Splat! Red Hook Crit Milan 18
It was meant to be the glorious end to the year’s racing. Training for the race had been a constant throughout the summer. I was hoping for a satisfying finish to a season, something to be proud of and I’d pinned my hopes on performing well and paying my sponsors back for the support they’d shown me. But bike racing doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
I arrived in Milan after a twelve-hour journey peppered with delays, late, tired and hungry. All day long I’d been dreaming of pizza with friends I don’t often get to see, imagining a jovial meal where we’d share food and a carafe of red whilst catching up on news from the summer. Unfortunately, I was already much later than I should have been and when I stepped off the train at the wrong station, further delaying myself, I knew I’d have to adapt my plans.
My friends were already eating, partying or simply relaxing at apartments I didn’t have time to visit so I began a long, slow walk through a warm evening – Wyndymilla had kindly transported my bike for me so I didn’t have to lug a bike box. Watching children run and dance around fountains as parents enjoyed huge glasses of Aperol spritz, I felt envious of Italian families enjoying relaxed evenings together outdoors (in October!). We’re so much more uptight about bedtimes in Britain and restaurants, bars and their patrons are far less tolerant of kids.
It had been truly rotten weather when I left the UK so I wanted to make the most of the evening despite being Billy No Mates. I grabbed a seat opposite the park, ordered Pizza al Funghi and a glass of wine then opened a book and enjoyed a rare moment of quiet. An early night was next.
The following day I rolled down to Bovisa with my Wyndymilla Hype Energy team mate and assorted friends and crew to sign on for the race and take my first roll around the course. Though I’d raced Red Hook Crit Milan in 2017 (for the first time) and the course hadn’t changed, it’s far better to be prepared than not. I also wanted to test out a new, heavier gear that I hoped would help me go faster more easily.
With several flat-out straight segments and no hairpins, the Milano circuit is the fastest of all the Red Hook courses which is why I was considering a bigger gear. Still in my civvies, I joined roughly 300 people as they paraded around the 1km long circuit hoping I’d have the chance to ride at speed and see how easily I could get on top of my gear out of the few corners, particularly the last one, a 90 degree left hander before a (roughly) 200 metre straight. In the event, it wasn’t possible to ride quickly due to the number of people on course but I felt relatively confident in my choice.
As the weather looked like it was taking a turn for the worse, once we’d done several laps and said ‘hi’ to a few friends we made the decision to return to our apartment where we could rest up, eat some hot food and stay out of the rain. It was a shame to leave the the race area as these events are (along with the racing) very much all about hanging out and shooting the breeze with international friends but we didn’t have a van, any shelter or anywhere to hang out and with a long day ahead of us it just didn’t make sense to perch on a curb in the cold. Next year we plan on having more support and a proper Wyndymilla Hype Energy team area so we’ll have a real base and won’t have to keep going backwards and forwards. I think it will be a big help as no matter how hard I try, I always end up disorganised and flustered on race day – to just focus on riding would be awesome!
After a brief lunch of my race day favourite, pasta and pesto washed down with Tribe Hydration drink, it was time to get suited and booted and head back to the course. By this point the weather was really poor and we’d resigned ourselves to wet qualifications.
I was feeling quite concerned about starting near the back. At the Red Hook Crit series, starts are gridded and you’re awarded your grid number based on your past results. As I’d crashed in Brooklyn I was really near the back, which was a shame as I’ve had some really good results at Red Hook before. I knew I’d need an incredible start if I wanted to make it to the lead group before a gap opened up that would be really hard to close – gaps are hard to close in any race but even more so when you can’t change gear (and you’re racing Giro Rosa stage winners and full time professionals). In the event, I charged straight to the front pretty much immediately and stayed in the lead group all the way until the end. Or nearly….
With a new surface recently laid, the course was supremely slippery so I tried as hard as I could to ride safely, even having a dialogue with myself that went thus:
“I’m actually finding this race quite manageable.”
“Why don’t you move closer to the front then and go for a really good result?”
“Well, to move up would increase my risk of slipping out whereas if I stay here, I can finish around tenth, which is good enough, and make it to the finals in one piece.”
I made a conscious, tactical decision to play it safe and not take risks, lingering roughly in tenth for the last few laps. Coming into the final corner I felt pleased to have the end in sight and was happy sitting precisely where I was. Once safely round, I’d sprint and see how I fared.
