The past two weekends I achieved one of my true goals in life – being able to legitimately call my sliders podium shoes. I miraculously came third at the Rapha Nocturne (my first fixed crit ever) and won the SERRL cat 3/4 race in Gravesend the weekend after (my third crit race ever and first win ever)
The night before Rapha Nocturne I went to the pre-party at Spitalfields. I knew I’d arrived at the right location when I spotted the flock of cool kids sitting outside the shop next to a selection of premium bike porn. Everyone had ridden there with their brakeless custom fixies, obviously. I was quickly reminded of how I’d felt every single time I’d rocked up in any respectable underground biking event in my life. Despite having worked as a messenger I’d always felt like an outsider and eventually stopped going to alleycats and other biking events. Before Deliveroo happened, being a messenger was like being the son of God in the fixed gear scene. Nevertheless, I always felt like I didn’t belong to the flock of cool kids and that no-one took me seriously. I assume it had to do with never having enough pouches attached to my bag and zero cog ring tattoos on my calves.
Accordingly, I’d never known how to start racing proper fixed races. I only knew Red Hook and that I wanted to do it someday, but it seemed way out of my league. I even went to a Red Hook crit pre-party once, only to feel like totally out of place again. Being female doesn’t help either because you’re alone amongst the masses of kamikaze skidders. That’s why for years I simply had no clue how to enter races or even train on a bike. I became a solo cyclotourist instead and found my community in grazing sheep.
However, as I was entering Rapha I was no longer one of the mortal cyclists. I, too, had arrived on my slick custom brakeless track bike, my dearest Aventon Diamond. I had become RAD enough to feel like I could fit in.
I entered the shop and went like “Yoooo I’m racing tomorrow can I have a drink pleeease.” I was given refreshments. It was all great until I was told it was a very bad idea to start my fixed gear racing career with the Rapha Nocturne. Apparently, the field was going to be super strong and it was a bit too optimistic to enter such a race with any previous experience. The guy namedropped all the strongest riders who have proper teams to make sure I understood who I was up against.
I thought WHATEVER I DON’T CARE I’M GONNA RACE NO MATTER HOW BAD IT GOES. Despite the slowly increasing fear I could feel in my stomach, I knew I could ride a bike in circles no matter what this man was telling me. Thanks to Velociposse, I’d been riding smashy laps at the Lee Valley circuit and practicing my bike handling skills. I’d also ridden brakeless for years so it wasn’t even going to be as scary for me as my teammates: neither Yewande, Jess nor Rosi had ridden fixed in their pre-Velociposse lives.
I want to highlight the friendly piece of advice I got because it nicely illustrates a generic condition. Women are hardly ever encouraged to do scary stuff. It was true Nocturne was definitely not the best race to start racing with. Riding brakeless fixed in a pack of pros is mental. But the fact is that there are only four fixed circuit races per season in London, so one must start somewhere. It’s very difficult and scary to enter races like the Nocturne, but that doesn’t mean one should not do it.
I would never ever have done any of the cool bike stuff I’m currently up to had I not joined Velociposse. I’ve received so much encouragement from the team. Thus, all you girls out there who want to race remember that A. You can do it B. Start somewhere, like by joining Velociposse or by entering a race C. It’s FUN to ride fast which is why you should race D. (most important) races mean you get to meet mega rad women and men.
As for the race, it was horrible and scary, as usual. I had started preparing well with an afternoon pre-race nap to alleviate the paralysing feeling of panic. I had also arrived earlyish to watch the men’s support race (won by Rosi’s boyfriend Tim!!!), which should’ve left me enough time to warm up. But things went wrong, I faffed around with rollers and eventually my warm up lasted only 5 minutes. Not cool.
I felt so anxious and unprepared when waiting for the race to start that my resting heart rate was 120. I checked. Standing in amongst the superawesomepro-looking women was intimidating as we waited for the race to start.
120 bpm is indeed high for standing still, but low compared to my race heart rate average. After the first neutralised lap the pace got really fast and I was dying.
There was none of that “I’ll just sit at the back and coast until the race is over” like what you can do with a road bike. I had stupidly positioned myself approximately tenth, like what I’d do in a normal circuit race. Riding fixed was so different – on every straight we’d sprint as a bunch, only to squeeze into a double line in the corners. Accordingly, I wasted a lot of energy pushing against my pedals to not hit the people in front of me in the corners and then, even more, energy trying to keep up on the straights.
It was crazy. Well, I recall being remotely aware that it felt crazy. I was aware that if I’d make the smallest of mistakes, I’d crash straight into a banking, the audience or the tarmac. Luckily I seem to not feel fear whilst riding – I only panic about the race as an event.
Then was a bad crash and the race was stopped. When we were allowed to continue, there was time for only five more laps. This time I had learned my lesson and tried to stay more at the front to avoid unnecessary slowing down.
As usual in races, I was very non-alert and it took me about 20 seconds of listening to the bell ringing to realise we were on the last lap. It got very tense and fast. I thought I should try to attack because I had been told that’s what you’re supposed to do in races. But I didn’t and turning into the finish line I realised it was too late. Coming out the last bend, Jasmine was flying at the front for victory, followed by Brooke who looked like a human torpedo. I sprinted, managed to overtake one person and came third.
Riding in the Eurosportesque setting with a roaring crowd was cool. Then the next cool thing was that I got to splash champagne around with Brooke and Jasmine (who btw was racing the elite crit straight afterward because Italians do it better). But the COOLEST thing ever was to pour champagne all over my podium shoes and offer the remaining sips to the Velociposse crew.
The week following Rapha Nocturne was, in contrast, totally not cool. It was sweaty as I spent the whole week in bed with the flu but at least I got to rest my injured Achilles tendon. The only time I went out during the week was to pick up my first ever road bike that I’d bought second hand.
On Saturday, I went to see Matt to cough at him until he would understand I was too ill to race the next day. It didn’t work. Instead, my semi-okay bike was totally upgraded and transformed into a real road bike. It was all very annoying because I didn’t want to ride it. I felt horrible and grumpy on the day of the race, but couldn’t bail out on my team members.
We got to Gravesend and me, Jess and Rosi raced in the inhumanely hot sun. I wore a long-sleeved skinsuit, which didn’t help in the heat. There was a brief, cooling moment but I realised it was caused by a pack of strawberry-flavoured gel leaking out of my back pocket. Anyway, riding was horrible and after the first 15 minutes of riding, I wanted to give up. I didn’t and after 1h 15 minutes of riding it was luckily all over and I had managed to win.
Winning happened like this: I’m very heavy so on the last lap I just rolled downhill past people, stayed at the front until we got to the home straight and then sneakily rested at Angela’s wheel. I thought I’d save my energies and do a golden sprint for victory when we were close enough to the finish line. Bah. The plan was great but I had forgotten about the climb. Sprinting UPHILL equals no golden sprints. Alas, I didn’t exactly fly past Angela and it was only by a very narrow 10 centimetres that I came first. I did manage to achieve a new personal best heart rate of 205 and enough points to get me to third cat. As we were riding back to London I munched on Yewande’s home-made cakes and was happy Matt had forced me to race.
This past fortnight’s conclusion: don’t listen to yourself. Thinking of doing scary things makes you find excuses to avoid doing them. Also, don’t listen to people who tell you not to do things because it doesn’t make sense. It’s better to just try and see where it goes. You should only listen to people like Matt, our one-man-support-team, who will first coach you to have skills and gain confidence and then lure you into racing no matter how crap you’re feeling.
White City’s Minet crit is in two weeks and there’s going to be a strong Velociposse presence of amateurs and scared first-timers. Enter now, see you there and we all can panic together.