Summer’s only around the corner and we’re pretty sure that everyone agrees, it’s about bloody time!
And what better to get your summer vibes warmed up than with a day down at the velodrome for the 5th Floor track day!
Ok, so maybe we’re jumping the gun slightly with all the summer talk. But with the weather we’re having recently and after pretty a rad day down at the track with some of London’s finest, who can blame us! – Especially when you’re a few beers down under the sun and we all start to dream about being back in Barcelona.
So, first race of the season down and it’s not really about winning at this stage (even if it is a nice added extra) and even though this wasn’t a criterium, track days are really good to help find out where your body’s at physically. But mainly, season openers are a great way for everyone to test the waters a little, have some fun and see some awesome people from the community that may have been hibernating away throughout the winter.
A great day to just remember, that yeah, this season is only going to get better and better.
And it may have been a better start than the rest of us for one of our ELF Huez newbies – Brooke. On her debut race for the team and she put on a corker of a performance, bringing home two 2nd place finishes and one 3rd, Result!
Overall, the 5th Floor guys put on a pretty top notch afternoon and a great way to kick off the season!
Thunder Cross was my first off road racing experience and it was easily one of my favourite events to date. Despite the cold wind, intermittent drizzle of rain and my unnecessary off road Garmin route to the venue from Bromley… It was difficult to not be wrapped up in the GNAR of this muddy spectacle.
We were invited to arrive from 10:00am with a chance to familiarise ourselves with the course and the first race set to depart at 13:00. The riders were rolling in throughout the first couple of hours and the array of bike disciplines were exciting to see, from a full suspension MTB to a 16” wheel Brompton. Of all the crashes on the day the worst was before the event started with one minor concussion that took a rider out the race. I was busy scoffing wraps from the BBQ and forcing metal music through the PA whenever a back was turned. Attitudes were positive despite the cold and the excitement was building.
On the line up we had an “Anything Goes Race”, mixed Main race and then a “Gravel King hell climb”. As my tendency for excitement in large crowds developed, I decided to sign up for both races. This was never a great idea, but the stupidest idea’s are the gateway to happiness – Said no one ever.
The Anything Goes race brought some fun costumes and rides, with one gentleman riding along with his dog, brakeless fixed gear’s (one which was only ever expected the velodrome…EEEK!) and a guy who you could barely see riding around in his full ghillie sniper outfit. Each lap was gruelling, with harsh pedalled climbs and sandy loose descents – downhill sections that had you leaning so far back on your bike, that your saddle was in front your chin, I swear Tom Robinson nearly sat on his tyre, then a final steep chase uphill before crossing the line. It was fun and I was smiling even when I lost control on my second or third lap off a speedy drop off at the fourth to last corner. I had a lot of painful chasing to do, as Kris Snell darted off ahead of me, dressed in school uniform. Kris and I spent a lot of the race neck and neck, but by the end I managed to draw away and clasp a second place position.
It was at this point I knew, I had fucked up!
We had 15 minutes until the main race started but after two espressos and a couple of litres of water, I was convinced I could do it! The start line consisted of a mix of independent riders and people I had met before from Fixed gear crits, from the home team NLTCBMBC, The Fifth Floor, Das Rad Klub, LFGSS and a good group of teams turned up from the Cyclocross season too.
The course this time was set up differently with the first and last lap to be up a gravel climb through a tunnel and then out onto the original loop. The single discipline bike choice made a huge difference to the start line, as people pulled away it was an instant battle to the gravel and you could feel the pressure on for the first lap prime. I didn’t clip in for at least three rotations, so everything that happened from here onwards – was my cleat’s fault! Two laps had gone by and I was tired! The mud flung from the wheel I was chasing hit me in the face like the hand of disappointed lover, but I was determined to find the strength; I was still smiling and I was still having fun. It came to the big crater (as I named it), which then kicked you out onto a rapid decent over loose clay and pot holes. I picked a line I’d never chosen before, then didn’t quite read the terrain that well and lost my rear wheel to the side which swung me over onto my shoulder. I sacrificed the air in my lungs and crumpled into the dirt. With an elegant crab walk, I cleared the course! My shoulder was busted so I grabbed a beer and got to cheering the rest of the riders on. Max finished 15th with all the showmanship of busting a wheelie over the line – with great strength, comes great tom foolery.
A great day full of muddy fun, lots of pain, lots of crashes but only smiles. Roll on Thunder Crit and more good times. Cross season will see me next year!
