Wait, there was a crash? When? Where? How?
I guess we shouldn’t be that surprised given the nature of the sport but there aren’t that many people racing and the course is pretty safe… What now?
Saturday the 3rd of November 2018, the first every criterium organized by Kingdom took place in Dubai – the first race of the 2018 Kingdom Criterium Series.
Have a turnout of ten people or more
The course was the first thing picked out; weeks back, this same course was used by Team Kingdom to practice for Red Hook Crit. It seemed fitting for the first ever fixed-gear criterium in Dubai. It was a low-key race, under the radar, and revolving around the local fixed-gear scene.
We had everything newbie race organizers think they need to organize a race: cones, tape, finish line, table, and a horn. Gotta have a horn.
6:30 in the morning and we’ve set up our little table in the middle of a road in the middle of nowhere, put some wavers on it, shot a picture for instagram and we’re ready for riders and registration.
Our 1.7km course had all the cones laid out and not make things NOT easier cars and buses kept driving through the course which we were pretty sure was abandoned. Apparently it wasn;t so abandoned, leaving us with 2 options - change the course and add two new hairpins on the limits of the main road so we don’t use it or close the street and hope the cars/ buses listen to us and stop while the riders pass through.
An hour later we have about half a dozen riders riding around the course, the ladies race is starting soon and a car hasn’t come by the main road in a while. Final course check and recon done and we’re a go for race #1. Kayen and Joana are up. A quick “on your marks” and a terrible attempt at blowing the horn ends up with more weird white liquid coming out than sound. Some weird gesturing follows that and the riders are off.
The ladies are off and given the first lap prime sponsored by The Project, Kayen attacks on the first corner and goes solo, she takes the prime and just keeps on going.
On this 8 lap race, a half-way prime is announced, which means that at the end of lap 4 another prize is given. Kayen is still going solo as the horn goes off at the end of lap 3. Joana is trailing not far behind but she can’t take the second prime for the solo breakaway rider who decides to keep at it until the end of the race, not losing much if any space to the chasing rider. One lap remains, the horn blows for the last time, and Kayen eases on the pedals as she realizes the size of her gap. Both riders cross the finish line safe and sound, looking badass and celebrate being awesome. A successful day for the ladies on the KCS1118.
Next: the men’s race.
As planned we head out for a recon lap of the course with the 6 guys at the start line. It’s a good turnout, no reason not to be safe. As we are finishing the recon lap, 5 guys on fixed-gear bikes ride onto the course. Apparently our out-of-the-way venue was a bit too out of the way and this crew had only just made it. Because the sport of fixed-gear is a community of like-minded people that care about each other, legitimately, another recon lap was done and with everyone registered, waivered and warmed up we were green light.
We were getting pretty pumped. After explaining the small list of rules and format, giving recognition to sponsors and thanking the participants for their presence, a 30 second countdown began. “30”, “15”, “10”… Not a second after Andre blew the horn and the legs began turning.. With a few difficulties getting the feet into their foot retention devices, the field of 11 riders got to the first corner together. Right after that on the second corner, and probably tightest of the course, a rider looses control and goes over his handlebars causing the following rider to jump over to the sand. Fortunately this was a slowest corner of the course and the one benefit of Dubai is lots of semi-soft sand, so both riders got right back up undamaged and carried on. Phew.
Meanwhile a breakaway of two riders takes off, fighting for the first lap prime, taken by Kingdom Brand Ambassador, Jem. The two men ride together as a third competitor trails at a fast pace. Once the 3 get bunched up together everyone else behind seems too far away to fight for the podium, but we’re only 2 laps in to a 12 lap race and with one of the leaders starting to fade it’s all on. As the battle at the front is happening the tactics start to kick in. Miguel, the rider who came from behind decides to let his competitor take most of the wind work as a fourth rider is catching them , and they can work together. The fourth rider is Josh, the guy that fell on the first corner and was putting in a huge effort to catch the front group.
Finishing the second lap close to a kilometer behind the leaders, Josh was now right behind them just in time for the half way prime which was taken by Miguel who had been smartly resting on Jem’s wheel. The new three-man breakaway is in the clear for the podium, lapping riders every lap. As they work together, with two laps to go, Josh sends an attack after a technical corner attempting to breakaway solo for the win. Miguel, trying to help, lets Jem do all the chasing and not long after Josh is caught.
Now there’s one lap left and Miguel is keeping the pace up, giving Jem no time to rest. Thanks to his extensive fixed-gear experience, Jem is enjoying a lot more rest in the corners as Josh and Miguel who, even though they are strong riders, are racing for the first time on fixed-gear bikes…with no brakes!
The crowd is gathering around the finish line. There are a lot more people watching than racing which means noise. Lots of noise. The riders come around the last corner and they are glued together. Coming in very, very fast, the crowd is popping as the three riders put their heads down and get out of the saddle to sprint with every little bit of energy they have left. Miguel runs out first sitting up for third place as Jem uses every once of lactic acid to create an explosion of power towards the finish line to become the champion of the first ever Kingdom Crit Series race ever.
Everyone in and out of the race is going nuts after watching a very exciting sprint that no one saw coming. The race was a success. Both the men’s and women’s races went according to plan and everyone not only stayed safe but had one heck of a good time.
Thanks to our sponsors - Pdl, The Project, Slash - and support crew, everything went well and according to plan, making it possible to start thinking about the next one! See you then.
Fact: This is my first ever Red Hook Crit.
Fact: Red Hook Crit is the biggest (most competitive, most people) fixed-gear criterium in the World.
