The Fixed 42 race was quite different this year in comparison to my first attempt in 2017, this time I had a much better time in the bunch. All those Saturday mornings spent at Herne Hill have finally started to pay off!
I got to the start at midday with the mass race line-up starting from 1:30pm, this felt like an eternity with the sun beating down on us whilst all the riders hid in any scrap of shade they could find. There was a decent head wind and temperatures of 26-27c, a lovely day but knowing what was about to come we probably all wished it was a bit cooler and definitely less windy. In contrast to the much earlier start last year the men’s race started at 2:10pm with the women’s race starting 7 minutes after the last men went over the start line, a massive improvement over last year when the women caught the men before the race left the neutralised start.
I lined up near the front of the field made up of about 60 women. I stood next to Jess a few other women I knew with wheels I knew I could trust, this was important when the first thing to do is setting off fast and clipping in from a foot-down start, fixed and brakeless!
I knew we had 3 sketchy roundabouts to navigate in the neutralised start before we hit the race proper and rode up on to the autobahn. this caught me out last year, I didn’t trust the wheels through the first few obstacles and I dropped myself, there was no way I was letting this happen this year. I made space for myself and chose my line through the roundabouts so I could keep my speed.
No one was pushing too hard at the start and I was fine in the wheels and didn’t get jostled about too much in the neutral section. I settled in to my gear straight away and felt relieved I had got my gearing right. The push up to the autobahn was fun rather than punishing this year, I stayed mid bunch and prepared to tuck in down the long straight motorway.
There was no tight formation on the autobahn, riders were tacking about a lot and there was lots of half-wheeling and shouts to hold your line, I shouted a few times myself when I saw riders up the bunch skittering about! Not what you want to see when you’re smashing down a road brakeless at around 40kph. After seeing some of the videos of the crashes in the men’s race on the autobahn it turns out we got off lightly, some of the guys went down like skittles.
I got pushed off the right side of the bunch a few times in to the wind down the autobahn but didn’t feel out of my depth, I just dropped back across in to the wheels as soon as I could. I made an effort to stay near the edge of the bunch to the right as there was the most space and I could move up when I wanted to. I even sat on the front for a little while. I had to bite my tongue not to dive off the front, I really wanted to but decided to keep my energy for later, I’m glad I did.
Once we got off the autobahn and in to the edge of Berlin there had been surges and some attacks but nothing major, a couple of riders sat 10-20 seconds off the front on the autobahn but soon got reeled back or chose to drop back in to the bunch.
The roads in town were wide, the bunch was flowing well and riders were signalling turns as indicated by good race marshals. It was all going great and then we got to the sharp right-hand turn in to the Templehoff airfield, the road narrowed at this point as well. Some riders just in front took the corner wrong and wiped out, there were two riders down across basically the whole width of the road and I had to make a flash decision to try to make the gap in front of me past the riders on the floor so as not to lose my race or crash out myself! I narrowly avoided the riders on the floor but had to slow down a lot to do so and unclipped one foot in the process. It all happened really quickly but I had to immediately shut it out of my mind and get back in the race that was disappearing across the airfield. Once I clipped back in I sprinted to give everything to make it back to the bunch up ahead.
I got to a few riders spread out ahead and tried to work to chase back on but it didn’t work out. I could see some riders 20-30m up the road but I couldn’t quite get to them. The brutal headwind on the airfield with no shelter was horrific, it was the worst possible place to lose contact.
I knew that the crash had split up the bunch fairly near the head of the race and I knew I felt strong enough to hold my pace so I just gritted my teeth and settled in to try and catch anyone falling off the bunch/bunches ahead. I also didn’t want anyone behind me to catch me as that would diminish my chances of the top 20 finish I thought I might achieve.
I got off the airfield and gradually lost sight of the riders ahead but as I was on my own I took my chance to eat a gel as I didn’t have to worry about sketchy riding in a bunch. I tried to stay as fast as possible and felt good to see 25-26mph often when glancing at my Wahoo Elemnt.
I got some great encouraging cheers from the crowds at the side of the course through town which really helped! The course is fantastic and the level of support was so amazing. the only negative to being alone was that the race marshals seemed to misjudge my speed as a solo rider and sometimes opened crossings just ahead and let people cross. I had to shout for people to move, a lot.
I picked off a number of the men’s field on my way to the finish. The bunch had caught the back of the men’s race fairly soon after hitting Berlin before the crash but once I was on my own I steadily went past a few more from the back of the men’s field.
Once I saw the 4km to go banner I felt elated, I looked back and couldn’t see any women and knew I could hold the gap to the line. I pushed on past 3KM to go, 2KM to go and finally the 1KM red flag. I pushed hard down the finish straight and the spectators were banging on the boards which was amazing.
I initially thought I’d made top 20 but I finished 21st, tired but happy!