Eeva’s racing update!

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My cycling life has never been the same since I went to Belgium in March. Not that my premiere Flandrian weekend of back-to-back kermesses went well.

Out of the two races, I finished neither. First race it was due to a puncture and in the second I just got dropped. For the sake of self-pity, only 26 riders out of 97 finished. There was a massive crash that stopped the peloton and I didn’t manage to sprint back on the lead group. So not only did I do worse in Belgium than in any bike race before, I’d also never previously been in so much physical pain or felt as slow on a bike.

Indeed, what I experienced wasn’t fun. But it was game-changing. As an analogy, imagine spending a weekend heli-skiing in the Alps and almost falling off a steep cliff whilst trying to go faster than an approaching ravine. Not great. But after that, going back to an indoor ski slope wouldn’t be the same. Outsiders might still call both activities ‘skiing’, just like both Belgian and British road races can be called ‘cycling’. Yet deep down you know the difference. It isn’t the speed, it’s the time spent nearly dying — both in the descriptive and the literal sense. Both the “My lungs are burning and I feel like I’m gonna die” and the “If I can’t hold my line in this sharp turn in a bunch of 100 riders I might fall and die”.

Alas, my cycling-life had changed. It didn’t matter that I got good results back home. I won all individual races in the A cats at the Herne Hill Women’s League and came 4th in the 120 km Lovelo road race. It all felt as exciting as a pathetic indoor ski slope. After all, I don’t cycle to win (except when it gets me a pair of jawbreakers). I ride bikes because it’s a form of meditation to me. When it gets fast and dangerous, there is no space for thoughts. None of the usual “it’s raining and I’m cold and cycling sucks” or “I should really respond to that work email” or “If Iran and Israel will start bombing each other, will that start WWIII?”. Instead, I’m able to be present in the moment – otherwise you either fall or are dropped from the bunch.

Thus, I had to return to my spiritual homeland, Oost-Vlaanderen. The plan: stay for two weeks, work out of office, race as much as possible — and try finish a Belgian kermesse.

The winner’s grin at 5th floor track day. Photo by Jess Morgan

Race 1: Saturday May 5th, GP De Wielkeszuigers Schellebelle. 91,5 km. 31st out of 115.

Being at Schellebelle was amazing – all sunny and nice – until a hundred meters into the race. I found myself 300 meters from the lead of the race, with around 100 riders in front of me. There is possibly nothing more depressing than that amount of smashy smash riders in a peloton when you’re at tail end of the pact. And you’ve managed that before the first corner. So I sprinted, did an all-out effort and moved up around 80 places. After that first lap my heart was about to pop and I knew I couldn’t hold on for much longer.

I then settled into the Belgian race mode, which doesn’t mean getting to chill. Nope. The word for ‘cycling’ is the same as ‘nearly dying’ in Flemish. For anyone who’s done a Red Hook Crit, imagine that style of riding but triple the duration and double the field.

The main rule is to stay alert, every second. Otherwise I’d miss the attack (happening at least every three minutes) or dozens of riders would either try to sneak past me or simply push me into the curb. I’d then try to get out of the drain, hoping the 80 riders behind me would make space and not crash into me once I got back to the road. The second I’d look back, I’d be reminded of why you must stay alert — as someone might crash right in front of you. Then as the tightly bunched up 100 riders would hit the curb, I’d try to hold my line and not overlap wheels with the dozen others pushing against me — and then someone would cut the corner from my inside and face me to slow down. Watch corner would thus have to be followed with an epic sprint to keep up. After the cobbled section, the road would get really bad and I’d have to bunnyhop five potholes. Then maybe there’d be a split second where I’d have time to drink (and notice my bottles are empty).

This kept going on for 2h 30min. I had been fluctuating between the front of the peloton and around 50th place. Every time I thought to myself that I was doing well, I’d drop backwards on the long, wide, straight road where the single line of riders would suddenly bunch up. The rest of the lap, I’d spend by sprinting forwards. The same thing happened on the last lap. With one last kilometre to go, I was miraculously positioned 2nd in the lead bunch.

Now I could’ve remained alert and stayed focused on keeping that second place. Instead, I just went “WHAATTT I’M IN THE FRONT!!! I’M GONNA FINISH A KERMESSE! WOWZA!!! I’M SO HAPPY!” Well, after the two seconds of brain jubilation, I was swiftly alerted to all these riders moving past me. On a road two meters wide, there wasn’t any space for the others to move up. Yet somehow they were doing it. When I tried to follow and return to the front of the bunch, there was merely a solid wall left, consisting of wheels and thighs moving at 50km/h. I kept being overtaken. In the end there wasn’t much I could do – after an S-bend, a very narrow lane, a 90° turn and a cobbled section, the finish line was already there.

Due to the semi-pathetic end, I came 31st. 59 out of 115 riders didn’t finish, but I did!

No time to smile at Schellebelle. Photo by Leon Verbraecken

Race 2: Sunday May 5th, Lady’s Day Sinaai. 88 km. 11th out of 115.

[Read Belgie style racing description. It was like that again.]

I was struggling at Sinaai, nearly fell three times, wanted to quit and eventually lost my sense of hearing (as I was pushing myself so hard). Learnt the lesson that being constantly at the front and chasing down every single attack is very tiring. Especially when you don’t have a team to work with.

500 meters before the finish I miraculously found myself second in the whole race. Again, I was just like WHWHAHAAAAHAHHAAAA THIS IS UNREAL I’M DOING REALLY WELL. But this time I wasn’t going to let everyone slide past me. I decided to sprint. For a brief moment I was leading the race, only to realise that I’d misjudged the finish line by 200 meters. Oops. As my thighs started burning like a flame, I could only watch others sprint past me. I finished 11th.

Given that I started riding road bikes less than a year ago and that my first road race was in February, I should’ve been happy with my result. But after the initial “I CAME ELEVENTH WAAAHHHH UNREAL!!!”, I could now only think of how close I’d been to being in the top 10. What if I had been more alert at the end? If I had patiently waited for someone else to go before starting my own sprint? What if I had tried to win rather than just try to finish?

Thus, the racing continues.

Photo by Kevin Buyssens

Herne Hill Women’s League Round 1 and Essex Roads Spring Race

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Safe to say we had an absolute blast this past weekend. Racing at both the Herne Hill Velodrome women’s league and the Essex Roads Spring Road Race.