Fact: This is the most stacked Red Hook Crit with almost 400 racers in the men’s field.
Fact: I trained my butt off.
But first, the Crit Coppa Agostoni Cinelli, the official National Italian Fixed-Gear Criterium Championships.
I was there because this race provided points for the 2019 Fixed Nations Cup and in my mind this was my last chance to score some points as the chances of getting any at Red Hook were super slim.
Fast forward to my qualifying heat and the main issue of racing solo in foreign countries comes up - where can I leave my stuff?
The plan is always look out for anyone that is speaking english and also looking lost and I found a British team in town doing the exact same as me. They took me under their wing and we basically became best friends (Shout out to One Life Cycle). Long story short, I leave my gear, get all warmed up and ready to do one heck of a race.
The course is ridiculously tight. The announcer, in a very bad English accent says that all foreigner riders are to go to the back row as these are the Italian Championships. WHAT?? I flew all the way to Milan to not even get a chance to race? For those who don’t understand what just happened; starting in the back of a group pf 30-40 people in a course that barely has two overtaking zones means I’m gonna waste all my energy passing people to not even get close to the front, and that’s exactly what happened.
The first 15 of each heat qualify to the final and after spending the whole race passing people, guess what position I qualified in? Yes, 15th.
Qualifying was early in the afternoon and surprisingly the final was at almost 10PM, which only made sense to the people that knew more about drinking and only a little bit about cycling.
Anyway, they call my name to the 40th (last) position of the starting grid for the Final. And we’re off.
I pass 5-6 people in the first lap, another 5 or so in the next one and after closing a couple of gaps they start to get too big. After making a huge, quite risky effort to pass another guy, I brake too close to the turn and clip my pedal which, thanks to physics had me flying toward a barrier. Thankfully, physics also pushed me away from that barrier and I carried on - scared as hell. I was in the Top 30, very far away from the guy in front of me, with about 5 guys behind me and still scared as hell. The road is completely dark, we don’t have lights, neither do several spots of the course. I have one goal, which is the goal of the whole trip: to make it to the end. For that I couldn’t be lapped by the front riders. Well, being this early in the race and me riding alone, you can imagine that I’m not going faster than the front guys which are riding together for the win… Eventually they caught me and that was the end of it. Got some experience under my belt and lived to tell the tale.
And now on to Red Hook.
Land, train, walk, check-in… You know the drill.
Friday is the day of the very unique Red Hook Velodrome Day at the iconic Vigorelli Velodrome – a longer than usual, steeper than usual, wooden track with an American football field in the middle. Riders come and go to check in for the following day’s race and take the chance to wake up the legs in the velodrome.
And now it’s THE day. Red Hook Crit Milano No. 9, possibly the last Red Hook race ever, possibly the beginning of a much bigger Red Hook series. It’s all in the air, but what we know for sure is that this is a day for the books.
I ride the 4kms to the course with plenty of time to get set up before the course opens for practice. Once it does I spend the entire 30mins out on the bike to get to know every turn and hole the best I can. When that’s done, there is a very long time until I get to start in the last heat of the day.
As the sky promised, it started raining not long after the start of the first heat. Then it was chaos. That specific heat started seeing crashes on almost every corner as the riders were not ready for the wet pavement and every rider yet to race started second guessing their tire pressure. Ive never raced in rain so I had no idea what to do. Fortunately, I spent the day with my fellow British mates (Second shout out to One Life Cycle) who I met at the previous race. They have plenty of experience riding on wet surfaces and advised me to drop my tire pressure to 65psi. My tires were at 95psi… That’s a 30% drop in air pressure. I felt like it was too big of a change, which would affect my racing negatively so I dropped my tire pressure to 75psi. It worked out pretty well.
Thirty minutes before the start of the race the warm up area opens to those about to race. I was one of the first in as I wanted to be 105% ready for my first ever Red Hook Qualifier. I warmed up for a solid 20 minutes or so and got ready to head out on the course, except that the heat before me was stopped on the course. Heat 3 of the Red Hook Crit Milano No.9 was stopped three times and several ambulances went on to the course to get riders. It was carnage. That made me, and most of the people in my heat, a little bit worried…
Funny enough, when we were called to the starting grid, that was all in the past. It was game time.
A week or two before the race, the starting grids for the qualifiers are released to the riders, by the organization. There are four heats in the men’s race, each with a (new) maximum of 90 riders or so. Riders are placed in the grid based on previous Red Hook Crit and international results. Because I’d never done a Red Hook Crit and it was my first Fixed Crit Season, I was placed on row 18, which translates to 72nd place. There were a total of 85 or so people in my heat including the first 4 finishers of the previous Red Hook Crit. Damn.
Next step: the first 20 riders of each heat advance immediately to the Final. Every other rider gets to race their heat again (without the riders that advanced to the Final previously) and with a new grid position based on how they finished the initial qualifying Heat. The first 5 finishers of this race will advance to the final being place at the back of the grid, with the exception of the winner whom will be place on the 5th row of the final (17th place or so).
Now let’s do some math, which consumed a lot of my brain in the 2 weeks before the race: to immediately qualify for the Final I’d have to pass 52 people in 10 laps of 1.2kms in a field with several professional riders. That doesn’t sound easy.
Next: finishing the qualifying heat in a good enough place means a good start on the Another Chance Race. Now, unless you win the Another Chance Race, the probability of finishing the Final is very slim and that is the only way to gather Fixed Nations Cup qualifying points. This to say that I wasn’t totally focused on the possibility of qualifying and I gave myself two goals:
1. pass as many people as possible in the qualifying Heat.
