PEZ: You started off with cyclocross, became a track rider, and have come back to cross again. Why did you lose interest in the track when you were on the GB national squad and were riding at the World level?
Nikki: The opportunity came for me to ride the track at a point where I had done pretty much every discipline I could possibly have done bar BMX as a youth and junior rider. I got brought in to ride the Manchester World Cup as an 18 year old by Shane Sutton.
It was around the time the track scene was really taking off, and they wanted a young rider who they could push towards the Beijing and London Olympics. My track knowledge was pretty limited, and when I rode the scratch race at the World Cup and finished 5th they could see I had some potential, and that’s really how the whole track programme came about for me.
Nikki fighting hard at Koksijde.
I was their first young rider. It was before the women’s academy. I loved the track at first. I was given lots of opportunities, spent time at the UCI Cycling School in Switzerland, I raced World Cups, two World Championships, and the Commonwealth Games. But after two years of doing all that and learning, I found myself feeling like I was missing out on something.
The track environment is a very hard one, you’re based indoors, and when you’re not on the track, you’re riding round the same roads in Manchester. You do the same routine, day in – day out. I really missed racing outdoors and being off road. I didn’t love the track anymore and I think when you’re not enjoying something you shouldn’t be making it your career!
I had a tough year with illness in 2007 and my form went downhill, I had a coach that didn’t suit me, and I just felt as if I was going backwards. I came off the track programme and for the first time had a chance to think and do things for myself and think of where I wanted my cycling career to go. I wanted to get back off road, and that’s how the whole thing with the cyclocross has come about.
PEZ: Would you go back to track racing and/or mountain biking?
Nikki: I can say…I will never go back to track racing. It doesn’t interest me whatsoever now. Sometimes I do miss going fast round the track behind the derny, but that’s it. I can see myself doing more mountain bike in the future; I think that it will help my strength and technical skills as a rider.
Nikki at the British Cyclocross Championships this year.
PEZ: Do you ride the road in the summer?
Nikki: I didn’t do so much road this summer. Last year I raced a lot on the road with the GB National team and with the professional team Flexpoint. I did a lot of stage races with them, and it really moved me on. I raced at the World Championships but had the bad luck of crashing and breaking my collarbone. I was gutted as it really affected my start to last year’s cross season. I didn’t want to risk that happening this year, so I only did a small bit of road, two stage races, and some crits – that was it. At the end of my cross season last year, even with the forced rest from the broken collarbone, I still found myself shattered both physically and mentally. That’s also the reasoning behind me not doing much road this year.
PEZ: You recently came to Spain to train on the road in the middle of the Cross season, is this a good thing to do?
Nikki: Definitely. A lot of the cyclocross guys go away at that point in the season. During the first two weeks in December, there aren’t so many races on, so it’s a nice chance to sit back from racing and do some good endurance work in the sunshine to help make another step up for the Christmas races, Nationals, and on to Worlds.
PEZ: What conditions would make the best cross course for you, and which courses are your favourites?
Nikki: I love fast courses, which are technically and physically hard. Ones such as Zolder, Kalmthout, and Terveuren are some of my favourite courses to race on.
PEZ: Which of the other cross riders do you admire/respect?
Nikki: I admire Marianne Vos for how she can just adapt to any cycling discipline that’s put in front of her. She’s world champion and has just started back with cross a few weeks ago and straight away she’s up there on the podium. She has had to start at the back in races with no UCI points, and she still manages to get round everyone and move to the front of the race and be competitive at the end.
Katie Compton is again someone who I have a lot of admiration and respect for. She has been totally dominating the European cross scene when she comes over here. No one else has been able to get near her. I think when she is over here, the cross races become a few km faster than they usually would be, just because everyone is constantly trying to chase her and keep up.
Slogging it out in stereotypical Belgian conditions.
PEZ: Belgium is the heart of cyclocross. How does it compare to other countries?
Nikki: It doesn’t really compare to anywhere else in the world. Belgium is a one off in terms of how big a sport cyclocross is over here. They treat the guys like complete heroes. They love to come out in force in there supporters clubs and cheer both the women and guys on. It’s so nice to come over and have so much support. Cyclocross is always on the news, on TV adverts, in the paper, cyclocross is to the Belgians like football is to the English.