On the track we had wins for Eeva in the A league. Yewie took her first win of the season in the B scratch, and with it a liking of the podium. Now leading the B league by finishing no lower than 3rd in all the other races!
In the C league, we were the most represented club with Velociposse members making up a third of the field. Many of which only rode the track for the first time during out club tasters at the start of the year. Top 6 placings for Jess G, Catherine, Heather and new member Robin. It’s great to see so many new riders come through our club sessions and jumping straight into racing.

Photo by @arpadernyesphotography

On Sunday, Eeva raced an 82km road race on perfect roads in perfect weather. Always in the lead group, the pace was kept high on the twisty lanes with a drag up until the finish. An unfortunate puncture at the bell lap almost got in the way of a good result with 9km to go. 3km of chasing later, Eeva had reconnected with the main group eventually finishing a hard fought 4th.

Next weekend is the CC London road race, part of the London Women’s Racing league. A full field on a fairly tough circuit. Should be some exciting racing!

Newchapel Kermis, 2/3/4. Forty-eight minutes of being the nail.

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So here we are, first road race of the year. Eeva, Yewande and I are signed up for the Newchapel Kermis, a straightforward 2/3/4 flat 50k. I’d been training hard all winter, dabbling in the odd track race, feeling strong, ready to give it some beans. Then I saw the start list. A smattering of cat 4s including yours truly, and then 40 odd cat 3s and 2s. I knew most of them could tear my legs off any day. Gulp. Where did I leave my bravado again? As it turns out the nerves didn’t kick in properly until the night before. Right as I shut my eyes to go to sleep. Good one, brain. Cut to race day and the never ending layering dilemma means I’m still faffing in the freezing cold whilst Yewande and Eeva are warming up. Matt saves my appalling self-organisation by basically doing everything for me. Legend. A quick, stern briefing and we’re off. I’ve opted for thick gloves, a base layer, leg warmers and a long sleeve jersey over my almost brand new skinsuit. It’s not as cold by this point though and I wonder if I’ll overheat. The wondering is not unfounded; eventually I’ll resemble a boil-in-the-bag chicken. The bunch is tightly packed, the roads are wet, and as we ride through the neutral section I watch a rider lose her balance and crash onto the tarmac. I later saw one of the riders describe the ensuing 50k as ‘The Hunger Games’. I don’t think they were too far off.

Jody Coxon – Southern Edge Cycling

The one thing everyone tells you in racing is to stay near the front, and if you’re not near the front, move up. I started in a good position, keen to keep away from the back. But as riders started to move around and past, I realised I didn’t have the confidence to follow. The bunch seemed like a solid wall, and it was all I could do to hold a wheel. Stupidly I hadn’t recced the course and I struggled to piece all the sections together in my mind. I was cautious through the corners and soon I was exactly where I shouldn’t be, in the handful of riders at the back. Everything is harder at the back, the speed fluctuates way more, you can’t see who’s pulling moves at the front, and you’re not getting as much draft advantage. You’re using way more energy and it’s a sure fire way to get dropped. Or get caught up in crashes. A rider ahead clips her wheel on the bike in front. I’m watching it in slow motion, pleading in my mind for her to stay upright, but she comes down right in front of me. I brake as hard as I dare, tangling her bike up in mine, somehow coming to a stop without falling. But the bunch is gone and I’m chasing as hard as I can, desperate to stay in the race, if only for pride. They’ve slowed a little and I know I can catch them, just push hard through this corner, not too hard, just a little touch of the brakes here…

Huw Williams – Flickr

You watch crashes on tv and the rider jumps up, grabs their bike and rides furiously off as if they’re made of solid steel. Maybe they are. I know for a fact I am not. Whenever I hit the deck, I’m yelling and freaking out and my whole body shuts down. And it’s no different here, on a wet lane in February. My bike slides underneath me and I skid across the road like a human curling stone. I later find out I just grazed my elbow but right now everything hurts and my race is done. The fantastic ambulance crew patch me up and drop me at the finish. Matt has nice words and I do a goofy video about how I didn’t even rip my skinsuit (seriously this kit is tough!), but really I am gutted. So much for an easy start to the year. The race is still on, however. Karla Boddy of Les Filles RT is out in front, with her teammate Delia Beddis and Emma Lewis of Fusion RT in a 2-up close behind. Eeva is near the front of the main bunch, and Yewande is in a group a few minutes behind. On the last lap, Annaleen Bosma from RCC makes a move, Eeva hot on her heels. Karla wins in style, having taken two minutes on the bunch. Emma and Delia take 2nd and 3rd respectively. The bunch comes into view, but there’s a group of three a few bike lengths in front, including our very own Eeva! She sprints hard, I’m cheering her on and she takes 6th, an impressive start to the season. Yewande also finishes strong and I forget my own silly race, I’m so proud of them both. After all there’s always next time, right?

Go fast, turn left. Novice to Stage 2 in one month.

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When the three subsidised Velociposse track mornings at LVVP were announced before Christmas, Yewande asked me if I was going to do it. I said ‘yeah, definitely, it’ll be cool to try track’. She said it would be good to get cheap track time in-between accreditation sessions for practice. I was like, yeah whatever, track is so prohibitively expensive, I’ll just wait till I can afford it i.e. probably never. My previous track experience had been several women’s sessions at Herne Hill, where the hire bike’s saddle had been so unsuited to my anatomy that by the end I was struggling beyond words and any enjoyment of riding round had been overshadowed by sharp, insistent pain that I probably don’t need to describe to you, dear reader.

Cue the first LVVP track morning, on my way there at a ridiculously early hour I get a puncture at the other side of the olympic park. I’d left my saddle bag at home. What should have been a two-minute cruise up through the park turned into a 20-minute walk of shame, in my cleats, to arrive with only a few minutes spare to grab a hire bike, adjust the saddle and assess my cleat damage for rideability. They were serviceable, but prematurely mashed. I was not in a great mood.

We’d been split into two groups based on track experience: those who’d been on the track before were in the first group, and the rest of us were up second, which was convenient as I was still faffing around after my debacle. After 15 mins watching some warm up drills from the girls on the track, it was our time to get on the boards for the first time. We lined up at the barrier, Matt talked us through how the bikes work (whatever you do don’t stop pedalling) and what the deal was with the lines. A couple of laps on the flat bit and then the cote and it was time to pick up the speed and ride on the black. I was quite far back in the line and the pace wasn’t changing. As we passed the start line Matt was signalling for us to go faster and get higher on the track. No one was going any faster in front of me so with a quick glance over my shoulder I started overtaking.

