(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