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Racing Redhook Crit with Formula Femme

Text from an interview with Formula Femme Team Captain Kelly Neuner for Pretty Damned Fast.

What inspired you to sign up? I have been dreaming of doing Red Hook since first going to view the races. The energy there is intoxicating! You can see the focus and determination on each of the racers faces, and the opportunity to have such a large, enthusiastic crowd at a fixed gear event is rare and hard to pass up. Although the atmosphere from the audience is a bit gladiatorial, with hundreds of viewers cheering racers to lean harder and faster into every curve, it is overall incredibly positive and celebratory. There were a lot of reasons for me not to sign up this year. Between a recent surgery for my collarbone (I had just been cleared to ride my bike again 5 weeks before the race) and a pretty ridiculous workload in my final year of grad school, I definitely was not in my best racing shape. I had initially come to the logical conclusion to pass on the 2017 event and just train really hard and be prepared for RHC 2018, but the excitement surrounding the event and my overwhelming FOMO quickly won out. It took roughly three people telling me that I’m a good cyclist and should really just go for it this year, and I ended up signing up to race a week after my doctor told me my collarbone had mostly healed up from my last bike accident and that I could do anything I wanted to…as long as I didn’t crash.

What did you find the most challenging? I think that the mental aspect of the race that requires a calm trust in your capabilities and those of the other racers riding mere inches away from you is the most challenging. It takes an amazing amount of focus and self confidence to fly into those hairpin turns at the speed necessary to keep up with the pack. After going around the course dozens of times I gained some confidence, but I never quite got the hold of Turn 2, an incredibly tight, right turn after the one straightaway where you could pick up any speed, given the wind blowing off the bay. I definitely need to practice turning and work on my ‘crit lean’ and the more technical aspects of racing fixed gear crits, but I think the confidence gained from completing cornering drills over and over again would be the most useful aspect of this training.

What surprised you most about the race? I was surprised both by the amount of pomp and circumstance surrounding the main race, and how quickly that started to get my adrenaline rushing. I had been joking all day that we were basically human race horses, pacing around our assigned stalls nervously and munching on our snack bags, with spectators admiring our shiny skin suits and asking for photos whenever they spotted a racer outside. As we rolled out for the ‘neutral lap’, everyone was drumming on the barriers and reaching out for high fives. In a weird way this settles your nerves – or at least just sets everything in your mind into go mode, with the knowledge that everyone watching thinks you’re a pretty good racer and is excited for you to attempt something really hard. I was also quite surprised to find myself ushered to the medical tent to get twelve stitches on my nose just 20 seconds after the race started, a gaggle of photographers trying to snap a shot of the blood flowing down my face. There was a nasty pile up after one of the lead riders seemed to get a wheel caught in a grating right after the start (I’ve analyzed the footage from my handlebar cam maybe one too many times) and I went flying through the air and skidded on my safety glasses. Perhaps most surprising of all is that, except for the cut where my rimless glasses hit my face, I was remarkably OK!

Would you race it again next year? Yes! There were a lot of factors that prevented me from racing well this year, and I look forward to arriving at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal next year with several more fixed gear crits under my belt, more than four weeks of solid training, and a pair of safety goggles with substantial padding between the sharp lenses and my face. Overall I was impressed by the supportiveness of the community, with other racers lending me parts and invaluable advice, and hundreds of friends and strangers reaching out to see if I was ok after my crash. I look forward to stepping out into the noise of the cowbells and the bright lights of the jumbotron next year, with increased confidence in my bike handling skills but with that same rush of adrenaline I got when I first arrived at the starting line!


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