As I was on the red line going round someone I felt my back wheel slip a bit on the banking so I put in some extra speed. I was up on the blue line pretty soon after that, and it wasn’t long before I was taking things up to the barrier, getting as much height as I could before swooping down and picking up speed into the straight. Bloody hell this is great! My foul mood lifted; the bike fitted, I wasn’t in pain and I had fresh legs. It felt like I was flying round the track.

We had three 20-minute blocks to try out different stuff and on one of them we had to ride in pairs on the blue. I’d done this at Herne Hill before with Sophie so we paired up together again and lined up. Before long we were just smashing it round the outside of the track together, practicing staying parallel even when the outside rider had to push harder to stay in line. I think Matt was laughing at us cos we were just lapping everyone like crazy.

I wasn’t ready for the session to be over even though I was knackered. I was having so much fun.I guess the last five years commuting and riding up hills exclusively on heavy steel bikes was worth it after all. Had to borrow an inner tube from Andrew (I still O U!) and tyre levers from Hayley, to fix my puncture so I could get to work in time. Couldn’t believe it was still only 10am. With elation and adrenaline still coursing through my veins and Yewande’s advice in mind, I booked my Stage 1 as soon as I could and got a place on a session the very next week! £40, ouch, this was exactly the reason I hadn’t done it already. I guess I’ll not be doing anything else fun for a while then. Fuck it though. Track is fucking brilliant.

I turned up so early for my Stage 1 session, the embarrassment of en-route punctures weighing on my mind. I brought my saddle bag with me this time, just in case. Fortunately I had a clean ride in so I had to loiter around track centre for half an hour before anyone else turned up for the session. I got told off for being on the bike in track centre when I was trying to figure out if my saddle was the right height. The vibe was so different from the VP session, where we were just joking around in track centre the whole time. Only two others turned up for Stage 1, both guys. One was a fitness instructor (nice guy, we chatted loads in-between track time) and one was a sullen-looking guy, clearly at home on a fixed gear, who was show-boating on the bike the whole time we weren’t going round the track. This guy clearly thought a lot of himself. I won’t pretend I didn’t get a bit of a kick from overtaking him.

Stage 1 was fairly easy, we just had to show that we could ride round on a given line, get high on the banking, and always remember to observe before moving up or down the track. The only bit I’d never done before was riding out of the saddle on the track; the instructor would blow the whistle and you’d have to get out of the saddle and ride like that ‘til he blew the whistle again. The first couple of times were short but there were a couple where we were out of the saddle for a lap and a half. I kept being told to slow down, that I didn’t have to sprint, but what’s the point of being out of the saddle on the track if you’re not gunning for it? I wanted to see what it felt like. I could definitely tell that I needed practice; I felt a bit clunky and unnatural on the fixed gear – it was hard to get the right cadence and with the banking I couldn’t sway the bike to my feet consistently. I looked round and both of the others had given up on their out-of-saddle efforts way before the whistle, so even though it was killing me I was determined to do the full effort, though I did manage to keep the pace down towards the end of that block. Before I knew it the hour-long session was over and we’d all passed Stage 1.

It was an agonising few days before they processed whatever it is that they need to do and I got the email telling me I’d been cleared to pass to Stage 2. I booked it immediately, getting a place on a session on a Saturday evening, exactly one week before the second Velociposse track morning. I got there and track centre was swarming. The session was full: 16 riders lined up and only one other woman was there. I’d had a heavy week on the bike and my legs were feeling tired but I was confident that I could do what was needed to pass the stage.

First up was pace line changes, where everyone rides single-file and on each lap the rider at the front swings up the banking, rejoining at the back. I’d also done this before at Herne Hill so it went fine, and I reckon even if I hadn’t, it’s not that hard, especially as there were so many riders that it took practically a full lap before the end of the line was in sight, plus no one was judging you on how smoothly you rejoined. One of the things we had to bear in mind was to keep within 1 metre to a bike length of the rider in front. I had ended up behind a small child who couldn’t get anywhere near the guy in front and whose pace was wildly inconsistent, but I was chilling and just made it my business to keep on his wheel. After our 15 min break I made sure not to be behind the kid again.

Next up we rode in parallel lines on the blue; each pair had to keep roughly parallel but you also had to keep a pace line either inside or outside. The pace was kinda difficult to manage: people kept really slowing down up the banking but then also not picking up speed when they were going down? I was lucky to be paired with a guy who seemed confident on the bike and we were pretty vocal — we were encouraged to talk to each other and shout ahead if the front riders weren’t doing a good job. Our last block was changes on the blue, also something you learn in the intro session at Herne Hill but requires a bit more power and confidence on a 250 metre track. I’d say that this was where most people struggled, either with bike handling or the confidence to vocalise what they & others needed to do. I’d definitely say that you probably don’t wanna risk failing stage 2 because you’ve never done this before.

Anyway, Matt took a picture of me looking suave on the bike and said nice things to boost my confidence. I can’t believe that it’s less than one month since I rode the track at LVVP for the first time, and I’m going into the experienced group tomorrow having completed two of the four stages of accreditation! I hope that this blog post will spur anyone on who has tried track for the first time this year at one of the Velociposse sessions, if you wanna take it further then definitely go for it! I’m so glad I get to try things out in a supportive environment and get advice and encouragement from everyone. I know I won’t get accredited in time to race at LVVP this season, but I’ll be up on the track next winter like 💥🔥☄

Full Gas Track League – 1st Feb

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After breaking my collarbone in Milan last year, my plans for winter racing were shattered (thankfully not like my collarbone) – everything from completing my indoor velodrome accreditation to the training and race prep for the Full Gas league.

Quick background on accreditation: for most velodromes and certainly for indoor ones, riders have to pass a four-stage accreditation which is like four ‘exams’ to prove that you can ride safely on a steeply banked surface. The ‘exams’ include exercises like riding on each line, moving safely up and down the banking, observation (this is a massive one), and group exercises.