2. race for the win on the Another Chance Race. Because why not.
So, David Trimble, the legend that is the Red Hook Crit organizer, starts the countdown of my qualifying heat. This is not like any other countdown. He yells out the minute mark, as well as the 30, 15 and 10 seconds marks, but then he can say go whenever he pleases. That could be a second or a minute after he says “ten seconds”. I was ready. Left foot clipped in, Garmin on, GoPro on, everything checked. It’s all on my legs right now. The training is done, so is the thinking part. It’s go time, enjoy.
One second later.
I thrust forward with all my might. Right foot clipped into the pedal as fast as humanly possible thanks to the best pedals in the World (Shout out to Speedplay pedals) and I’m putting down as much power as possible while passing people that weren’t able to clip into their pedals yet – too bad. For the first 15 to 20 seconds I’m sprinting. I started in 72nd place but by the first corner I’m very close to 60th. Two corners in, a long straight away is up. I know everyone is still fresh but I trained my but off and I need to take advantage of the fact that in the first lap everyone is still close together. We come out of the second corner and I’m sprinting as if it was the end of the race. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… I must have passed 10 riders or so. I don’t care how much energy I just spent there, just like that a lap is over, which means there’s 9 to go.
Three more laps going all out, passing people and I need this race to be over, my mind is starting to play games. I went too hard. I can’t handle this. Maybe it’s almost over? I ride past the finish line where the lap counter says 6 laps to go. WHAT?? We’re not even half way yet and I already can’t feel my legs.
That feeling lasted for a solid 5 seconds until I saw a rider a few dozen meters ahead of me and all I could think about was catching and passing him. And so I did. Him and about 20 more. The process was: see a rider, catch him, rest for a couple of seconds drafting on his wheel, pass him, and on to the next one. Once I got in a rhythm I actually started wishing the race was longer because at that pace I would’ve been passing people all day…
Towards the end of the heat I wasn’t working alone anymore. A group of 3 to 5 riders formed to do exactly what I was doing, growing more and more in the last couple of laps.. I wasn’t even thinking about qualifying but I counted everyone in my group to check what position the first one would finish in. Funny enough, the first guy of our group finished 21st, meaning the guy in front of him qualified. But before getting all upset about almost qualifying, I checked the time differences and 20th place finished 30 seconds ahead of 21st place so my race plan worked out perfectly. I finished the heat in 28th place which meant a 2nd row (theoretically 5th place) start on the Another Chance Race.
I am actually going to race for the win, as planned. Thankfully there’s a few hours to rest and because of my fitness I’ll be able to start it as fresh as I did the first one. Now, resting and nutrition are the main priorities.
The rain keeps coming and going over the next few hours. It looks like the conditions aren’t changing, which means that’s not something to keep thinking about. I rest, I take some pictures, eat, but really I can’t wait to get back out there. Again I’m the first from my heat in the warm up area. Completely ready to go there, everything double-checked. I’m as ready as I could be. For the first time (of many hopefully), I’m racing for the win on a Red Hook Crit event.
David calls us up to starting line and I rush to the right-most spot in the second row of the grid, the only spot in the second row without anyone in front. All I had to do was to get a perfect clip-in and get myself to the front of the race. A few riders’ names are mentioned and we’re off. As planned I jump to the front and start controlling the race from a point of view I never thought I would. Game plan? Never pull (as in, always have someone in front of me) so that I don’t waste energy for the sprint. My best bet at making the final is through winning this race. Yes 2nd through 5th place qualify but get placed in the back of the grid in the Final. That means getting dropped in five seconds.
Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the only one with that race plan as a big group of us were doing the exact same thing. A few were willing to do work, I wasn’t, because I had no teammates and no one to please. I had to do what was best for myself. The Another Chance Race is an 8 lap race, 2 less than the qualifying heat. The first 6 laps went perfectly according to my plan. I made an effort to stay in the top 5 and still had energy. On the second to last lap I start moving up the group reaching 4th place. Everything was looking perfect. I started getting excited. Until…
On one of the last right turns of the second to last lap, the rider in front of me leans left instead of right. Yes, leaned left for a right corner. I have no clue why. Maybe moving away from a hole, maybe exhaustion messed up his orientation, maybe he went over something on the road that turned his wheel. Either way he went down fast. And hard. Fortunately, even though I was right behind him and thanks to the fact that I was taking my corner perfectly well and he was doing the opposite motion, he literally fell out of my way. As I passed him I looked left… dozens and dozens of riders falling on top of each other. Some flying over the barriers. Tires blowing up, men yelling, and all this as I rode by on my regular line. I felt like I was watching in slow motion. Once I looked ahead, there were only four of us still on our bikes, out of 60 plus riders.
First I worried about the crashed riders, especially the ones on the bottom of the bike and body pile. Then I realized I was in the remaining four riders. If we kept going, I’d qualify for sure. I got excited for a second. Then the race was stopped. The red flag is up.
As we wait on the start/finish line for the ambulances to come, confusion settled in and the “undamaged” riders rode up to us. I would get to restart in the front row but that mattered little as we weren’t going to get gaps big enough to stay ahead, meaning as soon as the race restarts a big group is forming again and it’s every man for himself. The lap counter changed from 1 to 3. Three laps to go. Everyone’s together and rested thanks to a 20 minute wait. Countdown. Sprint.
