1904rt in 2021: Q+A with Helen Bridgman

The year ahead is, like much of 2020, looking uncertain. However, 2019 InternationElles rider Helen Bridgman is far from demotivated…

What were your goals pre-Covid?

I was really excited to be racing with the team in the British Women’s Cup for the first time. After a strong end to the 2019 season when I had some decent results and finally got my 2nd cat licence, this series was a natural progression for me. I also discovered a love for town centre crits in 2019 so they were high up on my racing priorities for the year. 

What are your 2021 goals?

For the moment, with everything still so up in the air, I’m focusing on doing some e-racing. I dabbled in it last year and had a bit of a love/hate reaction to it! I kind of figured that, with limited prospect of grassroots racing making a return in the first half of the year, I’d give it another try. I’m also looking to do more gravel riding this year and perhaps entering a few gravel races too. I’ve gone from a weird irrational fear of mud, which has always stopped me from trying CX, to getting stuck in there, so who knows. I might actually try some CX racing with Jenny later in the year!

Whow have you stayed motivated?

During the various lockdowns we’ve had, I’ve found that cycling has really helped me to stay sane. Getting outside in the fresh air clears my head so I’ve tried to get out as much as possible (and within the allowed government guidelines). I totally relaxed my training last year and focused on just riding for the enjoyment of it and I’m probably even more in love with it than before. That’s also come through discovering off road riding. My gravel bike is hands down the best bike purchase I made last year. The adventure and fun it’s brought to my riding have made me feel like a kid again!

What are your best achievements so far in cycling?

I think it would have to be riding every stage of the Tour de France in 2019 a day ahead of the male pros with the InternationElles and Donnons des Elles au Velo. Completing 3,450km and over 52,000m climbing in 3 weeks is mega. It almost feels surreal looking back at it now, but it definitely happened and it’s something I’m really proud of. Not just because of the stats, but because we were riding to promote gender equality in cycling. That’s something I’m really passionate about and that I continue highlighting and working towards whenever I can.

Image: Attacus Cycling

How did you get into cycling and racing?

I started cycling in the same way many people do, I signed up to do a sportive (the London Revolution) for charity with a group of work colleagues. I didn’t even have a bike at the time so I was a total novice. It was an eventful ride but there was a wonderful sense of camaraderie and I was really chuffed just to finish the event! I rode on and off for a few years before I finally decided to see what racing was all about. Encouraged by a fellow member of BellaVelo, a women’s only cycling club in SW London, I did a couple of race skills sessions and then jumped in at the deep end. I’d like to say I was a natural, but in truth I was rubbish! I got dropped pretty early on a ended up either solo or doing a 2 up for most of the race. The experience gave me the bit between my teeth though and I was determined to give it another crack and hang on for longer next time!

What advice would you give to a potential new racer?

Give it a go and bring a friend along with you for the ride! You don’t know if you’ll like it if you don’t try it. I have to admit after signing up for my first race I put it out of my thoughts until race day. I was a bundle or nerves on the day, but having a friendly face with me on the start line gave me the confidence I needed to go for it. There are plenty of race disciplines to try as well, so if you don’t fancy road racing then try track or time trials or e-racing or CX. Give them all a try until you find what you enjoy. And if you don’t like any of them, then at least you’ve tried, but you might just surprise yourself!

Whats the best cycling advice you’ve ever been given?

In a race there will always be someone who is more desperate to chase down a group than you so let them come through and jump on their wheel! After being that person for my first year of racing, that gem has saved me the odd match or two since.

Hardest day on the bike?

The Etape 2015. I entered it at a time when I was the fittest I’ve been in my life and then lots of changes happened in my life that meant I was off the bike for about six months. I was totally unprepared. I was unfit and had barely trained but in my mind I thought I’d still be able to finish it. Ha! I totally underestimated just how tough it would be. My friend Gill and I rode together and kept each other going as best we could but before the final climb we called it a day. There was just nothing left in the tank. That DNF still grates on me, but it also spurred me on to get fitter, get a coach and the racing followed, so it wasn’t all bad!

Best day on the bike?

There are too many to mention here. I’ve been lucky to ride in some amazing places both abroad and in the UK. It’s safe to say that I’m in my element on a long, flowing descent, so it would have to be one of the many days riding in the Alps. Descending the Col d’Iseran was one of those real ‘woo hooooooo’ moments that I didn’t want to end and left me smiling for days!

Helen is now qualified as a cycling coach – check out her page here.

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