Our team director, Sean Burke, put the team up in a hostel near the race. It was my first time meeting the team, most of whom are based in San Diego: Gretchen Stumhofer, Kym Perfetto, and Esther Walker. We had the whole day before the race to get to know each other and explore the city. We went to the pre-race party at the Oakley residence, which was pretty wild. I’ve been finding it really interesting how the bike scenes differ. From road to mountain, the various disciplines are fun to observe. The fixed scene I would definitely compare to the cyclocross scene—lots of tattooed, trendy riders, and it seems the party is just as important as the race itself.
To prepare for the race the following day we did some tactical discussion. It had been decided we would work for Gretchen. Though she’d never done a fixed gear crit before, she’d competed in a lot of pro races and had been invited to the Olympic training center twice; she’d also recently won the SRAM Chicago Criterium, part of the Intelligentsia Cup Prairie State Cycling Series. Gretchen never received her bike when she landed, however. It turned out her bike never made it on the plane. She was able to use our teammate Lucas’ bike thanks to the similarities in fits (a quick stem swap was required between races). Obviously the circumstances were not ideal, but we made it work, and she was able to race. Gretchen still put in the best qualifying time for our team, so the original plan was on.
The qualifying race is about four hours before the main event. I just want to explain how qualifying works real quick. (It was never explained to me in my first Redhook event in Brooklyn; at first I was under the impression it was like any other crit or mass-start race, and during the qualifier I went hard the whole time thinking it was first over the line versus the individual fastest lap time.) In the qualifier your fastest lap time determines your start position for the main race. You have 20 minutes to do a lap (about 1.2 miles) as fast as you can. Everyone starts together, you get used to the turns, and then you take your hot lap whenever you feel ready. The problem is, not everyone will be taking a hot lap at the same time. So during your hot lap you will be dodging riders that are going easy. This makes getting a fast lap time a little more difficult. Gretchen qualified third and I qualified sixth, so we both were able to line up first row.
Generally, I don’t let myself get nervous before racing. I wait till about a minute before the race starts to let myself be nervous, and at that point there is no time for doubts. 3, 2, 1, GO! We strung the race out from the gun, really taking advantage of our start positions. Breaking a fixed gear crit up from the beginning definitely felt like the safer option. While I don’t find these crits especially different from a road crit, it still takes some getting used to. Surely a brakeless fixed gear is less forgiving when you take the wrong line, I thought. So when there was a crash, it wasn’t super surprising. I just didn’t expect it to be the girl directly in front of me. On the third or fourth lap coming around turn two Gretchen went a little too wide and went down. Luckily there were strategically placed hay bales to break her fall. I was right on her wheel, and with no brakes to slow me down the only thing to do was hop and roll right over her bike. While I completed this task without much trouble, I let out a pretty loud yelp, as I figured I was going down at that point, too.
Kacey Lloyd (Rockstar Games) and Ainara Elbusto Arteaga (Conor Wrc) took this opportunity to get away. Ash Duban (Affinity) and I chased for two to three laps before catching on the back. At that point I figured we should keep the pace high, though it didn’t seem like we organized ourselves well enough, as Fleur Faure (Poloandbike) and Jo Celsco (Team Cinelli Chrome) caught on after four or five more laps. The rest of the race was very much cat and mouse. No one had teammates to rely on, thus it was in no one’s best interest to pull. I tried putting in a couple of hard attacks to possibly drop off some of the girls, but the pace would slow down again when they caught me. With one to go, Fleur attacked and led the final lap. At about 500 meters to go, Kasey attacked and led Ainara to the win. When Kasey attacked, Fleur shot backwards, forcing Ash and me to pass her on opposite sides. I finished just behind Ash in fourth place.
|The Aventon team pre-race, Sammi posing at far right.|
I am happy with my result in my second fixed gear crit, but I always strive to push myself hard. In retrospect I should have gone from the final turn. It was about 800 meters from the finish. I don’t believe I could have held it for the win, but I might have pulled off a better result. I feel that my teammates and I have learned a lot from the London race. Aventon will be sending five ladies out to Barcelona. We’re preparing ourselves to step up in this next race and take the win.
Sammi Runnels is a bike messenger in Austin, Texas. A native of Tennessee, she started riding when she was 19 and has been racing for three years. She enjoys road cycling, cyclocross, mountain biking, and fixed crits. Sammi is a reptile lover, owning a snake and a roughneck monitor lizard. In her time off the bike she enjoys modeling and drawing.