Now I’m doing the math again and the equations lead to the idea that my best bet would be an attempt to win this thing. The plan for that revolved around hiding in the top 10 riders and attacking with 1.5 laps to go, which I did. Me and one of the strongest riders in the group. Unfortunately we didn’t work together well and got caught with one lap to go. I wasn’t completely blown up and still had a sprint in me but this is when things start getting sketchy again, just like in the last lap we had 30 minutes before… I wasn’t about to risk my well-being for a back-of-the-grid start on the final. I held my lines and kept the power up. There were guys coming left and right. Inside corners, in the middle of chicanes… I got to the final straight away in 12th or 13th place, passed a couple of guys and finished 10th. Safe. Excited to do it again.
And that’s that. I had one heck of a good time on my first Red Hook Crit race ever. Didn’t crash in crazy conditions. Did the unthinkable of starting in 72nd position and finishing in 28th in my qualifying heat. This trip was one heck of a success. One problem; the next one is more than six months away.
Weeks of travelling, thousands of dollars invested, thousands of kilometers ridden in training. All for a half hour race. Yet I can’t wait to do it all over again.
You can always make excuses for when it goes wrong, the truth is that everything is not always going to go according to plan and you have to be prepared for it. Welcome to my cup-half-full thinking process.
When I (Andre - Kingdom Founder) did my first fixed-gear criterium back in May, in LA, I had no idea what to expect. I had been training and I knew how to ride a fixed-gear bike yet my goal was to simply not get embarrassed. In every fixed-gear criterium (we’ll just call them fixed crits from here on), the first goal is to qualify for the main event of the day – the final. Then, not to get lapped by the leader, in which case you have to abandon the race, you still get ranked but with a DNF (Did Not Finish) remark before your name. Once you accomplish those two main goals you start thinking about things like positioning: top20, top 10, top 5… then, winning.
Not a lot of people get to that mindset, you’d have to be close to a professional cyclist to do so. Yet in that race in LA I did finish the final (barely) and was extremely excited to repeat it all.
Fast forward to the “European Tour” where the plan was for me to go to England, the Netherlands and Switzerland to get as many points as possible towards my World Championship qualification. Now, as you know, if you’ve read the Minet Crit and Draai V/D Kaai race reports, I went into those with very low expectations. First to qualify for the respective finals and subsequently to get myself some points, which required me finishing the race on the same lap as the leader. Now I’m in Zurich, Switzerland and I’m only holding the 10 points I scored in England.
England was the “easiest” race thanks to the course not being very technical. Then in the Netherlands, it was a whole different ball game–tight turns, cobble stones and professional cyclists. Zurich doesn’t seem much different from that. Several of the same strong riders are here and the course is not any easier. I’ve stopped thinking about the possibility of finishing the final, now my one and only goal of the day is to “just” make it to the final. How? Top 10 of each of the three qualifier heats advance to the final.
Unfortunately, in events like these, I become a very goal oriented person. Like you read before, there are these milestones I put myself through: qualifying, not getting lapped, etc. Well, that’s definitely not the best approach. Why? When I’m focused on qualifying, what I have to do to accomplish that is finish Top 10 on the qualifying heat, so theoretically, 10th would be fine. It shouldn’t be because that means starting the final at the back of the starting grid, which reduces the chances to finishing the race in the same lap as the leaders to almost zero.
Now, try to guess what I did? Started well, then started getting scared of the one tight corner on the course, moving towards the back. 3rd… 5th… 7th… And where does my mind go?: “I could still lose three spots and I qualify, so what do I do? Sit back and “save energy”, moving all the way down to 10th and pat myself on the back for securing 10th place. Fast forward to the start of the final later in the night and guess what position in the starting grid that self-back-padding gave me? Yup, last.
And now the goal-orientation process restarts all over again. Start as hard as possible to move close to the leaders. I started by passing 2-3 people per lap but by the time I got to 22nd or 23rd place the front 20 were way too far ahead and now I get to race for survival. At least I got some nice skilled new friends to keep me company. I did end up getting lapped but had a blast nonetheless. I got to hang out with some very cool people in a very cool city.
No points again for me toward Fixed Nations Cup qualification but like any of these races, if I finish with all four limbs, it was indeed a success. Fingers crossed for coming back stronger (mentally?) in Italy next month to qualify for the first ever, unofficial Fixed Criterium World Championships.
Why didn’t I loosen my cleats if it was already a problem in the last race?!
We’re back at it. This time in the beautiful country of the Netherlands.
Woke up early, explored Antwerp in Belgium, got on a train, changed trains and we’re looking for registration. A Stadium? Registration’s at a stadium? Sounds fancy. Timing chips, bracelets, aero numbers… this is fixed-crit racing taken to the next level. I’m not nervous. I’m not nervous. Why isn’t that working? I can’t even count how many of these dudes have gotten Red Hook podiums… Let’s go find the race course.
Security. Gates. Barricades. Tons of people. Cyclists. I’m not nervous. I’m not nervous.
Ladies are going off soon, this is exciting.
The whole town is shut down. There’s silence as the announcer is counting down. Lead motorcycles go. Gun shoots. Ladies are off. Two laps in and we stop seeing them come through. Something must have happened. An ambulance speeds through the course. That’s not good. Only have a dozen ladies made it out clean and the rest of the race is put on hold. Hours go by as arguments and are had and ideas are thrown around to come to the conclusion that the fixed ladies would race for 5 laps after the pro road ladies and before the fixed men.
Meanwhile it’s my turn to warm up.
This race is so fancy they provided rollers for us, I’ve ever been on one. I put my bike on it and remember the tips I’ve received, pedal fast and look forward. With one hand on the rail I got my shoes clipped in, I’m pedaling, a few seconds later I’ve got my hands on the handlebars and a quarter of an hour after that I’m warm and ready to go. As the ladies finish we’re allowed onto the course for a few neutral laps.
