Barcelona has been my favourite Red Hook Crit so far. The weather, the beach, the city, the food, all bloody spectacular and even better when you’ve got a whole crew of crit friends to share the experience with. The race itself was one of my best so far and one I’ve learned the most from. So here are my lessons learned in vague chronological order:
Lesson 1: If Kiera McVitty says you’re overgeared, you probably are.
The course for Barcelona was a lot less technical than London, instead of multiple sharp 90 degree corners it had two long bendy straights with a tight hairpin on one end and a wide hairpin on the other end. Having ridden 49-15 at London and felt fairly comfortable, I thought it might be worth upping my gear one tooth to 50-15 so I could really smash along the straight sections.
Relaying this strategy to Kiera McKitty, team captain of the Why Be Normal? team and probably the most experienced racer I know, she shook her head and tutted “Girl, the hairpin is going to kill you on that gear” and even offered me the use of her spares. Foolishly I ignored her advice (she later came 4th).
I did the qualifier and realised that it wasn’t just the hairpin which was the problem, it was the incline directly afterwards, meaning regaining speed after scrubbing it all off was doubly hard on a high gear. Despite these warning signs, after I saw the speed the other girls went on the straights I was still adamant that the extra gear would help me keep up.
During the race I realised my mistake. Every time we hit the hairpin I lost 5 metres as everyone else could spin up quicker than me and get out of the corner towards the finish line. I even had trouble on the more forgiving hairpin on the opposite end of the course as riders attacked out of it. For the first half of the race I hung on to the back of the lead group in a constant battle of getting gapped and chasing back on.
On the flip side, the track gearing DID help on the straights so once I did make contact with the bunch I could keep up, recover and sometimes move up a few places with relative ease, although this lead would usually only last until the next corner.
Lesson 2: Don’t give up.
In my first few Red Hook Crits I’d always ended up stuck in the chasing pack, so my goal for this year was to make it to the lead group and hang on for at least half the race. This time my wish came true, I started well, nipping along the outside to gain places as we set off, and despite my gearing issues I stayed with the lead pack as others were shelled off the back, many riders who I considered a lot faster than me. But the pace was furious. It was the fastest race I’ve ever done and I was deep in the red from the start.
Through the mist of pain I remember making an effort to look at the lap board as we came around, hoping to be halfway through, only to see that we’d only done 8 laps and still had 16 left. Shit. I can’t keep this up. I looked furtively behind me to see if there were any dropped riders that I could fall back and work with. Nobody. Nothing. Nada. This race was so fast that nobody behind the lead group had survived the sweeper moto. I was going to be stuck in the darkness alone if I cut the cord and let myself drift back. So I gritted my teeth and hung on, because even the pain of the lead group was better than the humiliation of being stuck in no mans land on my own. I’m glad I did because once we did finally get past 12 laps I wasn’t suffering as much and there seemed to be more lulls in the pace.
Lesson 3: Move up.
For the first half of the race I was hanging on for dear life at the back, putting in massive efforts just to keep in contact. Once I didn’t feel like my legs and lungs were melting, I found the energy to move up properly within the group and immediately felt the benefit of being protected from the wind on every side. I probably should have moved up more, but in a terribly polite British way, I didn’t want to hold up people behind me when I was slow coming out of corners. Next time I’ll try and be a bit more cut throat.
Lesson 4: Get good wheels and you can corner like a demon.
As a track rider first and foremost, cornering is not my strong point. I usually start every Red Hook Crit taking all the corners like a total wuss, not really getting the hang of it until halfway through the race. This time was different because I’d been given a set of Spin On These carbon wheels to ride on. The super wide 28mm rims and grippy Vittoria Rubino Pro tyres gave me the confidence to lean hard into the corners without the fear of sliding out. And when I realised my acceleration wasn’t as fast out of the corners as the other girls, the wheels allowed me to take tighter lines around them to shorten the distance and conserve energy. I can’t wait to race on them again.
Lesson 5: Roll when you crash.
We’d reached two laps to go and I was still comfortably in the lead pack. I hadn’t expected to make it so far, and felt surprisingly fresh. There were only 23 of us left and I was stoked to have made it to the end of the race in such esteemed company. Even if I come last in this group I’ll be happy, I thought, but I might as well see if I can move up and outsprint a few girls.
I was still in the back half of the group so as we reached the last corner before the finish line I decided to take a super tight line around the hairpin to improve my position. Marion of Team Standert was ahead and had the same idea, but unfortunately with no Spin On These wheels, as she reached the apex of the corner her tyres lost traction on the ground and she slid out, centimetres in front of me.
I had nowhere to go and ended up riding straight over poor Marion and her bike, before coming off myself. Since it happened on the slowest part of the course I had a split second to react and managed to fall to the side rather than going straight over the handlebars. Luckily no other riders got caught up in the crash and Marion and I both got off with just a few bruises, which compared to some of the other crashes that day was very, very lucky.
Lesson 6: Race to the end.
I was in too much shock to be annoyed about the crash, and I still don’t blame Marion at all for it, since it was bound to happen eventually. I jumped up and felt no immediate pain. I’m ok! I picked up my bike and it looked ok too, and I realised I could at least finish the race. I hopped on and teased my legs back into action, Marion still trying to straighten her bars. I went along the course alone as quick as I could and saw the lead pack on the opposite side, far out of reach by now. Coming along the back straight I glimpsed Marion catching up behind me, and we reached the final hairpin together. Taking much safer lines this time we came out neck and neck and sprinted for the finish line. This time my track gear won out as I wound up to a full sprint and took it by a bikes length. A small victory but one I’ll take against a hitter like Marion.
It would have been nice to finish the race in the bunch to see what I could have done but hey, that’s racing. I guess I’ll have to wait until Milan. See you there.