But that never happened. Unfortunately, as I rounded the last bend, I saw a woman two riders ahead slide out and hit the deck. For whatever reason – speed, line choice, tyre pressure, technique, rain, her wheel didn’t keep traction and she didn’t make it round. The woman in front of me hit her and flew through the air. I was heading straight for her too.
Despite what stupid trolls who don’t even race bikes have been saying on the internet, it’s not always possible to change your line and stay upright when you’re cornering a brakeless track bike in the rain and only a metre away from hitting someone. I have heaps of experience, I’ve avoided many, many crashes, I know how to slow, stop or skid a track bike. I still wasn’t able to make an evasive manoeuvre. I hit her and skidded along the floor shredding my bar tape, elbow and hip and scuffing my helmet. Then I jumped back on and finished the race.
AN ANGRY WOMAN
Following the race I felt angry. I think (some) people are really unnerved by seeing a woman angry as we’re generally meant to be pleasant, reasonable and passive. It really seemed like my response to the incident frightened people and I saw people visibly recoil and back off after they asked me how I was. Thinking of it now, I’m still confused by how weirded out people were. Ask a bike racer how they feel after a crash and it’s not going to be happy.
I was upset because I’d trained for the race, flown across Europe, taken time away from my family, spent money on attending and had so looked forward to the season’s grand finale. I love Red Hook Crit. I was disappointed for my team. After what happened in Brooklyn, it seemed very unlucky and dare I say it, unfair to be involved in another crash.
I know what bike racing is risky and I accept that but when things go wrong it sucks. My anger wasn’t directed towards the poor woman who had crashed in front of me – clearly no one either intends to nor wants to crash. Thank goodness she wasn’t badly injured, nor was I or the Schindlehauer Gates rider, Sandra who flew through the air. I suspect she may have been very sore later.
I was, at that point, unsure whether I’d be able to race in the final. I was conscious of the fact that if I did, I’d have to start at the back again, but this time RIGHT at the back (the main race was double the size of the qualifications) so an already hard race would be even harder. Plus crashing messes with your head, not matter how hard to try not to let it. I was shocked and feeling quite despairing.
We inspected my equipment for damage and it seemed that I’d only ripped a small part of my skinsuit and bar tape and scratched my helmet. Feeling crappy, I headed back to the apartment to rest up and figure out whether to race the finals.
A DIFFICULT DECISION
As I neared the apartment I saw a flicker at the edge of my vision like when you get a migraine – unfortunately I’m a sufferer so I know the signs all too well. I decided to put my feet up, drink plenty of water and eat some more pasta, figuring I’d pull out of the race if felt unwell or a full blown migraine developed. My team mate Keira supplied chocolate, advice and moral support, suggesting I forget about the finals. After a Kinder Bueno and a few cups of tea the residual shock from my spill dissipated. We headed back to the race together.
Once there and feeling better, I made the decision to race the finals and just see how it went. My head hadn’t taken a big knock, as was evident by the very light scrape on one side of my helmet. My hip was grazed but hadn’t really started hurting. My elbow is almost always scabby and/or covered in scar tissue so I knew it wouldn’t be an issue. I figured confidence might be but have always found it’s better to get straight ‘back on the horse’ before allowing fear to grow.
I started near the back and again had a decent start, moving up to the front group before we reached the roundabout at the end of the first straight. I knew I had to remain in contact with this group if I had any chance of finishing well so I gave it everything I had and more in order to do so. For lap after lap, I stayed in the front group (of about twenty) but it was a huge struggle.
I’ve actually been sick in my mouth before in races, it can just happen if you’re going really hard and I’ve tasted blood in Cyclocross races. So an enormous level of exertion and real discomfort is par for the course in races such as Red Hook – no one goes into it expecting an easy ride. As I struggled to stay in the first peloton my head started pounding and I felt very nauseous, something I might ignore if I hadn’t crashed earlier. But I knew that I had to be cautious.
I pulled out of the race. And there ended an unlucky run of Red Hook Crits which began last year when I punctured in Milan and continued in Brooklyn when I crashed after the peloton swerved to avoid Tegan Cochrane’s crash (meaning I ended up in the barrier).
Will I race again? Of course, but I’m kinda glad it’s off season right now.