Riders of the Rapha Nocturne
A preview of the racing in Copenhagen
It may start slow, but the Rapha Nocturne always gets faster and faster.
Taking place in Copenhagen on 19th August, the second 2017 edition of city circuit racing will be lapped with increasing speed by cargo and folding bikes then amateur competitors, fixed gear racers and finally the elite men and women. Rapha spoke to a cross-section of the field to get a flavour for how the event will take shape as day turns to night.
Team: Look Mum No Hands!
A founder of London bike shop Look Mum No Hands!, Sam Humpheson has been racing bikes for the last fifteen years, including regularly competing at the Nocturne London.
“I survived the Elite race back in 2009, which was perhaps the most fun I’ve had in a bike race,” he says. “Since then I’ve raced most of the Nocturne category 2/3 crits, but having just turned 40, I rode the Masters race in June. I finished fifth, feeling like I’d screwed it up, but I entered Copenhagen almost straight away while I was still excited.”
Being the first ‘proper’ racers out on course at the Nocturne (apologies to the folding and cargo bike riders), the amateur and masters criteriums offer the opportunity for those who don’t race for a living to feel like a pro. As Sam says: “Usually at our level there are just a few marshalls, somebody’s mum, and an irritated dog walker, so it’s exciting to have that huge crowd. Then once you’re done, it’s great to be able to relax, enjoy the other races, and see the pro men and women show us how it’s done.”
As for his impending trip to Copenhagen, Sam is clear: “It’s a long way to go to just be mediocre in a short bike race. I’ve never been to Copenhagen so I’ll make a weekend of it and explore the city too.”
Race: Fixed Gear Criterium – Women
Team: The Legor Enve Unicorn
A Berlin-based Catalonian finding her legs in the world of fixed gear racing, Sami Sauri lines up in Copenhagen following a 9th place finish at the Rapha Nocturne London.
Sami’s race in June was stopped and restarted after a huge crash brought half the field down in the opening laps, but she says that falling off is an inevitable consequence of racing fixed, and part of the attraction for the spectators.
“Every year, at every race, people are pushing harder and faster, and it’s getting into limits which causes crashes. You can’t average 35km/h on a tight course with no brakes without that risk.”
“And the fans love the crashes. You know that everyone will be watching on the crazy corner, the one you know will have something happen on it at least once!”
Sami has had her fair share of falls, but it doesn’t deter her instinct for speed: “It’s adrenaline. It’s fun – like a game. The more you push, the more you risk, but that’s what racing is all about. I can’t wait for Copenhagen.”
Race: Fixed Gear Criterium – Men
Team: Scandinavia Fixed Crit
A Copenhagen local who found his heart on two wheels with no brakes, Magnus Bang is preparing to line up on home turf.
“I always have to travel to other towns to ride and race my bike so I’m really stoked to have people coming to my town. I already spoke to fixed gear guys from other European cities who are coming here, and I’ve promised to show them the good coffee spots and routes. I’ll even have a few guys sleeping over at my place too.”
The sense of community between brakeless racers is unique, with fierce rivalries on the roads switching to friendships off them. “Everybody knows everybody, but we’re all super nice to each other,” says Magnus, adding that Rapha has picked an excellent city for its second edition of this year’s Nocturne series.
“Copenhagen is really bike friendly. We don’t have any of these big roads with large cars on it, just bike paths everywhere with all types of bicycles on them: cabin, cargo, tandem, and so on. It’s so normal to ride here that you could even go to a fine restaurant on a bike and nobody would even look at you.”
The Rapha Nocturne’s short 1km course is through Copenhagen’s trendy meatpacking district, and the combination of atmosphere, tight corners and cobblestones will make for quite a spectacle.
“There are a lot of tricky corners, especially the one onto the cobbles just before the finish. It’s sharp, narrow and there are some big stones at the entry, the apex and the exit,” says Magnus, whose own expectations for the race are realistic: “Have a lap at the front so that my friends can cheer me on!”
Race: Elite Women Criterium
Team: The 5th Floor
“If you look at a heart rate profile after a thirty minute effort like the Nocturne, it’s pretty horrible,” says Sophie Edmondson, a racer for The 5th Floor a collective of amateur racers from London.
“It’s on the limit of cardio going over to anaerobic, so you’re gasping for air, but you’re also on red alert the whole time, feeling the buzz of the road, working out where your pedals are, what other riders are doing, hitting the corners, trying to get a better line each time, and just trying to be safe and ride positively.”
Sophie and her team mate Aoife Doherty competed at the Elite Women Criterium in London, and will do so again in Copenhagen. It is a step up from their usual summer crit league races, but a challenge they relish.
“It’s difficult to expect a big result as an amateur competing at a race of such a high calibre, but Aoife and I spur each other on. When we’re in the race, we try and stay together, less for drag and tactics, more just for buddying up, which gives you a bit of a boost.”
Race: Elite Men Criterium
By the time the Elite Men Criterium is underway in Copenhagen, darkness will have long fallen, but Marc Hester doesn’t mind. The Team WIGGINS rider is a six-day track and road criterium specialist, so he’s used to racing in low light.
“It’s special, but a format I love,” he says. “It gets harder to keep your position because the shadows from the street lights makes it feel like one rider around you is three. The corners are also harder to read.”
The 32-year-old has been out for most of the 2017 season after knee surgery, but he’s still hoping to win in the city he lives in: “I think my shape is getting better and combined with the extra motivation of racing in my favourite city, I hope it will make for a good race for me.”