70% of 1.7km are cobbles??
Not only am I not used to cobbles but I’ve never ridden a fixed-gear bike on them and my saddle is an unpadded sheet of carbon-fiber. I’m not nervous. I’m not nervous.
I went and said hi to Eamon Lucas (professional cyclist participating in the race) earlier because we met at Red Hook (thanks to Christina being so popular), so I’m going to ride around the course next to him pretending we’re best buds so everyone else thinks I know what I’m doing. Now we’re on the starting line and he’s on the first row. I’m on the second to last. Yeah, we’re definitely not on the same level… Either way, I can’t do anything about it because there were no qualification heats, so here’s my one chance to give it all. This is going to be a lot harder than the past Saturday…
Usually on my recovery rides my heart rate beats per minute averages in the 120’s. The race is 30 seconds away from starting and my heart rate is at 135BPM. I’m rethinking all the useless crap I thought of in the beginning of the last race. By the time that’s over the announcer is counting down. I have no clue what he’s actually saying, why would you count down in Dutch on an international race?
I’m not nervous. I’m not nervous
Did I mention how this is the biggest crowd I’ve ever raced in front of? We’re in Downtown Roosendaal where the streets are closed and to get in you have to either buy a ticket or be a part of the race. Still, there are hundreds, probably thousands, of people on the barricades. Even more came for our event, there are people throughout the whole course, I feel like that’s given me a whole extra gear to race with, although I bet I’m probably not the only one.
My main goal right now is to pass as many people as fast as possible. I’ve completely forgotten about the cobbles, I’m racing through these professional cyclists like it’s no big deal. I know it’s going to hurt soon but right now I couldn’t care less. Starting from virtually last place, I’ve passed about 5 people in the first lap and probably as many on the following one. Now everyone’s in a straight line, there's no more bunching. I notice this because on very tight turn I loose 1-2 bike lengths to the rider in front of me. That can’t be good. Either I start taking more risks or this race is going to be over for me very soon.
We’re five laps in and loosing space in the corners is killing me. My heart rate’s been in the 180’s since the start and it can’t last forever, I definitely need to be more efficient, especially knowing that I’ll only be able to close gaps for so long. These have been the longest laps of my life, I feel like I’ve been racing forever and it hasn’t even been 10 minutes.
I’m starting to get worried.
The front group is gone and I’m having trouble holding onto the second one, if I drop from this one it won’t take long before I get caught be the leaders. As I drift back, no one around me is willing to help; either they're as bad at cornering as me or they aren’t fit enough to be here at this point of the race. For a couple of laps I’m leading a small group of riders while staring at the backs of the main group. They’re not getting any closer but I can still see them. Eventually someone comes around me and tries to help but it would take something superhuman to get back in the race at this point.
A few more laps in and it’s just me and one other guy giving it all trying not to get lapped by the leaders. The race is 15 laps long and we’re 11 laps in. Theoretically we just need to last for another 3 because then the leaders finish and we don’t have to worry about them on the last lap. We’re working together and giving it our all. We haven’t heard a motorbike or seen a cyclist in a while. All of the noise is coming from the overly excited (or just drunk) crowd. Half way into the 12th lap and my new friend is not helping anymore. At this point he’s just hanging on to my wheel hoping to make it to the end. We ride the chicane and as we’re heading into the main straight I hear the motorbike. Crap. I’m still hopeful, so I’m about to yell at the guy behind me to help me sprint out and just really try to see this one through with me. I look back and he’s gone.
Now it would just be rude to not follow the rules. I pull aside and not 5 seconds later, the leaders are flying by.
I can say I gave it my all but most importantly I know how much I need to, and want to learn. This is only the beginning, my goal of becoming the best Portuguese Fixed-Gear Criterium racer is only getting started.
Eventually the race finishes and because I wasn’t in anymore I got to watch Eamon sprint to another very impressive win. Thinking that was the end of it I get back onto the course to cool down. The podium is facing the crowd on the opposite side of the course and the participating riders to get to watch it from inside the course. Suddenly the road gets packed with cyclists. I don't recognize any besides the fact that they were all wearing matching gear and it all looks very legit. Not long after that I started recognizing jerseys, then faces… then Tour de France faces… Yes, this year’s Tour de France.
I’m not nervous. I’m not nervous.
My shoes' cleats are too tight, I’m gonna lose time on the start. Over-spun during qualifying; should I change gears? The bib-number was making a little noise in the wind, should I re-pin it? Because you know, aero… *Announcer* “Row 8, #44, Andre Abreu”.
Why are my hands shaking? Who cares, I don’t need them to ride anyway. Wait, I’m wearing gloves, it’s too hot for that. I’m taking them back to my backpack. Is this my starting grid spot? Should my pedal be a little higher? I feel like maybe I could put a little more power into it that way… Why did a dude just sneak into my left? I worked hard for this spot, can you please not cheat? Thank you.
I’m thirsty, should I have drank more water? I feel like my right shoe’s too tight. Is the GoPro on? Can’t see with these ridiculously dark sunglasses. Garmin on? Not making that mistake again, ‘cause if it’s not on Strava… didn’t happen. 10… 9… 8… 7… Tighten the left shoe a little bit to make it even! 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Doesn’t matter now. *Announcer* “Go!”
We travelled west traveled west, and thanks to the Dubai - London mission my brain is a couple of hours ahead of local time. Once I got my race socks and slides at Rapha and got fed, falling asleep early was easy.