So after having to delay my final stage of accreditation for three months, I took it and passed! Now I was ready to race on the track. Well, kind of. My legs were ready, but my lungs certainly were not. Excuse alert: I had shortly recovered from flu and was sticking out a nasty viral infection in my lungs and throat. I thought ‘nah fuck it, I’ve been out of the game for too long’, got myself entered into the league, and paid my entry to be on the start line on the first of Feb.


It has been awe-spiring watching my fellow club riders, and local London riders bomb it round the track for the past few months- the grit, the tactics, the speed, the crash, the camaraderie, the elation. To all of you females, chapeau and thank you for inspiring me and keeping me stoked on cycling throughout the recovery! ♥


The day itself

After a busy day at work, with an afternoon spent shovelling pasta into my face, I got home, changed, and hit up Matt’s ‘office’ for some bike prep to ensure I was at least half ready for the track. A few words of tactics and calming of the nerves, I was sent on my way to the track centre to sign in and prep. I was too nervous to do rollers so kept wrapped up in my outdoor gear until it was time to head to the start line for the warm-up scratch race. And away we went, five neutralised laps to keep us riders all together and used to the track. My legs were feeling fine, and then the starting whistle went and it was race time. 25 laps, jostling for position, changes, and some attempted breakaways – small ones though. I had couple of coughs, but pressed on. Five laps to go and the pace quickened, my throat tickled, I cough a wee bit. Three laps and people are getting settled into final positions before the final sprint. Two laps and Eeva breaks away (AMAZING!) and she takes a solid first across the line.

 

Second race – reverse win-out over 30 laps. At 25 laps, there’s a sprint for 6th place, 20 laps for 5th, 15 for 4th, and so on. This is a tactical one, and hugely depends on your position and how much effort you know you can give, and who else may break away and try to steal the ranking. Rosi broke away for fourth and I went after her. She secured fourth place (WOOOOO!) and I set on keeping ahead to take third – I was already half a lap up so thought it should be okay for another five laps. A couple of laps in, the commissaire told me to slow down. I thought “Maybe he wants me to be with the bunch to begin the next sprint, might be the etiquette of track racing”, so I eased off and let the group catch me for the next sprint. When the sprint lap for third place came, I tried to make a break for it but my lungs weren’t having it and after another lap I decided to come off to cough up properly. I thought I wouldn’t have a chance against some solid riders out there for second and first place. When I came off, people were asking why I eased off and I told them about the commissaire – they said that he shouldn’t have done that because I was doing all the right things, and it’s a race! Lesson learnt.


Third race – points race. 40 laps, sprints every 10 laps, points go to the top four riders across the line each time. Extra points if you lap the field, negative points if you get lapped. My only tactic was to stay with the lead bunch for as long as I could, and observe how the other riders behave for the sprints. I managed to stay in for 30 laps which I was happy with, and Eeva managed to grab a bunch of points and took third place!


Fourth and final race – elimination. Every other lap, the last rider across the line is eliminated – usually there are 10 eliminations then it’s a 10-lap scratch race for podium. There weren’t enough ladies racing so they decided to do eliminations until there were two riders left, then do a one-lap sprint for first and second place. I’d done this race once before and loved it, so I was going to try to stick to my tactics that had served me well last time. Once on the track however, this all went out the window and I pushed myself too hard on the first elimination sprint and got caught out on the second sprint. Oh well! I learnt that I should have stuck to the tactics 😛 Eeva got fifth place woop woop!

That was my first indoor track event over and done with, and I’ve learnt a ton about racing on the steep banking! HUGE thank you to Velociposse – for the support I’ve had from other racers, coaches and mechanics, and from riders who turned out to support me in my first indoor event! You all rock and I love Velociposse to bits!

Catch you at the next track league on 15th February – if you’re female and registered in the league, please come and compete! It’s sick to ride with other badass women and you know you will enjoy it and be proud of yourself after 😀

Racing Through the Winter

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“Racing outside in the winter? Nahh you won’t catch me doing that.”

Well here I am eating my words, two road crits down, a number of points up, and the next race a couple of weeks away. So what changed? Six months ago at my first ever road crit I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, got dropped and did an extra lap to make sure I didn’t end up with a DNF (I never did like climbing and now I know everyone finishes on the same lap). Since then I’ve knuckled down with training on the track, road and wattbike. I figured going into 2018 it would be nice to have a marker of where I was at.

Christmas Belles Road Crit (30/12/17)

I did actually consider racing this when it was first advertised so that I would have motivation to keep training over Christmas. Then I realised I was due to do a threshold test four days later and the race was off the cards. Two days before I found myself umming and ahhing about it, then put my entry in before I could change my mind. How bad could it be? Strong headwind on the home straight. Oh yes. The sprint to the finish line was going to be, well more of a crawl.

Realising this and having not raced a crit for three months I decided I didn’t want to be there. Finally Jess managed to not so gently persuade me to head out onto the circuit to warm up. The start of the race soon arrived and we lined up, fourth cats in front to be set off with a half lap gap.

Off we went and we eventually formed a pace line, each rider taking a turn at the front. We made it about 20 minutes in (halfway) when the rest of the group reached us. I knew I wanted to be in a good position and going at a reasonable speed when this happened so I moved away from the other fourth cats and then was able to slot myself onto a wheel at the back of the main bunch. In the confusion, I think this is where Twickenham CC’s Claire Hammond decided to make a break for it, time trialing her way to 1st place (kudos).

(Photo: David Smith\@counterpuncheur)

After that the race was pretty uneventful until just before we were given five laps to go, one of the riders decided to attack. I wondered why no one was chasing her down, so I did. I even caught up but my body decided that I was done pushing, and were both reeled back in by the bunch. Somehow managed to hang on. Five laps soon became one, and before I knew it, we were heading up the ramp into the back straight. I heard a shout. Was that someone telling their teammate to go? Whatever it was, I decided I didn’t want to get left behind or leave sprinting til the home straight because of the wind. So I found space on the inside and halfway down the back straight I went. A quick glance behind – I was on my own. Maybe I went too early. But I couldn’t change my mind, I had to carry on. Onto the drops, into the home straight and out of the saddle, something I had practiced many times. Whether or not I could hold everyone off, I didn’t know, but I had to at least try, willing the finish line to be closer.

Ah, there it was! I crossed it, had I just won the bunch sprint? It seemed I had. I couldn’t believe it. Fastest 4th cat and 2nd overall, I was over the moon. Maybe winter racing wasn’t that bad.