PEZ: Women’s cyclocross gets good coverage in Belgium, but it’s a bit thin on the ground most other countries. Do you think there has there been any improvement? Does it annoy you?
Nikki: I think there’s still a lot that can be done in getting women’s cyclocross out there. In Belgium there are more women’s UCI races now than there used to be. They have started to put women’s races on when the guys are racing too in the main races such as the Fidea, GVA and Superprestige series. But yes, in other countries it’s not noticed as much. To be honest, it doesn’t really annoy me too much at the moment, because Belgium is where I’m based. Of course, it would be nice to see it develop in other countries, but unless people are willing to put as much money into it as the Belgians do in terms of TV coverage, etc, then it won’t happen.
Nikki is part of the CyclePassion calendar.
PEZ: Obviously you want to be World Cyclo-cross Champion, but what else do you want to achieve?
Nikki: I would like to be a rider who is consistently good and get to a level where I can fight to be top 3 in every race I do. Unless you’re super talented like Marianne Vos or Daphny van den Brand, you can’t just do that overnight. It takes a lot of races and experience to get to that point.
PEZ: And after the cycling career is over?
Nikki: At the moment, I don’t have any idea whatsoever what I want to do when my cycling career is over. I just turned 24, and I think and hope I have a good few years left in me yet to achieve my goals, so I don’t tend to think that far ahead.
PEZ: Are you based in Belgium all year?
Nikki: Yes, I’m based in Belgium pretty much all year round. I share an apartment with my boyfriend, Matt. I go home at the end of the cross season for a few weeks to be a “normal person.” Its nice to go see friends and family, go shopping, etc.
At the Cape Argus Classic…with some random guy.
PEZ: How long have you been based there and how did that all come about?
Nikki: I’ve been based in Belgium now ever since I left the GB Track team nearly 3 years ago. It’s the centre of Europe. From Belgium it’s easy to get to other countries, and it’s not that far from England. For both the cross and road, it’s good for me to be here.
PEZ: Apart from cycling what do you think of Belgium?
Nikki: I think there dress sense and clothes shops could be better but apart from that I like the country, their houses and the people
PEZ: The best and worst things?
Nikki: The best thing is having the best environment to be a professional cyclist…worst thing is not having my friends and family out here with me.
PEZ: Do you receive any help from the British Cycling set-up?
Nikki: No, like I said I raced a lot with GB on the road last year and also this year too, but in terms of help, I wouldn’t be able to live here and race if it wasn’t for the Dave Rayner fund. They help a lot of riders and don’t get anywhere near enough credit for what they do.
PEZ: You live with boyfriend Matt Brammeier (HTC-Highroad rider for 2011), how difficult is that?
Nikki: I’ve been together with Matt for nearly 5 years. We both got together as cyclists, and we have always been used to having different cycling lives. Him with the road and me with cross, so we are used to being away from each other. Sometimes when Matt’s away for a few weeks, and I’m in Belgium in the summer, its hard but normally there are always people around. I have some friends over here so we have learned to deal with it really.
PEZ: What do Matt and Adam Blythe (Omega-Lotto) get up to when they are together?
Nikki: I will leave that one for Matt. He can tell all when he’s famous and has his own book in a few years 😉
PEZ: It must feel good to drop him on a Cyclo-cross bike?
Nikki: Ha ha yer it does, If we go out off road for the first 15 minutes when hes fresh he tries to give me advice and tips how I should ride on the bike but once he gets a bit tired I start to push on the pedals a bit and then drop him, it soon shuts him up.
PEZ: How is Gizmo?
Nikki: Gizmo is fine, to be honest he gets the most attention in our house, he has a great life, Matt just brought a leg of ham back from Spain so Gizmo is currently living off that like a king.
So there’s the inside line on being a Belgian based Cyclo-cross rider in the centre of all the action. Gizmo the cat has a lot to live up to in the Harris/Brammeier house! Good luck Nikki.