Breakfast at 7am, didn’t even need an alarm. It seems early but for some reason the race’s organization is up and I know that because they messaged me on Instagram. Wait, why is the organization messaging me? Apparently they saw our post last night and thought I was too fast for the group B qualifying based on that… I’m OK with that, it basically means I race the A qualifying and am automatically qualified for the final.
The nerves went down a bit, now the goals went from having to qualify and not getting lapped in the Final to staying safe in the qualification and not getting lapped in the Final. It’s still 7 hours away though.
Suddenly we’re at the race course. Qualifying is in less than an hour. So much for relaxing after the warm up. Meh, Qualification is only 5 laps long anyway, that should take like 6-7 minutes, plenty of time to chill after that. I think I’m ready… Should I get pinned now or after warming up? You know what, why not just be ready to race now so I don’t have to worry about anything before the start? Good idea. Apparently no one knows if we’re using the starting grid for qualifying or not. Honestly I hope not because I’m #44 which means I’d start last… We’re not! Cool, I’m starting first now, watch me. Now I have no reason to be nervous and I’m as fresh as it gets, this is going to be fun.
I know there are no primes (mid-race prizes) but is it just me or are we going pretty slow?… *Taps a button on the Garmin (bicycle computer), looks at screen* “Average speed: 45km/h”. I guess training’s worked. But don’t get excited, this is not the main race, just focus on staying safe. How does one say safe? stay in the top 15-20 guys of the race. Easy, I’ll even take a couple of pulls. Nope, not gonna do that, plenty of full-roster teams out here to do the work and I still have a bunch of races to do, chill. 1, 2, 3, 4. I counted 4, next time though the finish line should be the end of it. I’m gonna move up because what the heck, might as well get a good starting position for the Final. Wow, I was definitely in the Top 5. Wait, why is everyone still going fast? Wasn’t it only 5 laps? *Bell is ringing in the back. That means one lap to go*
I guess we’re doing 6 laps now, oh well. Get back in the group, save energy. Try not to get dropped from the front on the finish straight.
I didn’t expect this but it wasn’t super hard. Feeling good for the final.
Oh my, there’s still 2 hours to go? I’m way too excited to wait! Ladies qualifying starts… B Final goes… Ladies Final starts. 15 laps? Well that’s gonna take a while, I need to warm up though! OBVIOUSLY I didn’t bring a roller (thingie you can ride your bike on top of) on the airplane. They better let us warm up before the race. Am I ready though? I spun out a bunch of times during the Qualifying, assuming the Final is going to be faster, I could use a bigger gear. But then are the corners and hills going to be too hard? Huge decision to make. Let’s ask the people of Instagram what they think. It’s taking too long, I’m chaining gears. The people need the speed!! As soon as the first of these ladies finishes, I’m jumping on the course, I don’t care. I’m on the course. 1 lap, 2 laps, 3 laps… Well, we’re obviously not starting on time… Cool, I’ll keep warming up. 4 laps, 5 laps, 6 laps… are we ever starting this thing? I’m pretty warm now. Red flag. It’s on.
[My shoes' cleats are too tight, I’m gonna lose time on the start. Over-spun during qualifying; should I change gears? The bib-number was making a little noise in the wind, should I re-pin it? Because you know, aero… *Announcer* “Row 8, #44, Andre Abreu”. Why are my hands shaking? Who cares, I don’t need them to ride anyway. Wait, I’m wearing gloves, it’s too hot for that. I’m taking them back to my backpack. Is this my starting grid spot? Should my pedal be a little higher? I feel like maybe I could put a little more power into it that way… Why did a dude just sneak into my left? I worked hard for this spot, can you please not cheat? Thank you. I’m thirsty, should I have drank more water? I feel like my right shoe’s too tight. Is the GoPro on? Can’t see with these ridiculously dark sunglasses. Garmin on? Not making that mistake again, ‘cause if it’s not on Strava… didn’t happen. 10… 9… 8… 7… Tighten the left shoe a little bit to make it even! 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Doesn’t matter now. *Announcer* “Go!”]
Both feet are in. Sweet! Look down and push! Push! Push! Push! Nice, Top 5 in the start. Now chill in here, you have no reason to do work for these guys, all of them have teammates. A couple of laps in and I find myself at the front. I pull aside. German guy starts yelling at me “10 second pulls!” I don’t like to be rude during races but the hell with that, I’m racing for myself, why the heck would I help you?? Whatever, I’m gonna hide mid-pack. *Riders start passing me* Well this is nice, we’re going 44km/h, it’s half way and I feel good! Wait. This pack is huge, I forgot we were almost 80 guys. How the heck am I going to go back to the front?? Great job you idiot, now you’re neither safe nor in a good place. Well I’m definitely not going to move up being in the middle of the group. *Moves left* hopefully a hole will open here. *A whole lap goes by* Nope.
*Moves right* We’re trying this side now, not much time left so this better work. *Lap is finishing* Everyone is moving left to get away from the wind, this is my window. Out of the saddle. Head down. Push! Push! Push!
Top5 again. 3 laps to go.
That was a big effort but there’s more where that came from. *Attack goes off* I just got here! Can you please chill for a minute?? I guess not. Well I’m not going after those guys, someone else better do the work… Getting pretty mad at these British teams now. They don’t have anyone in the break and aren’t doing any work. The solo Portuguese dude has to go there. Whatever.
