Fast paced, adrenaline fuelled and packed with drama, crit racing is not for the faint hearted. From start lines of around a hundred competitors, often fewer than a quarter of the racers make it over the finish line. So how does a young London woman find herself part of such a physically and mentally challenging race?
Cue Brooke Philips. Although fairly new to the racing scene, Brooke has been quick to take the sport by storm, claiming fastest woman in the St Paul’s time trials only two weeks after she began racing fixed gear, and flying through qualification in her debut professional crit race in Milan 2015. Now a member of the new ELFHuez women’s team, her eyes are set on the upcoming Red Hook Crit set to take place in Brooklyn in April.
Inspired by underground ‘alleycat’ racing, which springs up in the backstreets of cities in the early evening and even at the peak of rush hour, crit racing has an edgy, urban vibe that plays out in its image and choice of location such as Brooklyn, Milan and London. Alleycat racing allows riders from across the city to congregate at a given location, with no prior warning for the often bemused commuters who find themselves caught in the electric atmosphere of the race. This sense of excitement and adrenaline has been channelled into crit racing, which sees riders race on fixed gear bikes, which do not have brakes, and are specially designed to give a smooth, momentum-filled ride perfect for fast-paced city terrains.
For Brooke, this is part of what makes fixed gear racing so appealing. With only one gear and no freewheel, riders have to pedal continuously and adapt to the fluid form of riding. Brooke often rides her fixed gear bike on the notoriously busy central London commute, allowing her to feel that she is a natural part of the city as she weaves seamlessly in and out of the traffic. For a fixed gear rider being alert is essential, as you often need to pre-empt and respond instantly to events or obstacles unfolding in front of you.
That this experience and capacity to respond calmly to unexpected events has proved extremely valuable to Brooke was obvious in her first Red Hook race in Milan, as she narrowly avoided a dramatic crash to finish in an impressive 7th place. Brooke’s journey has not been without its challenges, as a broken collar bone at Red Hook London back in July left her unable ride for three to four months. As any rider faced with injury will know, the pain of not being able to get out and ride is much more than a physical one, and after several months of rehabilitation her first time back on the bike was one of elation and relief.
Brooke is careful to allow time for rest and recovery in her training programme, and is a fantastic model for any athlete training for a big race. She has already planned her next three months’ training in the run up the London Red Hook Crit, being careful to ensure she hits peak phase at the optimum pre-race moment. This level of organisation is vital to fit the demands of training into her full-time professional job and home life. Hitting the gym regularly in the winter months to build up her strength when getting out to ride outside can be tough, and always keeping a trusty jar of peanut butter to hand for a final pre-race snack, Brooke is dedicated and professional in her approach to being at her best.
That Brooke has a strong support network of family and loved ones around her is crucial, and a fact she is keen to recognise as being instrumental in her ability to commit to training. That it was friends and family who first introduced Brooke to cycling is important to her, and it was her brother Will’s girlfriend who first suggested she accompany her to the Herne Hill Velodrome for a ‘give it a go’ session. It was here that her desire to learn more about the sport intensified, as, surrounded by other riders using terminology she didn’t understand, she repeatedly returned home eager to find out more. Two levels of accreditation followed, allowing her to ride alongside far faster riders who she pushed hard to keep up with. After two or three sessions, she was “hooked”.
Brooke believes that inspiring women to cycle is important, with ‘women only’ sessions like those held at the Velodrome, which allow riders of all abilities to simply rent a bike and try something new, being a great opportunity to make the sport accessible to everyone. She points to influential women in cycling like Laura Trott, who since the London 2012 Olympics have come to epitomise the current British cycling craze, as key role models who prove that your age and gender are not and should not be a barrier to success.
When asked if she sees herself as an ambassador for other young women and girls, Brooke’s down to earth manner and modesty really shine through. For Brooke, being an ambassador is more about riding to the best of her ability, as this often brings unexpected opportunities to pass on her enthusiasm to others. On a recent ride outside Winchester, after 40 miles of fixed gear training, she re-joined the road heading into the city. Mud splattered and crouched low over her handlebars, keeping pace with the traffic speeding around her, two young girls in the car ahead caught sight of her out of the rear view window. Their smiles and exchange of excited conversation was enough for Brooke to know she had left a valuable impression.
We cant wait to see Brooke fulfil her ambitions this year, keep an eye out on our blog and social media for updates on all our ELFHuez Team updates.
Words by Rebecca Stead