(Photo: Jess Geen \@jessgeen)

LVVP Winter Series (13/01/2018)

Two weeks later and I was at it again. Panicking. What if I can’t keep up with the bunch? Everyone knows what I did last time, I put it on Instagram! They’ll mark me!

14 riders started; five 4th cats including myself and Rosi were set off half a lap ahead once again. The remaining riders came around and caught us more quickly but this time I struggled to join them as I hadn’t sorted out my positioning and there was a big change in pace. A few times I tried to move up but everytime I soon found myself at the back.

Suddenly Claire was making her move, another rider going with her. Shouts emerged from the bunch to chase but no one went. Except me. By the time I decided to do this the gap was pretty big, but I worked hard to close it. A few metres away and the breakaways picked up the pace. Damn. I couldn’t sustain mine and eased off, struggling for breath. I’d be lucky to join the bunch again as it came past. Luck was on my side – I’d wasted some energy but couldn’t knock the fact that I’d tried something everyone else hadn’t.

Soon we were down to the last five laps. The bunch was bigger this time so I actually had to think about my positioning. Going into the last lap I managed to get myself on the outside but the bunch was very jumpy, with people cutting across and I was almost pushed off the circuit. We headed up the ramp into the back straight and I worked my way to the front. I looked across to see people edging forwards, when were they going to go? Who was going to initiate the sprint? Apparently me again. This time I didn’t dare look back.

(Photo: Jess Geen)

The finish line was drawing nearer, but this time I could see someone alongside me. It was Honor – having picked up on what I did last time, she had jumped on my wheel and I had unknowingly led her out. I tried to edge my wheel out in front but she had that little bit more energy left and took the bunch sprint win.

Was I upset? Not at all! I had given it everything, been the fastest 4th cat again and come 3rd overall! Rosi also finished in a strong 7th after spending the morning smashing it out on the track.

(Photo: Jess Geen)

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So here I am now, halfway through January, the proud owner of a 3rd cat licence and more money to spend on bike stuff. My next challenge will be my first ever road race – Newchapel Kermis, just under five weeks away. Watch this space!

111111 RHCM8 11

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Francesco Morello

2017 has been the year of firsts for me. Lots of them. In January, I rode a proper track bike and went to a velodrome for the first time. In February, I did my first club ride ever, leading the first Saturday club run of the new cohort of Velociposse. In May, I raced bikes for the first time and in June, I bought my first (second hand) road bike. In July, I went to my first ever fixed crit at the London Rapha Nocturne.

So as I was standing at the start line of Red Hook Crit in Milan I knew what I was doing. After all, it was going to be my second time racing the world’s most prestigious fixed gear crit series and – wait for it – the fifth fixed gear race in my life. I mean, this time I totally knew what I was doing. 

I had nothing to lose anyway. Ever since crashing badly at the Red Hook Crit in London in July, I’d been off the bike. Well, except for the first few weeks when my thinking went from “I feel bad, it hurts” to “I’ll just go for a ride, that’ll make me happy” followed by “I think I’ve seriously damaged my spine”. I knew that two months of almost uninterrupted rest – apart from racing on cobbles at the Copenhagen Rapha Nocturne, not a good idea — would mean that I’d suck if I’d go to Milan. But then, a week before the race, the fomo of not going hit me hard. I bought the tickets that I couldn’t afford, crashed at a friend’s house without giving him much notice and rocked up at the Polytechnic of Milan where the race would take place. 

Alessio Lascialfari

I did the qualifiers and came 7th in my heat.  I totally knew what I was doing. Until I no longer did.

The thing is that the top ten riders in both qualifiers get through to the Super Pole. The positioning in the Super Pole determines the gridding of the final. Basically, if you ride really fast around the one-kilometre-long circuit, you get to start at the front of the group in the final. Bit like Formula 1, but more babes involved.

However, in my first Red Hook Crit in London, due to some Super Rain, the Super Pole thing had gotten cancelled. I had no clue what to expect this time.

My “I totally know what I’m doing” – attitude quickly vanished as I found myself standing on the race circuit next to ten other women. I thought I’d have to ride just one lap as a time trial. But if this Super Whatever was going to be an individual effort, why were the other athletes there? 

By now the panic started creeping in. Unlike me, the others looked like they knew what they were doing, being all smiley and flirting with the cameras. I actually had to interrupt someone’s really good pose to go WHY ARE YOU HERE, WHY AM I HERE, WHAT IS A SUPER POLE, HELP! at them. I don’t think horror looks good in photos by the way. 

I was told what to do (ride my individual lap, leaving 10 seconds after the previous rider). I was pushed to start, I accelerated, the crowd was cheering, everything was awesome. Then I realised it’d be 1 000 meters of maximum effort around a circuit with tight turns. Let me tell you something. Time goes very slow when you’re riding on maximum effort after a very long time of minimum physical activity. I felt like a snail. A happy snail, one that likes riding bikes. 

tornanti_cc

As I crossed the finish line something strange happened. An Italian man’s voice started blasting from the speakers: “EEVA SARRLIIINO VELOCCIPOZZE FAASTEST LAAP.” I thought I misheard him, but I had somehow managed to ride fastest out of my group. My time was 4th overall. Knowing that the other riders were not gastropods but actual proper cyclists, I now became a very happy snail. I sat down on the pavement and ate biscuits to celebrate. 

Did you know that snails are slow? Well, in the fixed gear crit context that means the following. Those who spend the half an hour before the Red Hook Crit final eating biscuits on a pavement miss out. By the time I headed to the warm up area, I was sent straight out to the start line. No warm up, no prep.

 

I was not in the mindset once the race started. I quickly lost my 4th place and was helplessly trying to keep up with the pace. My goal was to finish in top 20, but even that started looking unlikely. 

The race sucked. I sucked. I wasn’t fit. And let’s face it, I don’t actually know what I’m doing, ever. I was not good at keeping my position and kept sliding back in the group. This is what I was thinking the whole time, on repeat: “Oh hiya fellow cyclist you look like you are going to take my place. Oh hiya you look like you will kill me if I don’t give up my place Err. Okay. Please go past me.” On the last lap I moved back yet again and despite a 51.9 km/h (!!!) sprint, I finished 11th. 

Finishing 11th was within my goal. That was also better than anyone else based in the UK (AND I am now the best Finnish cyclist ever in the whole of Red Hook Crit history, possibly because I’m the only one). However, Milan went much worse than London where I was constantly in top 10 — until the crash. 