Alright, let’s break this down. There are just under 3 laps to go and we’re about to catch the attack that just went off. That means that there’s only the downhill part of the lap to go followed by two more laps. Because a lot of people are under geared, attacks are going off on the downhill. I prepared for this but I just caught the break on an uphill, you SOBs better get in there. Nope, we’re letting a group of about 15 guys go. Great, I hate you all (but not really, it’s all love here). Anyway, next downhill comes around and I’m taking a few guys with me.
10 or so of us have the front group in sight with one lap to go. Alright, I’ll help. Good choice on the bigger gear. It’s downhill and I’m going for it.
There’s a dude on my wheel, there’s one corner left to the finish straight and we’re a couple of meters behind the last guy of the front group. You’re done, next! Oh, my little friend’s going for it! Well, I’m not staying behind either. Two guys down. Why are these idiots giving up before the finish line?? 3 guys down. That’s it, I’m sprinting now, every spot counts. 4 guys down and I stretchhhhhh! Photo finish to for the 11th place. Job done.
Got my 10 points towards the World Championship qualification, exceeded my expectations and we’re off to the Nederlands for Draai V/D Kaai in 2 days. The field’s going to be stronger but now I know what I’m capable of now.
It’s going down.
I’ve been racing road bikes for almost nine years; since I was 16 years old. You know, the kind that shift, coast, brake, etc. So, when I received a phone call from my teammate, Johnny Corcoran, asking me if I would be interested in participating in this year’s notorious Red Hook Criterium in Brooklyn, New York under the flag of an up and coming local bicycle manufacturer, I couldn’t resist the opportunity.
For those who don’t know, the Red Hook is one of the world’s toughest and most dangerous cycling events. Riders participate in heats throughout the day riding fixed gear bikes - no gears, no coasting, no brakes - in an attempt to qualify for the feature event in the evening under the lights on a sinewy, technical, and arguably extremely dangerous race course.
I used to lambaste fixie riders, criticizing them for their reckless obsession with these bikes that were seemingly inferior to those that I had come to know so well. It was incomprehensible why someone would want to speed along out of control to inevitably be taken out by one of a million apparently obvious risks. But, then I rode one for the first time, and my perception changed almost immediately. Our sponsor, Kingdom, provided us with a soon-to-be-released model called the Elska, and within only a couple rides I quickly began to understand why people thought they were so fun. As a team, we spent the six weeks we had to prepare for the Red Hook getting to know these wild, “raw” machines, and by the time we arrived on the East Coast, I think we all felt at least some sense of preparedness. That confidence would be short lived, however.
Race day was Saturday April 28th. Back west it seemed like everyone with a fixation for two wheels was either up in Prescott, Arizona for the Whiskey Off-Road or out in Southern California for the Dana Point GP, both highly prestigious events in their own right. But, at Red Hook we felt like we were participating on one of the biggest cycling stages in the world. The first round of qualifications went well for exactly 50% of our squad. Johnny navigated through the field from almost 60 riders back to secure a top 20 and automatic qualification for the feature race in his very first go. Christina Hashimoto just missed an automatic qualification herself in the initial women’s heat, but easily moved along in what Red Hook calls the Another Chance Race (ACR - although it’s really your last chance). Jace Kuyper, perhaps the nicest human being on planet Earth, and I started the first round men’s heat number two together, although before the race was even three-quarters completed we had both exchanged pleasantries with the tarmac. Officials kept Jace from restarting, but I was allowed to chase on for a 34th/80 finish, which secured me a fourth row start in the ACR.
The Men's First Heat on board with Johnny
I was a little shaken after my authentic and abrupt introduction to big-time fixed gear racing, but I found a way to psych myself up for the ACR. After completing some minor repairs to our bikes, Jace and I warmed up and found our way to the starting grids for what we hoped wouldn’t be the last time this year. The race began, but almost immediately came to a pause as what must have been a pretty spectacular crash blocked the road and required a hiatus. After the restart, a rider who had created a small six-second gap began again with his advantage intact and only grew it to the finish line, leaving effectively only four qualifying finishing places available (only the top five out of the remaining 60 riders in the heat move on to the finals in the ACR). Jace and I almost instantly established ourselves within the top ten riders in the remaining 10 laps of the race. We were both feeling confident that we would have the ability to move on if we kept it up, but with two laps remaining we found out that that probably would not be the case.
As a rider’s tire blew in the apex of corner two, about ten of us experienced one of those “oh shit” moments on a very dramatic level. As can be seen in the picture below, Jace’s day was brought to an immediate close. I somehow managed to find a space between where the gentleman who in the photograph is currently upside down and rider to his right end up about two seconds later. Unfortunately, the time it took me to realize that I was still on my bike and that I had not just ruined my shorts allowed six riders up the road with a pretty unassailable gap. I took the sprint from the group that had reformed around me for eighth place, but in the end I came up just three positions short.
The Women's Another Chance Race on board with Christina
In the finals, both Johnny and Christina rode in a manner they should both be extremely proud of. Neither of them finished, but with starting positions so far back in fields that at some points literally spanned more than half of the course at full speed, they definitely did the best they could have hoped for. Our whole team, including Andre Abreu, the founder of Kingdom; and Nick Wilson, our dedicated photographer, learned immensely over the course of this trip. I think it’s safe to say we’re all hooked, no pun intended, and all want to return next year with even higher expectations. Obviously, SLM Coaching deserves a shout out and thank you as well. Without John Salskov orchestrating my training, there is no way I could have had the legs to even think I had a shot. See you in 2019, Red Hook.
The Men's Final on board with Johnny
P.S. Johnny is far too humble, so the team and I will do it for him. During his frantic chase from the back of the field to the front group during his first heat qualifier, he scored the Strava KOM for the new course. While the big names were busy marking each other at the head of the field, JC was busy going to crown town, so who’s the real winner?
