Two years ago I marshalled at THUNDERCR⚡️T and wrote a whole journal about how I wanted to race it. Last year it didn’t line up; I ended up in Italy on the weekend of the race – if I’m honest, I was a little relieved. Another year would go by that I wouldn’t have to measure myself against my ambitions.
It was time to step up. I checked and double checked the dates, I was free, and it wasn’t too soon that I wouldn’t be able help prepare as much as I could. I had no excuses, and I was even excited. Since marshalling at THUNDERCR⚡️T II I had dabbled in some road crits at Lee Valley and one at Hog Hill, so I knew that I definitely had a passion for racing – even when the results weren’t what I would have wanted.
But this was different. This was another level. My previous races had all but one been Cat.4 races; racing with fellow new racers. At THUNDERCR⚡️T I would be racing, no matter how briefly, with experienced riders and previous winners of both THUNDERCR⚡️T and Red Hook Crit.
For the first time I was making a concerted effort to plan my training, but I also had to fit this around my existing life. So this essentially meant that I would be adding to my existing weekly rides along with some extra structured sessions thrown in.
I also decided to motivate myself with my bike, Lumpy Space Princess. I’ve been considering upgrading LSP’s wheels for a while as a nudge to try some track racing, plus I was never overly keen with her current colour scheme – it didn’t say ‘Space Princess’ to me. So, this being a somewhat milestone event for me, I decided that this was a great opportunity to add to my experience. At the same time I was very aware that the cost of deep section track wheels isn’t low, so I would also take the chance to try my hand at spraying LSP’s frame myself.
A few sketches in Illustrator later I was pretty set on what I wanted. I also didn’t have to search too far for the wheels; I’d been running Stayer Wheels on my Road bike for about a year, and loved them. Plus with the workshop being so close to me I liked the idea of ‘sourcing local.’ In a fairly tenuous link; I also sourced the paint locally, through Brick Lane Bikes. Once I’d had the vinyl stencils printed I was all set; I just had to strip LSP down to her frame for preparation and convince a mate that letting me use his garden as a make-shift spray booth was a great idea of fun.
Despite the self-imposed-high-pressure of not fucking it up, it was fun! The beers definitely helped calm the nerves but transforming my bike to reveal something I’d pictured in my mind was very satisfying. There were, and are, mistakes and defects, but they can be fixed. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but maybe when the temperature was a little higher – the ambient temperature in our make-shift spray booth was lower than recommended for paint application, and as a consequence the spray nozzles kept blocking. Not ideal when you’re trying to apply a gradient. Shout out to my assistant Josh for becoming an impromptu nozzle-clearing line.
With my bike painted – and a couple of trips to a couple of bike shops to resolve another chapter in my battle with bottom bracket standards; who specs a press-fit BB in an alloy frame? Who?! – I was ready to race. Well at least LSP was…
Having being drawn in a qualifying group consisting of the two time Thundercrit winner Alec Briggs and his good buddy Stefan Schafer – winner of Red Hook Crit – I was never expecting an easy time. However, my race number had my lucky number in it, so that gave me more of a boost than it probably should have; but I was happy that if all else went wrong, I would have a number to frame that would really mean something to me.
After forcing myself (forcing my own will, rather than physically with elbows) to the front(ish) of the grid I was quickly fighting to stay in touch. Eventually the inevitable happened and the elastic snapped. Luckily I had some friends shouting at me, urging me to continue alone in no-mans-land. Eventually I was joined by two others and we held on until the end.
It also helped having a clubmate from ICC present in the race. It's suprised me in the past how much this helps boost your morale. We hadn't even bothered to discuss tactics as we both were focussing on just surving, but just knowing you're not alone in the bunch is comforting.
I wasn’t convinced, and to be honest I was a little comforted, by the idea that I hadn't qualified for the A-Final and that I would be in the B-Final. Happy with the thought that I only had to race 10 more laps that day before being able to relax with a beer to watch the A-Finals and shout encouraging words at other riders. However; to my surprise, and after checking a few times, I discovered that there had been a change to the criteria and the top 25 would qualify for A-Finals, and I had placed 25th. 😳
With, fellow member of 'Team FI-ICC-XED' (see what I did there?), Pete qualifying in a much more convincing position (16th 🙌) we were both now waiting to take our place on the start line for the A-Finals. I can mostly only relay my own experience of the final – hanging on for five laps before bowing out – accepting that I was lucky to be there and had already exceeded my own expectations. Plus, I didn’t want to risk getting in the way of what was shaping up to be a very fast race.
As I limped down the back-straight (neutralised part of the course) I looked up to see a big chasing group, including Pete, be pulled from the course after seven laps. I recognised a few faces along with Pete, and it was a strong group that seemed to be working well. Unfortunately it seemed that the front of the race wasn’t taking any prisoners and were forcing the hand of the marshals to pull riders to avoid potential problems. I have to take the word of the marshals here as I was busy trying to catch my breath and couldn’t see the gap at that point.
After I had sourced some post-race refreshment (🍻), we were able to see the rest of the race. Stefan Schafer and 8bar team rider – Manuel Porzner – had built up a convincing lead over the bunch. Unfortunately Stefan punctured on the bell lap meaning Manuel had a victory lap of sorts, before Eamon Lucas and Alec Briggs sprinted for second and third respectively.
On reflection it was an awesome experience, and was a big ambition of mine ticked off. After watching fixed-gear-crits for years, I had finally raced in one. Whats more I had, just about, qualified for the main event. With Pete showing a strong outing and two Islington jerseys in the final I am pretty proud of Team F-ICC-xed’s season opener. I am already looking forward to next year, but more imminently, the first round of ISHQ in a few weeks!
Words — Jack Sadler
Pictures — Jack Sadler, Matthew Farnworth (🙌), Alison Freeman (🙌) and Joshua Lassen (🙌)