Luckily us gastropods are good at accepting life as it comes and shielding my ego. As a consolidation, I told myself that 11 is a bit like two number 1s. 

Eeva

Photographs by Francesco Morello, Alessio Lascialfari, Tornanti and Matthew Butt

 

Red Hook Crit: from starting grid to hospital bed

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This was my first bike trip abroad, and after garnering some info on how to transport the bike, I was kindly loaned a bike box by Alison (if you’re reading this Alison, THANK YOU SO MUCH, I owe you wine/jug of beer in Howling Hops). Wheeling the box home attracted a lot of interest from people, all enquiring whether it was for a musical instrument of some sort. Not quite. Though with a ‘ding-ding-ding’ on the spokes (gently!) from Matt with a spanner, I suppose the bicycle is musical in its own way. Matt worked his magic, teaching/showing/doing for me how to put away each part in the best way possible, and before we knew it, the bike was packed up and ready to go (THANK YOU MATT, owe you alcoholic beverages also).

 

Friday 13th (oooh spooky).
Off to the airport. More stares and questions for the box that I’m pushing around: “Yes yes, it’s a musical bicycle, off to race in Italy this weekend”
Bike and I arrived fine, got set up in the airbnb and then popped out to the pizzeria below the apartment I was staying in. BELLISSIMA. After I’d filled my stomach, practised my shamefully little Italian with the chef and waiters, and had a couple of snaps with them and the bike, I was off to roam the streets in hope of opening up my legs and to explore a little bit before returning for a good night’s sleep.

 

Saturday 14th. Race Day.
I awoke two minutes before my alarm (woo), and had some breakfast before setting off to pick up my race number and timing chip from the course. Google Maps took me straight to the first and second corners of the race course so I got a sneak preview, collected my stuff, then went round a couple more times to familiarise myself for later.
Next stop: coffee! Fortunately for me, my roommate back home in the UK is from Milan so I didn’t have to search for long – she gave me the details of *the* place to go: BarBacco, near S. Agostino. One delicious cappucino later and I was off to the next destination that she gave me: Pastamadre. The best handmade pasta fresca in all of the city. With the pasta picked up and a few race essentials from the supermarket, I headed back to eat and prepare for the qualifications. Eeva came over, we secured our numbers to our bikes and headed to the course.
Matt joined and assisted us as we pinned our numbers on, chilled, did last minute nervous poops, and entered parc ferme. Parc ferme is the athlete warm-up area, where your bike gets checked, and you can go on rollers. Believe it or not, this was my first time on rollers. Some tips from Matt and Eeva aided me in staying upright and not make a spectacle of myself before the race had even began.

 

The qualis
We were in Heat 2, so we had a little bit more time to ready ourselves. Eeva was looking in the zone all through warm-up and onto the starting grid, here’s the proof:

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All ladies in position and the countdown started; 30 seconds to go. 15 seconds. 3, 2, 1, go!

For once I had clipped in without any problems, and started making my way through the sea of competitors. Up ahead I spotted a girl having trouble clipping in, she was shaking her leg and trying to get the pedal the right way up whilst moving. I knew I had to move, I glanced over my left shoulder and made a move up the fence on the left. Big mistake. The girl had given too much effort to her next attempt to clip in, missed the pedal, and came to the floor, her bike sliding out to the left, straight into my path. With no time to react, I had gone over the handlebars and met the surface of the road, my shoulder taking the brunt of the fall. As far as I know, the others were okay though a little shaken up.

A little lie-down for a few of us, double crashy. My legs at the front with the tie-dye socks. Image: Paul Williams / @gingerbeard_photo

 

No way did I come all the way to Milan to fall at the first hurdle. Ii picked myself up, quickly checked over the bike, plopped myself on and set off to catch up with the pack. Although I didn’t manage to catch the pack, I overtook a few girls and kept going. “MOVE UP, MOVE UP” I could hear Matt shouting from the penultimate corner. The shoulder was burning but the adrenaline was masking the worst of it. 3 laps to go and the reality was setting in.

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Photo credit: Matt / @hubandhandlebar

 

Over the finish line, I sat up on the bike. It was agony. Something was seriously wrong. I high fived a couple of the other girls, then came into the athlete area and waited for Eeva and Matt to join. An Italian man and his kids came over asking for a photo, torn skinsuit and all. I obliged then left my bike with Matt and went off to the medical tent. A kind doctor cleaned me up, gave me a painkiller and advice to not race the finals and get an x-ray in the next 24 hours. He offered for me to go to hospital in the ambulance but we would have to wait for another casaulty. Sure, I can soak up a bit more of the day and get myself checked out later. By the end of the last chance race, there was a healthy queue of minor casualties, and one half-major so off to the hospital I went. Staff were really helpful and kept their cool even when they were understaffed and things were hectic. I watched the womens’ finals live from Instagram (thank you FixedGearCrit for this!) and saw Eeva smash her way into 11th place!! INCREDIBLE! She also got 4th in the superpole, which is a time trial lap of the course and sets your position on the starting grid. Femme brutale.

 

After the long awaited x-ray, I was told that I’d broken my shoulder (this isn’t correct though) and I was allowed home though I was meant to go back in the morning to see the orthopaedic doctor. Instead I caught my flight home and made it to A&E here where it turned out that I had broken off the end of my collarbone.

Ouch

That’s my first crit (half)season over, I’ve got 6-8 weeks to recover then I’ll be back for track league!

A Douchebag at Rapha Nocturne Copenhagen

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Since I’m in the middle of my MA thesis writing, I couldn’t be bothered to type an epic race report. So here’s an epic illustrated version. There was actually nothing epic about the Rapha Nocturne Copenhagen except for the indoor warming area with free rollers. (That’s as epic as epic can get; take note you Red Hook Crit organizers!)

I didn’t know there’d be cobbles. So many cobbles! Alas, it was the worst race I’ve ever done. My brain cells had been replaced by lactic acids by the finish line and I celebrated the finish too early. I was no longer able to control my inner twat who wanted to show off and ride without hands to look swag in the finish line photos. Ooops. I lost my second place by half an inch and came third again.

