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