The Aventon team arrived in Spain on Thursday morning. Traveling from California made jet-lag hard to ignore. We spent a couple foggy-headed days and restless nights building bikes, riding around Barcelona, eating tapas and drinking cervesas with friends. Most racers sign up for the Red Hook series for the travel opportunity and the unique challenge that brakeless crit racing offers, but there's one more reason I do it. It reunites the friends I've known for nearly a decade through messengering and alleycat racing. We've essentially grown up together- from getting our kicks in anything-goes illegal street racing to competing against road and track pro's in a crit organized by a former alleycat racer himself. I don't think we could have predicted this future when we were delivering our first few packages in whatever city we called home 8 years ago. Now we greet each other with hugs and high-fives at the Friday night parties held before each crit.
Race day started nice and late. Women's qualifiers were at 3pm which gave us plenty of time to sleep off the preparty and charge the go-pros. Since the first Red Hook crit in Brooklyn, the Aventon women's team had grown to include Trina Jacobson and Esther Walker from San Diego, Sammi Runnels from Austin Texas, and Gretchen Stumhofer from whatever city she's kicking ass training in last. In our one-room hostel quarters, we'd fiddled with ratios, charged our go-pros, and hid the evidence of our smuggled vodka bottle. Now we were kinda organized and pretty stoked to crush the crit. At noon, we packed up and rode (brakeless) through the city to the race course just steps from the beach at Parc Del Forum.
After warm-ups on rollers, qualifiers, strange lunch options (squid ink sandwich anyone???) and brief tactic talks, it was time to line up. Sammi and Trina qualified on the front line, with Esther, Gretchen, and I not too far behind.
Though the course was technical and a little narrow at times, we found places to move up. Like most Red Hooks, it started (and remained) fast. I had a decent start and moved up to 9th wheel by the 1st lap. Trina and Sammi remained consistently in top 8. This race was noticeably faster than the last two and a few squirly riders were making it difficult to push up. I nearly made contact with the same rider twice in the 3rd lap. She was trying to push me out in the corners. It worked. I dropped back, lacking the guts to push back.
12 minutes in and the pack is still super tight, only breaking up momentarily to maneuver around an already-lapped racer. Within seconds, my position would change from 8th to 20th and back again. Attacks were quick to be contained and positions were guarded with elbows every turn. Coming around turn 4, Fleur Faure made contact with another rider and went down. My teammate Gretchen ran over a bike, clipped out, but managed to recover. I swerved right to narrowly avoid the bike as it bounced straight toward me next. A small pileup ensued without any Aventon racers in the mix. As we finished the lap, there were red flags waving. A re-start had been called. We were halted at the start/finish. After a waiting a few minutes, Dave announced that Fleur was going to rejoin the race. My first reaction was to clap, relieved that she wasn't seriously injured. I noted that she was restarting on the front line. The restart hadn't required anyone to get back into positions. I was lined up next to Ash Duban in the second row and the front line was now crowded with riders. After a 5 minute wait, we restarted with 12 laps to go.
Before the restart, my legs felt great. After stopping for several minutes, my legs hated moving again. Esther shouted at me to get on her wheel as she passed me fast on the left but I didn't catch her. It took me several laps to wind back up. With 10 laps to go, it felt like I was slipping off the front pack. I was busy feeling sorry for myself until Jo Celso and Fleur Faure passed me, breaking up my mental pity party. I knew what strong riders they both were and if they had been behind me, I wasn't doing as poorly as I imagined. This realization snapped some sense into me and reignited my fight. I pushed up and rejoined the back of the front pack.
The pace seemed to slow with 7 laps left or maybe I got a second wind. Headed into the 4th turn I saw a clear line and sprinted. I passed everyone, making up 16 positions. In just a few laps, I went from pity-party-of-one to attacking off the front. Ainara was on my wheel within seconds, but with Gretchen close behind. On the next lap I found myself sitting 3rd wheel. Then with only 5 laps to go, I was back on the front, this time with Gretchen right on my wheel- great positions but just a little premature. Everyone sprinted with 2 laps to go. I was feeling a little burnt but Gretchen and Sammi advanced.
On the last lap, I found myself 12(ish) wheels back. I took a tight inside line on the hairpin to make up ground. This had worked well for me a in the laps prior. This time it saved me from the last lap crash involving Sammi, Ash, a Poloandbike rider. Esther and Trina had taken the outside line and ended up in the haybails. I involuntarily paused for a millisecond, scanning who from my team was down. Obviously my instincts suck and I should've sprinted instead. The crash has split the field. As I rounded the last corner, the top 7 were already finishing. Kasey Lloyd had out-sprinted Ainara for first, ending Ainara's winning streak. Gretchen finished 3rd. I crossed the line 9th while Esther was extracting herself from Trina's frame at the pile-up Sammi had been buried under. But hey, that's bike racing. This story still ends on a positive note: After a very fast and exciting 3rd race in the Red Hook Series, Aventon got a podium result. The women's team is now leading in the team standings by 41 points and Sammi and I are ranked in the Top Ten in the individual standings.