I learned my lessons: 1. Don’t be such a douche 2. Don’t race on cobbles with a tail bone injury 3. Don’t ride on 50-15 ratio when racing on cobbles with a tail bone injury

 

Thundertrack III – Race Report

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Last Sunday (13th August), four of us took to the track at Herne Hill to take part in NLTCBMBC’s Thundertrack III. Four events made it pretty easy to split the work when writing this blog post, so here goes:

 

Scratch Race (10 Laps) – Hayley Whitehorn

‘Twas a beautiful day but I wasn’t feeling so beautiful. Getting in at 3am the night before from a friend’s leaving party, and the mixture of spirits sitting in my stomach almost made me want to spectate instead of race. “Just see how the scratch race goes” I thought to myself, “it’s only 10 laps, take it easy.” Rolling from the back, we all took the first lap gently to get warmed up; get used to riding right on each other’s wheels and adapt to each other’s riding styles. There were a couple of new faces so it was unpredictable as to what would happen. Thankfully everyone was riding wonderfully, taking turns on the front, filling in gaps. I left a fair few gaps as I was trying to get with it without throwing up. Having a bubble of pink and black jerseys around me reassured me; my teammates and I were in this together and it was gonna be fun no matter what.

Then before we knew it, there were three laps to go and the pace had quickened. I was feeling comfortable despite my stomach getting a bit dicky from last night’s alcohol. The changes at the front shortened slightly, and the pace stepped up again. The bell rang and the heat was on. Literally. It was a scorchio day in London (lolwut). I got myself on NLTCBMBC Caz’s wheel and we took the final bend into a sprint. Hannah had climbed up the banking and pulled ahead – she’s a great sprinter with superb technique – and Caz was by her side. I knew I wasn’t gonna pull it out of the bag so I thought “better hold on to my position” and sprinted to third place. Yes! I could come off the track and get some water. Sweet H2O. Releasing me from the dry mouth curse of the alcohol gods.

 

(Photo: Jess Morgan/NLTCBMBC)

 

Keirin – Rosi Digne-Malcolm

Keirin is one of my favourite races. Six riders. Three laps of the track. The first two laps behind a derny, and on the last lap, sprint for glory. Well that was the plan anyway. The race was split into two qualifying heats, followed by a final round after the Devil. So to qualifying. The first three riders from each heat go through to the final. No pressure then! Hayley and Yewande made it through easy in the first heat, then it was up to Feeney and me to make it through in the second. We had to be held up at the start which made me nervous, and I nearly jumped out of my skin when the gun went off. Go legs go! We all filed into a polite paceline for the first two laps. Didn’t really feel like a race for a while…then the derny pulled off and all hell broke loose. Well, as much hell as you can get from five B cats in the Sunday sun. I got boxed in at half a lap to go and had to pull back, then round the last corner I put in a massive effort to try and come over the top of everyone. I saw Feeney smashing it ahead of me and I just made third place. Job done, sort of. 


After qualifying t
he Devil almost killed me, so the Keirin final wasn’t exactly filling me with confidence. There were four Velociposse out of six riders in the race though, so go us! I knew the others were totally on top of their game though and it’d be tough to get a good result. This time there was no politeness, there was jostling from the start and my poor positioning and tired legs let me down. But I clung on and as we approached the finish line, Feeney and Hayley stormed it to take 3rd and 4th. Feeney even popped a wheelie over the line! I limped over in 5th and Yewande took 6th (saving herself for points smashiness later?). Lots to learn, lots of fun. That’s racing though right?

 

Devil (Elimination Race) – Elly Feeney

The devil is a really stressful race when you think about it, each lap you’re fighting to remain in the race, no opportunities to ease off and recover, and Lord help you if you get dropped. In practice it’s important to just get your head down and focus on the small victories, and actually pretty straightforward if you play the game right. As we came onto the home straight each lap I clocked someone out of the corner of my eye and made it my goal to avoid falling behind them at all costs.  I kept myself near to the front of the pack but not on the inside because it’s really helpful to have room to hop onto people’s wheels when I fancied a breather.  As I crossed the line for the penultimate time, it was only then I realised how far into the race we were and screamed to Hayley and Yewande “holy tits we are the final three!” But unfortunately for me they had their racing hats on and continued fighting to place in the final lap while I lost a lot of ground celebrating prematurely. It took me almost the whole lap to catch back up with them and secure second place but to be honest the best part for me was Velociposse totally dominating the race and being the top 4 riders.

 

 

(Photo: Mario Ghantous)

 

Points Race – Yewande Adesida

As nice as the weather was at Thundertrack, it wasn’t particularly ideal for a 20 lap points race. So when we were asked if wanted to cut it down to 15 laps with points available every 3, there was a resounding yes from the Women’s B Cat. On a scoring lap in a points race, the first four riders to cross the line will get some points – 5, 3, 2 and 1 to be exact. We pulled off from the rail, and were told to roll around the track for a lap before the gun was fired. A yelp from Rosi and we were underway. 

Two laps later and it was time for the first points lap. I had learned my lesson from the scratch race earlier and decided not to sprint a whole lap. In fact, I wasn’t sure whether to go for the sprint at all when I thought, ‘What have I got to lose?’ Unfortunately I wasn’t the only one and Rosi and I went head to head again in a sprint for the line (the first time being at Assos League where Rosi pulled off the win).  More noise was emitted as we crossed the line, each of us thinking that the other had got the maximum points, and to this day we still don’t know who emerged victorious. 

We both rejoined the bunch and soon enough the second points lap came. After racing in three events I had finally found my legs and won the sprint. Then I lost them. The thing with points every three laps is that you’re sprinting more often than if they were every five (like was originally planned). By the time the third sprint came around I didn’t even think about going for it, instead just trying to hang onto the bunch. The break did me good, I was raring to go for the fourth sprint and received maximum points and then it was about hanging on until the end.  

