To Be Determined Journal

To Be Determined is a journal of cycling, adventure and photography, curated by a NYC-based cycling team known as TBD Racing or Team TBD. From criteriums to cyclocross to product reviews and travel diaries, it is all part of the TBD Journal.

Mission Crit 6: First Race (and first crash) Feels

Photo credit: Jason Hansen

Photo credit: Jason Hansen

Guest post by Sydney Michaels, Austin’s sister

One night I drunkenly told my brother, Austin (TBD member), that I was thinking about racing in Mission Crit 6. He thought I was crazy. He and my husband, Ayran, who works for Mike’s Bikes SF, spent hours in this bar telling me how dangerous this race can be. Not only do you line up against some of the most beastly pro riders like Ash Duban, Evie Hound (that final sprint for the win was epic!!), and Paola Panzeri, you also line up with people (like me) who have never raced before.

Flexin’ on ‘em at the start of the first heat.

Those who have raced understand that while you may not have to worry about your own bike handling skills, it’s everyone else’s you have to watch out for. But I am kind of bull headed and if someone tells me I shouldn’t do something, I will probably do it anyway.

I had only been riding a track geometry fixed gear bike for about a month leading up to the race. Needless to say, I was scared shitless. I understood that I most likely was not going to get first place (or place at all), and I was probably going to get lapped out. 

But I never thought I would feel such an overwhelming sense of community surrounded by all these badass women who rode badass bikes in badass races. This year’s edition of Mission Crit was the first time they made the women’s finals THE MAIN EVENT! Cycling is so heavily populated by men in all aspects; whether it’s racing, race organizers, manufacturing, bicycle shops, or even commuting to and from work. The race starting list had 70 WTF names! Ginger Boyd, from Machines For Freedom, wrote an article called “Racing For All Women” where she explains how race organizers often threaten to dismantle WTF races just because not enough WTF people sign up. Mission Crit has never, and will never do something like that.

Austin does the pinning honors pre-race. Photo credit: Álvaro Soltero

The day of the race, I checked myself and my bike in as soon as the check-in booth opened and met up with some of my friends. I was wearing my only jersey which features Magnus, the shop cat from Lakeside Bicycles, which is why I raced under team Lakeside (thanks Amy and Dane!). My family, who had flown into SF from all over the country, posted up next to Gus’s Market. 

The weather started making me nervous. It was very windy that day with gusts reaching up to 40 mph. I ended up doing the warm-up lap right behind Chas with Mash, and I even overheard him talking about the insane wind. Then, I made my way over to the garage with everyone and saw everyone warming up on rollers, which turned out to be one of my first challenges. I had never seen rollers in person before, let alone ridden on them. I stared curiously until someone offered to help me try theirs (thanks Lieke!). She coached me through the whole process until I was comfortable on my own, I didn’t even fall! Well, not until later. First obstacle down!

Photo credit: Jason Hansen

Now I had to get through the qualifiers! In order to race the finals at Mission Crit, everyone has to qualify by racing in one heat - they do not separate you based on your skill level or by what category you race normally. I was in the first heat which started at 4:30 pm. We all lined up at the start line, and I thought my heart was going to pound its way out of my mouth. This is it, the moment I had been preparing for and my thoughts were racing through my mind. 

“Just clip in like you’re at a stop light, take the hairpin as wide as possible, and don’t crash. If you do crash, get up as quickly as possible, and ride your heart out.” 

Photo credit: Jason Hansen

“Oh shit it’s starting, go! Go! Go! Woah, there’s a lot more people than I thought. Are we going to ALL make it through the hairpin?! Oh god, here it comes. Woah, you just cut my wheel but I’m still up! No one fell! GO! Choose your line and follow through!”

Every single person I talked to about Mission Crit all talked about how crashing was really common, but honestly, riding fixed at any capacity no matter who you are, you are going to fall. I guess I wasn’t really “scared” to fall - just prepared. But I didn’t fall!

Course map courtesy of James Grady

The course itself is really short, so they compensate with doing 15-30 laps: 15 for qualifiers and 30 for the finals. The start is right in the middle of the longest straight away: Harrison St. The first turn is the tightest left-hand hairpin turn, where you basically do a 180 over two traffic lanes and go the opposite way down the same street. Then, you make several successive turns, which all seem to happen within a matter of seconds. There is a blind corner where if you don’t pick your line correctly, you run over some gnarly potholes. Treat Street is another straight away that features some of the worst headwinds I have ever experienced. Treat Street also leads to the second, slightly wider, hairpin turn where it intersects with Harrison St at an angle, leading to the sprint to the finish line.

I ended up getting lapped out with 5 laps left. Whew - I made it! I was a little relieved getting lapped out for the sole fact that I needed to ice my knees.

I get back to the garage and hear about a crash. One of the racers involved in the crash was just a few feet behind me! They thought she had dislocated her shoulder, so we worked together to find her a ride to the hospital. That could have been me! I had to refocus my thoughts - can’t think about that now because I MADE IT TO THE FINALS!

Photo credit: Caro Paulette

This time, I have to do better. I have to get a better warmup. I have to draft better. I try to start warming up again at the rollers, but this time I keep falling off of them. Why is it so hard this time? I was so embarrassed, Everyone is going to think I am such an amateur, I thought. To my amazement, everyone was instead trying to give me tips and helping anyway they could. Sammi, of Squid Bikes, told me how I need to clip in with my dominant foot before I sit on the saddle. Someone else told me to loosen my shoulders and the bike will basically guide itself. All of these women were coming together, not only to compete against one another, but to support and lean on one another. It was so inspiring.

Time to line up! It was 8:30 pm and it was windy and cold. There were about 60 racers in the finals. We do a lap around the course to get to the starting line. My brother, Austin, is there trying to give me pointers. Telling me to go as hard as I can right out of the first hairpin, find someone to draft off of, and don’t worry about conserving energy because the race will leave me behind. Honestly, I don’t think I was hearing any of it as I watched everyone get called up to their lineup point.

Photo credit: Julio Bustamante

Alright, Sydney, don’t crash, take the outside at the first hairpin, and try to catch someone to draft off of. I got this!

Ready, set, GO! GO! Outside line, outside line! Someone crashed in front of me but I see it and I am going to miss it by a few feet. Wait, why is that bike flying through the air in front of me? Oh no, guess I didn’t miss the crash and here I go, tumbling towards the pavement.

All I really feel is the urge to get back up as quickly as possible and ride my fucking heart out.

Get up! What is my bike stuck on? Oh, my pedal got caught in someone’s spokes. I got it! Get back on your bike and go as fast as possible! GO! GO! GO! I wonder if everyone else is okay?...

I could hear my family screaming their hearts out every time I rode by Gus’s, and a few random people cheering and screaming my name along the course. It was really uplifting,

Sydney’s cheer section. Photo  credit: Jeff Vander Stucken

Sydney’s cheer section. Photo credit: Jeff Vander Stucken

I ended up only making it to lap 10ish of 30 before getting pulled, but I couldn’t be more proud of myself! I raced Mission Crit 6! Thank you James Grady! I even crashed! Let me tell you if I can do it, you can. Even though you most likely will get lapped or crash, what really matters is just getting out there and trying your damnedest. Because the sense of community is there, and will continue to be there, as long as we just get our asses in the saddle!