Christian Helmig has done it all. He holds Luxembourg National Titles in a range of disciplines- Cyclocross, XC MTB, MTB Marathon, Elite Road, and Elite Time Trial. How does an athlete come to find success in such a range of disciplines? It’s definitely not easy and takes a lot of careful planning, a lot of hard work, and even more mental toughness. We talked to long-time Source Endurance athlete Christian Helmig about his long and successful cycling career.
Christian Helmig’s Cycling Career: A bit of everything at the top level
Cycling was always a big part of Christian Helmig’s life. As a kid he’d be found ripping around the forests on his bike with his friends. Around age 10, he got his first mountain bike. His buddy convinced him to sign up for a local race around the corner with him. Helmig won that race and it planted that bug to keep putting himself out there and see what he could do. The sport has always drawn him more than the competition with a love of varied terrains, courses, and of course the travel.
Helmig moved to Germany to get his diploma in Sports Science, switching to Business & Marketing, and finishing with a degree in Sports Science there. In college he did a lot of mountain bike racing and used it as a counterpart to his studies for school. After a Master’s degree in Sports and Entertainment Management, Helmig found an opportunity to use that degree in Dallas and that is where cycling really took off for him.
When he moved to Dallas, Helmig started using crit racing as a way to get into shape for mountain biking, spending a lot of time with the folks at Mad Duck Cyclery. He found the US road scene to be full of friendly, relaxed people, much like European mountain bikers. When his then-girlfriend decided to spend a year studying in Phoenix, it was an easy decision for Helmig to stay and start racing with FCS Cycling/Compliance Depot, later called Metro Volkswagen and then finally finishing with Elbowz.
During this time, he went back to Europe for the winters and was reintroduced to cyclocross which began to grow on him and started to draw him away from road racing. It was at this time he met Source Endurance coach Adam Mills through Elbowz teammate Joseph Schmalz. As his love for cyclocross grew and he and his girlfriend moved back to Europe, Helmig went on the win multiple national titles in Luxembourg, participate in three World Championships, and many World Cups.
Life in Europe also meant that Helmig was back spending more time on a mountain bike. Luxembourg decided to go for a mountain bike slot for the 2016 Rio Olympics by throwing a lot of support behind Helmig. He spent much of last year traveling all over the world trying to earn points. While he wasn’t able to secure quite enough points, Helmig looks back with satisfaction that year with all the travels and races he was able to partake in.
At this point, he was pretty ready to transition away from racing, except that Luxembourg won the bid to host Cyclocross World Championships this year (2016). Things have come full circle for Helmig on the bike and he’s back where he started. With a new job at the Cycling Federation, Helmig is easing his way out of racing but enjoying where things are now.
The challenges of a multi-discipline career
Each discipline of cycling has it’s own challenges for mental and physical toughness, along with other challenges like equipment and support needed. Cyclocross is by far the most equipment and staff heavy of all the disciplines! Mentally each discipline brings it’s own challenges. “Physically, if you are a good athlete, you can do well in any of the disciplines of cycling but if you want to get to the top, you have to be very tailored.” says Helmig. For example, when Chirstian Helmig went from cyclocross to mountain biking last year, it took weeks of adjustment before he started to feel comfortable on the mountain bike again. At the top level, those skills and comfort have to be so fine tuned to do well.
However, experience in different disciplines can also brings benefits:
- Off-road riding helps with technical skills
- Off-road also brings pedaling efficiency
- Road cycling brings sheer toughness
The switching back and forth between disciplines also requires a tailored coaching program. Helmig found Source Endurance coach Adam Mills through Joe Schmalz, his teammate on Elbowz at the time. Schmalz was finding success in road and cyclocross at the time. Helmig had a really fantastic road-focused coach at the time, but when he transitioned back to cyclocross, he knew he needed to find someone with specific cyclocross experience at the top level. It was natural to approach Mills and they instantly connected. Helmig found himself quickly improving on the bike which made it even easier to create a comfort level and trust Mills and do what he prescribed. They continue to work closely with high levels of communication, schedule setting, and goal setting.
Christian’s favorite parts of cycling
Christian Helmig weaved his way through different disciplines across primarily across two continents finding the most welcoming disciplines on each continent. In Europe, he loved the relaxed feel of the mountain biking culture. In the United States, he found the road scene to be the most welcoming. The camaraderie he felt was truly lasting. Moving from Dallas to Phoenix and back to Dallas, he found doors still open and still keeps in touch with friends from there years later.
The travel opportunities cycling can open to you are unlike most get to experience, whether as a domestic rider or an international rider. Helmig definitely recognizes and appreciates those opportunities and all the places around the world he has gotten to travel because of cycling.
In Helmig’s words: “While cycling does have a team component, it is somewhat an independent sport. You can go out on a ride at any time without reliance on, say, 10 other people to make it work, both at home and in travels for racing.”
As a leader in various points of his cycling career, Christian Helmig focused on being attentive and truly listening to people to understand what they need. Sharing the knowledge you’ve gained can ease someone else’s fears and help them through the process of growing as an athlete. It helps when you’ve had a great mentor in your own career.
It’s also important to look after the newer riders in races to offer suggestions and give them a bit of confidence. Helmig shrugged, “You get to that point where your own results don’t matter that much and it’s a reward to see that younger guy get that experience or result.”
His advice to an athlete looking to switch disciplines? “Be open. It probably won’t work as well as you think at the beginning. Give it some time and go with the flow. Have realistic expectations and let everything in. It’s usually at least worth the experience!”
Helmig is now enjoying spending more time with his wife and family and doing normal people things- hanging with friends, family, going to barbecues, and fixing up the house. He loves the opportunity to be on the organization side of the Luxembourg Cycling Federation and is excited to keep up the momentum and take the program to the next level for the future generation of Luxembourg athletes.
Thank you Christian Helmig for sharing a bit about yourself! Wishing you the best with the rest of your season and with your thrilling transitions!
For more reading on training, like what Helmig abides by, Source Endurance has also written about both anaerobic training and aerobic training’s role in cyclocross racing.