A grey and windy sky looms over London, quelle surprise! Race day rituals begin inevitably fuelled by copious amounts of caffeine and carb rich cuisine. Nerves are firing as flashbacks of the last race enter into your mind. However this is no ordinary race day, it’s the start of London’s fixed gear crit season. Welcome to Thundercrit II.

NLTCBMBC – Hail Pizza

The Thundercrit is hosted by North London Thunder Cats (NLTCBMBC) who came together back in 2012 in a pub. The following year it grew into a cycling club and in 2014 formally registered with British Cycling to begin racing in the track league.

ELF Huez* making a strong statement in pacing the heats.

Not your average crit

This year the location changed to the superb road circuit which straddles the Olympic Velodrome in Stratford, Lee Valley. This location has become home to all year round road crits but brakeless track bikes have never before been formally allowed on the track, until now. The quite unique crowd of cycling fanatics begins to build, almost exclusively wearing black and found as frequently in pubs as they are on two wheels. The atmosphere takes on a level of nerve shredding excitement and tension as riders begin to warm up on rollers accompanied by a jungle and drum and bass soundtrack.

Catering to every level

A healthy turnout of 150 racers means the heats are staggered in a format which effectively gives everyone a chance to race, regardless of experience. This has helped boost the popularity of these races by offering a warm welcome to all riders who fancy the challenge. Three qualification heats for the men where the top 25 would proceed to the main race and the remaining riders enter a final “minor” race. The women’s field being smaller only required one qualifier before the final race. The Men’s and Women’s races would also share equal prizes.

Preparation is vital. Marshals, bells and of course the race briefing by organiser Rob Green.

As the racing begins, the crowd whet their lips in anticipation. Such is the nature of this style of racing, crashes can come at any second. With the course incorporating wide and fast turns, gradients and a vicious hairpin, the pack is constantly being split by attacks then sewn back together. Positions are in constant flux. Pedal strikes echo off the velodrome walls as riders lean in as far as physically possible with a few unfortunate ones hitting the deck but instantly leaping back up. The energy which comes from the balancing act between skill and self-preservation makes for a phenomenally exciting race, whether you have an interest in cycling or not. Fixed gear crit racing encompasses an energy that is unlike any other discipline.

Pedal strike is common in the tight hairpins

As a testament to the surge in popularity of the discipline and the excellent race organisation, podium positions are awarded to both local and international riders. In the men’s final, local superstar Alec Briggs (Specialized / Rocket Espresso) takes home 1st place, with Paul Vanottie (Disorderly Habits) coming 2nd and Alessandro Mariani (IRD Carrera SC) coming 3rd. In the women’s final an unattached – but probably not for long – Jo Smith came in 1st with Brooke Phillips (ELF Huez*) taking second place by a whisker ahead of Hayley Edwards (Stanridge Cycles). A special congratulations to our very own Alex de Cortada for coming in 2nd in the men’s minor final.

Race winners Alec Briggs and Jo Smith

With the London fixed gear scene having survived the label of hipster douchebaggery and flourishing into a fully fledged community of racing enthusiasts, this second Thundercrit at it’s prestigious location feels like a rallying cry for more. With the upcoming Minet Crit and Red Hook Crit, the season is far from over but next year will no doubt see an even stronger offering of races to rival other European championships.

Words: Charles Nicholson Photos: Jess Morgan NLTCBMBC