Thundercrit – Racing the UK’s biggest fixed gear crit
My buddies at NTLCBMBC (North London Thunder Cats Black Metal Bicycle Club) took a real leap of faith when they launched Thundercrit three years ago. At the time, they were a relatively new team with a tiny budget and little experience of organising races but they saw that the UK needed a homegrown race that could operate independently of the London leg of the infamous Red Hook Crit, which was then the only fixed crit on UK soil.
As anyone with even the vaguest interest in either watching, organising or competing in bike races knows, without grassroots events that encourage a sense of community, inspire new racers and help develop a bit of a scene, things can lack momentum and end up fizzling out. Local and national races are the building blocks upon which the biggest international races are founded and are essential to those without heaps of cash with which to travel to events further afield. They’re also just a lot of fun. And fun is important to the Thunder Cats.
In the three short years since its inception, the race has gone from strength to strength making the transition from Hog Hill to Lee Valley Velopark and in doing so becoming the first fixed gear crit ever held at the Olympic Park and the best attended crit they’ve ever seen.
This year’s edition saw in the region of 200 competitors make their way to east London for a chance at qualifying for a place in the evening’s final, the field of heavy hitters arguably even deeper thanks to the fact Red Hook Crit London is not happening in 2018. Specialized Rocket Espresso (all of whom are paid a salary to race fixed crits) were in attendance with two riders, US National Crit Champion Justin Williams and local champ Alex Briggs, Aventon Factory racing had flown in Oliver Le Roy and all the best international teams were in attendance. Both the men’s and women’s finals were sure to be very fast.
The course was the same as the year before making use of just the lower part of the velopark. A savage hairpin turn linked the two sides and there was an uphill finish. I was due to race on fellow Wyndymilla rider Keira McVitty’s bike as I’d written off my own at Red Hook Crit Brooklyn and unfortunately there hadn’t quite been the time to replace it, so I suited up, climbed aboard and rolled over to the start line for qualifications.
When racing a fixed gear crit, alongside the necessity of having good fitness and bike handling skills one of the most important things is selecting an appropriate gear ratio to race on, as unlike with a road bike you can’t actually change gear once you start racing. What you go for depends largely on the nature of the course – is it technical, does it have long straights, is it flat, how fast are you racing – but also on your preferred cadence and and whether you’re better at pushing a heavy gear or spinning your legs quickly.
Spinning your legs quickly is a very good tactic as pushing a heavy gear can be very tiring, however some people are just better suited to doing it – myself for instance! On the flip side that means that I’m not so good at spinning quickly, something that was abundantly clear in the finishing sprint when I spun out or ran out of gears, meaning I reached my top speed when my legs couldn’t go any faster.
Having tested the water in the qualifications I decided to put a heavier gear on so I’d be able to push longer and harder in the sprint finish of the main race, go faster and out sprint my rivals (in theory anyway). But it wasn’t to be as thanks to some over zealous tightening I was unable to get my bloody chain ring off to change it.
The main event
For the main event, the women’s field had been split into two races, an A and a B, which was a nice idea as it meant the slower/less experienced riders would be able to have a competitive race amongst themselves. In the A race it was all to play for – no teams had more than two riders present and I hadn’t seen much evidence of team tactics in the qualis, save for a bit of argy bargy from the Love and Rockets riders who weren’t making many allies.
It went off fast and I missed the initial break, burying myself to successfully bridge over (and take a lot of other people over too!) then the pace remained decent with a few riders putting in digs but nothing sticking. I figured it would probably come down to the final sprint and knew I’d have my work cut out consider I’d not been able to gear up. Everyone began trying to move up and I chose to take the long way round, or outside line as I didn’t want to get boxed in. But in the end, I wasn’t in the right position so missed the jump and sprinted solo, battling for a minor place against Jo Smith in a photo finish that she won.
Racing done, I ditched my bike and headed back to watch Dave in the men’s finals. Dave should really not have been racing (as he is waiting for an MRI on his spine) but as the doctor hadn’t specifically told him not to he’d decided to do the qualifications just for fun and to take it easy – not thinking he’d qualify. But like me whenever I’ve said I was just going to take it easy, his competitive nature got the better of him and he’d actually progressed to the final! In the end, he had to pull out, which was disappointing but probably for the best. Meanwhile Alex Briggs sprinted to glory.
It was a great day. The atmosphere at events such as these are so good – because the qualifications take several hours everyone gets to kick back and hang out with their friends, watch plenty of racing and catch up with friends from around the world. Though we all want to win, in many ways it the whole experience of being there with so many like-minded, high spirited people intent on having fun that’s the real draw, and Thundercrit seemed entirely populated with good people. A big thanks and kudos to NLTCBMBC and all the volunteers. You rock!