first time in my career I’ve had moments this season where I haven’t had the fight you need to compete with the very best. In an increasingly competitive sport you cannot achieve what you are capable of without huge desire. If I continued I feel I would not be doing myself justice; that’s not how I would ever want to be remembered.
The last 15 years of my life have been off the scale amazing. I could never have imagined this epic journey and I wouldn’t change a single thing. I mean every word of this and if you want to be a ‘cross racer in Europe you will experience everything from the harshest conditions and the lowest points to the ultimate highs. Every single day you are creating the best memories to tell the grandchildren, or in my case my dog. When you are training in the brutal side winds that Belgium does so well, with freezing rain lashing at your face you will question your life choices. However I promise you the day you stand on a world championship podium you will only ever remember the sunshine drenched rides that made your heart glow.
There is nothing in life quite like the pride you feel from achieving something you have put your heart and soul into for weeks, months, years. While that doesn’t have to be cyclocross or even sport, why couldn’t it be? I can honestly say that cycling has made me who I am. From when I was a kid my best friends were the people I met through cycling. The names and faces have changed over the years, but the circumstances of me meeting my friends’ remains the same. There is a level of camaraderie in cyclocross like no other discipline of cycling. The confidence I have in life has come from the lessons I have learnt through my sport and competition. I met the love of my life at a national trophy in Margem Park in 2000 and together we have had the privilege of traveling the world in the name of my hobby.
What I’m trying to convey is that our lives are bubbles and sometimes we struggle to look outside of them, but you can expand your bubble. It is an incredible world we live in, full of amazing people willing to open up their homes and share their lives with you. So many people have helped me get to where I am in the sport, words will not do justice to my gratitude to them; thank you. As a professional cross racer you will be special to them and that alone can make doing what you do infinitely rewarding. I could write endlessly about the life experiences I have had over the last 15 years and maybe one day I will but for now I tell you simply to follow your passion. If you want to be a cross racer never let anyone in life tell you that you can’t; I’m evidence of this.
Although times haven’t always been rosy, as the sunsets on my racing career I know I’ve taken every opportunity I could and more. I’ve taken the sprinkling of talent I had and made the most of it. I’ve wrung out every drop of determination to achieve what I have. I have tried, failed and tried all over again from the first day of my career to the last and I know I will take this attitude with me into my next roles, whatever they may be. Packed around 77 race wins, I’ve been to 16 World Cyclocross Championships and 3 World Road Championships, thats not too bad in my book.
To all you up and coming racers, both girls and boys, I’m still here for you. I have a wealth of experience and am not going to ditch you all just because I’m not racing myself. I have an exciting role with my team and a responsibility to the sport to pass on my experience in every way from training camps and clinics, to race day lines and tactics. I promise no question is a bad question and I am also not done with pushing the development of the sport. I’m not sure what else I will be doing, my diary is open and it’s time for me to look for new challenges, I hope in the cycling world. That’s liberating and scary at the same time.
The Helen 100 project has big goals both at grass roots and elite level competition. I’ve really got ambitions for women’s youth categories in cross and as you may realize by now I have a certain quiet dogged determination that has already been focused in your direction.
So let me end this letter by saying thank you. Thank you to every single person who has been part of my amazing career on the bike and thank you to every one of you who has helped me make a difference in our very special sport off the bike. For now this isn’t goodbye, more like tot ziens.