Fast paced, adrenaline fuelled and packed with drama, crit racing is not for the faint hearted. From start lines of around a hundred competitors, often fewer than a quarter of the racers make it over the finish line. So how does a young London woman find herself part of such a physically and mentally challenging race?
Cue Brooke Philips. Although fairly new to the racing scene, Brooke has been quick to take the sport by storm, claiming fastest woman in the St Paul’s time trials only two weeks after she began racing fixed gear, and flying through qualification in her debut professional crit race in Milan 2015. Now a member of the new ELFHuez women’s team, her eyes are set on the upcoming Red Hook Crit set to take place in Brooklyn in April.
Inspired by underground ‘alleycat’ racing, which springs up in the backstreets of cities in the early evening and even at the peak of rush hour, crit racing has an edgy, urban vibe that plays out in its image and choice of location such as Brooklyn, Milan and London. Alleycat racing allows riders from across the city to congregate at a given location, with no prior warning for the often bemused commuters who find themselves caught in the electric atmosphere of the race. This sense of excitement and adrenaline has been channelled into crit racing, which sees riders race on fixed gear bikes, which do not have brakes, and are specially designed to give a smooth, momentum-filled ride perfect for fast-paced city terrains.
For Brooke, this is part of what makes fixed gear racing so appealing. With only one gear and no freewheel, riders have to pedal continuously and adapt to the fluid form of riding. Brooke often rides her fixed gear bike on the notoriously busy central London commute, allowing her to feel that she is a natural part of the city as she weaves seamlessly in and out of the traffic. For a fixed gear rider being alert is essential, as you often need to pre-empt and respond instantly to events or obstacles unfolding in front of you.
That this experience and capacity to respond calmly to unexpected events has proved extremely valuable to Brooke was obvious in her first Red Hook race in Milan, as she narrowly avoided a dramatic crash to finish in an impressive 7th place. Brooke’s journey has not been without its challenges, as a broken collar bone at Red Hook London back in July left her unable ride for three to four months. As any rider faced with injury will know, the pain of not being able to get out and ride is much more than a physical one, and after several months of rehabilitation her first time back on the bike was one of elation and relief.
Brooke is careful to allow time for rest and recovery in her training programme, and is a fantastic model for any athlete training for a big race. She has already planned her next three months’ training in the run up the London Red Hook Crit, being careful to ensure she hits peak phase at the optimum pre-race moment. This level of organisation is vital to fit the demands of training into her full-time professional job and home life. Hitting the gym regularly in the winter months to build up her strength when getting out to ride outside can be tough, and always keeping a trusty jar of peanut butter to hand for a final pre-race snack, Brooke is dedicated and professional in her approach to being at her best.
That Brooke has a strong support network of family and loved ones around her is crucial, and a fact she is keen to recognise as being instrumental in her ability to commit to training. That it was friends and family who first introduced Brooke to cycling is important to her, and it was her brother Will’s girlfriend who first suggested she accompany her to the Herne Hill Velodrome for a ‘give it a go’ session. It was here that her desire to learn more about the sport intensified, as, surrounded by other riders using terminology she didn’t understand, she repeatedly returned home eager to find out more. Two levels of accreditation followed, allowing her to ride alongside far faster riders who she pushed hard to keep up with. After two or three sessions, she was “hooked”.
Brooke believes that inspiring women to cycle is important, with ‘women only’ sessions like those held at the Velodrome, which allow riders of all abilities to simply rent a bike and try something new, being a great opportunity to make the sport accessible to everyone. She points to influential women in cycling like Laura Trott, who since the London 2012 Olympics have come to epitomise the current British cycling craze, as key role models who prove that your age and gender are not and should not be a barrier to success.
When asked if she sees herself as an ambassador for other young women and girls, Brooke’s down to earth manner and modesty really shine through. For Brooke, being an ambassador is more about riding to the best of her ability, as this often brings unexpected opportunities to pass on her enthusiasm to others. On a recent ride outside Winchester, after 40 miles of fixed gear training, she re-joined the road heading into the city. Mud splattered and crouched low over her handlebars, keeping pace with the traffic speeding around her, two young girls in the car ahead caught sight of her out of the rear view window. Their smiles and exchange of excited conversation was enough for Brooke to know she had left a valuable impression.
We cant wait to see Brook fulfil her ambitions this year, keep an eye out on our blog and social media for updates on all our ELFHuez Team updates.