Everyone had been looking forward to the Rad Race Fixed 42 for months.
The appeal of closed roads, a novel and challenging race format and the chance to spend some time in Berlin – a city even cooler than London – sounded like a dream. Five of us had signed up and our great leader Rob had also arranged to come over to support. Airbnb’s were duly booked and gear ratios agonised over.
Friday before the race and the usual suspects from the London fixed scene were beginning to descend on Berlin like moths with tiny bike bags to a flame. Disaster no.1 hit when Michael’s train to the airport suddenly lacked a driver due to the train strike. He missed his flight and Ryanair wouldn’t offer him another one. Pow. One down.
On Saturday Rob arrived at the airport for his flight ready for a nice family holiday. Security confiscated his #dadlyf supplies for extra checks. By the time they got the gate they were too late to board the plane. Two down.
Meanwhile, Tom unpacked his bike and discovered that his seat post clamp had vanished somewhere between London and Berlin and his bike was unridable. Why not just buy another one in Berlin? I hear you cry. Because his Koga has a very specific seat post clamp, sold by hardly anyone, smartass. An online campaign ensued to find a replacement either from Berlin or London, but it wasn’t to be. Three. Down.
So only three of us arrived at the start line with bikes – Dimi, Henry and me (Jess). After warming up in the sun on Roodol rollers, making some new friends and observing the usual ELF antics it was time to go. With over 350 men there it was a huge field, with riders ranging from the seasoned fixie pro teams Cinelli Chrome to guys in t-shirts. What united everyone was a desire to smash it as quickly as possible along a motorway.
Dimi and Henry started in the fastest group, which hurtled down he motorway at an insane pace until some half wheeling in the group (a theme of the day I must say) caused a crash that took down Henry. Luckily he wasn’t hurt too badly, but his chance of a good result vanished the second his Bloc sunglasses went for an unscheduled flying lesson across the tarmac. He got back on his bike and towed one of the slower groups to the finish.
Meanwhile Dimi launched multiple cheeky attacks along the motorway but missed the 7-man break that was ultimately victorious. Some sketchy riding in the bunch and very high pace made it a place you didn’t want to lose concentration and a fair number of our friends were caught in crashes (heal up guys). It was a very fast finish and Dimi ended up 69th. A good position, I think we’d all agree.
The women’s race had about 35 ladies on the start line, an impressive turn out. Sadly a crash in the neutral zone wiped out a couple of riders before the racing had even begun, which I dodged by a cat’s whisker. I can’t begin to say how enraged I would have been to get caught in a crash 2km into this race, so my commiserations to all the girls who ended up in the broom wagon early.
I LOVED the race. My tactic was not to use too much energy in the first half because I expected the stronger girls with teammates to start attacking hard and go for a breakaway, and I think a lot of other girls were thinking the same, resulting in our first 15km being oddly leisurely. Those big attacks I was waiting for never came, probably because there were a lot of strong riders in the bunch, any time somebody tried to jump they were reeled in immediately. The pace picked up as we neared the end of the motorway and we rolled through airport runways and big dual carriageways into the heart of Berlin.
We approached the centre of Berlin still as a single group – we had shed just 10 riders since the start. The roads got a bit twistier, the pace faster, the mood tenser. Someone slipped out on a corner. I stayed near the front and shut down any attacks. At this point I know we’re sort of close to the end but thanks to my Garmin being set to miles not kilometres, I didn’t know exactly how close. We turn a corner and see a huge white inflated arch in the distance. Is that the finish? Everyone tries to slyly look around as if they could read the answer in the faces of the other riders. I was ¼ down the bunch and panicked…I didn’t want to be the mug who got a crappy place because she didn’t think it was the finish line. So I started to rapidly move up. As I pass people they reactively speed up too, so I launch into a full out sprint as do the girls at the front, and as I get closer to the arch I realise that IT’S OBVIOUSLY NOT THE FINISH…there’s no crowds there, no stages or screens, it’s just a STUPID WHITE ARCH AND I’M SPRINTING FOR NO REASON.
So that was actually 2km from the finish, but the pace stayed very high and after a few more decoy arches we saw the flamme rouge of 1km to go. It was the hardest 1000m I’ve ever done after wasting my legs earlier, and although I went into the last 200km around 9th place I couldn’t keep the pace and with a sinking heart and jelly legs watched as 10 riders who had sat safely in the bunch in for most of the race overtook me before the line. Disappointed and cross with myself doesn’t even cover it because I knew I could have done better.
Although I was pretty (ok, VERY) grumpy for a few hours afterwards I quickly got over it as the experience as a whole was overwhelmingly positive and unforgettable. It was absolutely unreal to race 42km on closed roads with a massive operation of motorbikes, marshals, vehicles and barriers keeping us safe, and to see so many people waiting on the roads and cheering us on. I’m nothing more than a keen amateur, I like riding my bike fast when I’m not at work, and in the grand scheme of things I’m not even that good at it, but we got the full pro experience. And for that, as well as the brilliant organisation in the run up as well, Rad Race, I thank you, and I’ll certainly be back next year for a second shot.
As a bonus, here is Henry about to get taken out by a flying bike.