To be continued...
We’re working on a little RHC trip documentary about the whole race to provide everyone a more in depth perspective on the journey. Stay in touch via all of our social media platforms to see it first!
2018 is all about the Elska, the Askel and Team Kingdom. Let’s focus on the latter for a minute.
We want to tell you what this team is for and why it exists, who’s a part of it, when and where you can see/hear about them.
No breaks + no gears = ADRENALINE. Hundreds of spectators + 80+ brakeless riders per race = MORE ADRENALINE.
Before explaining why we love it, let's explain what fixed gear racing is. Fixed gear racers are the toughest athletes in the world. No, this is not an overstatement. Riders will break bones on a crash, get back on the bike and finish the race. Most riders will average a heart rate of 200+ beats per minute in a 30+ minute race. Oh and these races average 25-30mph (40-50kmh), with hairpins (180 degree turns).
Competitive fixed gear racing happens in the some of the biggest cities in the world. You can't experience that in normal cycling unless you're a professional. And before you start thinking this is a joke for amateurs, professional cyclists do show up and race alongside the everyday commuter who has as much of a right to race as the guy who races his bike for a living. This is why so much more money and sponsors are invested in fixed-gear racing–it's RAW; there is no BS, just straight up bike racing. Spectators love that, and so do the riders, of course.
Now, we love to race. We want to get in amongst the fixie racing scene. We're passionate about bikes and being part of these races elevates our involvement, gets us around other riders and is just plain exciting. As we release new and better bikes we want more and more people to hear about us; in this specific case, at bike races. But in doing this we didn’t want to do a mediocre “job”, or team. We wanted the best possible team we could get and we wanted them racing against the best. All to prove that that’s the level our bikes are at.
Why do riders do all this? Because there's a team counting on them and that's what it's all about–not a single rider, but the team. As long as the riders "empty their tank", the team's successful.
As of March 2018, the team has 3 male riders and 1 female rider. There are 2 male riders confirmed to join at the end of May and we expect to grow even more, knowing the limitations of a maximum of 6 male riders per team. (Ladies reach out to us!)
Team Kingdom members as of March 2018:
18 years old
Aerospace Engineering Student at ASU
Cat. 3 Road Cyclist for Octane Athlete Cycling
From Monterrey, CA (USA).
24 years old
Cat. 2 Road Cyclist for Bike Accident Attorneys
From Gilbert, AZ.
26 years old
Leader at Young Life Church
Cat. 2 Road Cyclist for Bike Accident Attorneys
From Tempe, AZ.
27 years old
Next College Student Athlete
Cat. 2 Road Cyclist for Bike Accident Attorneys
From Phoenix, AZ.
Team Kingdom new members in May 2018:
22 years old
DSD Composites Founder
From Tucson, AZ.
There are plenty more people that are part of this team, off the bike. And one that is at every race and we could not skip mentioning is our awesome and very talented photographer, Mr. Nick Wilson.
The Team’s biggest race of the year is the Red Hook Crit in Brooklyn, NY, this coming Saturday, April 28 2018.
We plan on being present at remaining Red Hook Crits of 2018 (with smaller numbers), the 3-race Copper State Criterium Series in Phoenix, some of the SoCal Fixed Crit Series in SoCal and the Red Bull Last Stand Crit at the end of the year. More information about these races will be posted on our Instagram close to each race.
Starting in July 2018, Team Kingdom will be racing the brand new Elska Team Edition which was released on April 14, 2018 and is our most prideful release to date. Check it out for yourself.
Wait, how does a new time already have results? Well, we couldn't wait to get the rubber on the asphalt so as soon as we had our bikes we signed up, for the first race we could find (a week later). And we won it.
Copper State Criterium Series Race 1
1st place & 3rd place.
First to all, at Red Hook, this weekend, we'll be releasing our Team Kingdom T-Shirts which will be available online right after the event, so stay tuned for that.
Follow us on Instagram for daily updates and live coverage of the races.
Thank you to our awesome Sponsors:
Race 1 & 2 Are done & dusted and now we're onto race 3 yo! Double Trouble!
The last race of the first ever Kingdom Alleycat Series is gonna be a lot of fun, and we're mixing it up by giving the option of riding in pairs (1 man + 1 woman) for the chance at double points, hence the name Double Trouble.
Here's all the details & an explanation of how you can get involved in the goodness.
Taking part is as easy as turning up to Kingdom, paying $5 and being ready to ride.
And if you don't want to ride, turn up and watch the action as we live stream riders locations in-store. It's a par-tay ya'll!
Double Trouble will give you the option of riding in pairs (1 man + 1 woman), which means that if you do race in pairs, EACH member of the team gets full points and if you race alone, you only get half:
1st place in race 3: 50pts per rider (25 if riding alone);
2nd place in race 3: 25pts per rider (12.5pts if riding alone);
3rd place in race 3: 10pts per rider (5pts if riding alone);
4th place in race 3: 5pts per rider (2.5pts if riding alone);
5th place in race 3: 1pt per rider (0.5pt if riding alone).
Text "Kingdom" to 33222 to jump on our text message list and stay up to date with Kingdom life.
Come get your Alleycat on!
1st place: Cody Goodman and Christina Hashimoto - 100pts;
2nd place: Emerson Senseman and Jared Hsu - 25pts;
3rd place: Karl Senseman and Victor Silva - 10pts;
4th place: Paolo Ranola - 5pts.