Points were tallied – I’d come out with the overall win! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay to stand on top of a podium for the first time but heard there were some great prizes. 

~~~~~~

Thanks to NLTCBMBC for putting on a great event, the sponsors for donating prizes, and to my teammates who provided some wonderful entertainment and awesome racing. 

 All in all, a great day out for Velociposse, and some of us will be back tonight at the last round of the ASSOS Women’s League so watch this space!

Red Hook Crit London and the King of FOMOs

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Sam Dunn

(Photo Sam Dunn)

Red Hook Crit happened. On the day of what later became known as Wet Foot Crit I was secretly happy it was raining. I saw it as my only advantage. I’ve lived in London for over five years and by now I manage to stay upright on the streets that frequently turn into lakes. Working out mostly on my balcony also means that I’m really good at doing a 20-minute warm up on slippery, wet rollers.

The rain-positivity didn’t last long. After getting absolutely soaked on the ride to Greenwich Peninsula I was mostly grumpy. It got worse after I found out that the ‘rider’s area’ of this supposedly elite fixed gear race was a car park. Literally. I’d always dreamt of racing a Red Hook Crit but thought it was way too exclusive for someone like me. The reality: you have change your soaking wet self into a skinsuit in a portaloo.

Well, not that the fancy riders in fancy teams had to. They had tents and canopies to protect them from the rain. But the two-woman-race-team repping Velociposse had no infrastructure and so I had to leave my bag unattended in the rain and hope no-one would steal my sacred belongings (pesto pasta, a beer-bottle-opener-cum-15-mm-spanner I won at Minet Crit. My wallet, my phone). I headed to the rollers, warmed up (well, tried to as the sky was pouring liquid coldness onto me) and raced in the second qualifying heat. I came sixth.

Being in the top ten of my heat meant getting through to the super pole. That individual time trial-y thing luckily got cancelled due to the appalling weather. I fully embraced the good news. I hadn’t been able to change into dry clothes until 40 minutes after the qualifier which meant my legs were feeling sore and I thought I’d catch tuberculosis. It was that bad. When I say bad, I mean I had to wrap myself in 10 layers of clothing. I stole all of Velociposse support team’s collective spare clothing to warm back up again. And my skinsuit was so thoroughly soaked that even 20 minutes of blow-drying it in the O2 arena’s toilet didn’t help much.

Because the super pole had been cancelled, I started with a grid position 11 and my aim was to finish in top 10 (although I thought it was totally unrealistic). Racing felt like what it always feels like: for the first 10 minutes, I just wanted to quit. It was not fun – the pace was hard and we were whizzing through ponds of water that made me half blind. My rear wheel was taking off the ground as we rode up and down the uneven circuit. In fact, parts of the circuit looked more like a construction site than racing surface. My only aim was to keep close to Jasmine Dotti because she was the only person in the top 5 I could recognize.  

(Photo: Jess Morgan/NLTCBMBC)

Not that it got any more fun after the first minutes. I just tried to keep up. Each lap did make me slightly happier because it meant one lap less of torture, one lap closer to the finishing sprint and few less minutes away from a post-race beer. My endurance-mindedness was occasionally interrupted, either by someone trying to knock me off my bike with their handlebars or by a sudden mega-fast sprint. Phew. Finally, it was the last lap and I moved up in the group. I was sitting comfortably seventh as we were coming to the home straight.

Just before the last turn I remember thinking: Yay! Soon I can sprint! I love sprinting! Then all this is over! But as I took the turn I saw that two people had crashed right in front of me and that I had nowhere to go.

After that split second I too crashed into the banking, bounced back and hit the tarmac. I smashed the back of my head and my tailbone to the ground. I then got straight back up. Instead of reaching for my bike and riding the last few meters to the finish (like a race cyclist would do) I went to check up on the badly hurt Tania lying on the ground. As a former girl scout my instinct was to react to an emergency and to help. I couldn’t just leave her alone, especially because she was trying to get up despite a broken jaw.

(Photo: Jess Morgan/NLTCBMBC)

After the first aiders arrived to take care of us, I walked off the circuit and rode home. I didn’t get to watch the men’s race because of my aching head. I had to go rest. I didn’t even go to the after party to have a well-earned hangout with lycra hunks! However, there is something even worse than hunk party FOMO. Namely, Dani King FOMO. 

As I was trying to reconstruct my patchy memory of the crash and figure out whether to go to the hospital or not, I watched a video of the last moments of the women’s final. On the video, the front four riders start sprinting. You can then see three people all crash at the back. It’s me third. However, note what happens next. Dani King comes out the last turn and beautifully dodges the crash.

 

 

Errr let’s stop here for a moment. DANI KING. Wearing green. Riding behind me. Behind me. Triple world champion, Olympic gold medalist and the person who lapped all other riders in last year’s London RHC was behind me at that point. I would’ve sprinted with her, letting my lovely 50-15 gearing shine. I would’ve been 7th most likely and had Velociposse name in the top 10 of RHC for the first time. If only had the people not crashed in front of me!

Either way, I did enjoy the experience. I am still limping but at least I’ve now got a red-hook-stickered bike to lean on. I even got remotely famous in the Finnish fixed cycling scene after someone found out I was doing the notorious race. I didn’t even get a ‘DNF’ as the result despite not actually finishing: on paper, I was 24th. So I should probably just retire, go back to Finland and become the local pub lady who endlessly recounts how she almost beat a world champion in a cool cycling race.

Or I could just accept things. I did kind of sign up for all this: riding brakeless bikes in a bunch at a 42km/h average* is bad enough, let alone turning tight corners on an uneven surface in torrential rain. I knew I could crash. And I did. Now it’s simply time to continue and heal my aching tailbone. As for Red Hooks, there will be more. Hopefully I get to finish one soon.

*See the stats, 26.28 mph was my best average lap speed 

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10 Things I Learnt At Red Hook Crit London No.3 (AKA Wet Foot Crit)

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  1. You can never have too many spare pairs of socks

  2. Mini GPS devices do not survive crashes. Nor do knees.

  3. Team vans are cool. Maybe we should get a team van. Maybe we should raise funds to buy a team van. Bake sale anyone?

  4. The fixed gear community are way more approachable than they appear to be (everybody looks so hardcore with their battlewounds and edgy haircuts/colours and tattoos). Thank you to anyone who helped us out including Stanridge Cycles, NLTCBMBC, Fixed Beers, and RHC event staff!

  5. Five Guys makes for good carbo-loading and kit-drying in between races

    (Eeva keeping dry in Five Guys)

  6. You can keep going after crashing

  7. There should be beer at the finish line

  8. I want to learn how to track stand to this level…


    (photo credits: LW Event Consulting)

  9. This event is probably the hardest fixed gear criterium series on the planet. With elite athletes. Including world champ track champ and Olympic gold medallist Dani King. Probably not suited for someone who started racing 3 weeks ago

  10. BUT GOSH IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. Bring on the next one!

(photo credits: Memrides)