Well, we couldn’t let the Brooklyn RedHookCrit go by without getting in on any of the action now could we?! Let us present to you Mr Owen Blandy, one of East London Fixed’s finest riders. We wanted to know what inspires him to ride his bike, and of course, get the low down on what really went down at the RHC!!
So, who is Owen Blandy?
Like most young kids, I learnt to ride from a young age; I took a slight dent of confidence as a 10 year old when my new cream coloured Raleigh road bike was laughed at by the other kids. This put me off cycling and into athletics, football and rugby. It wasn’t until I was 21 and living out of home which triggered a cycling renaissance. It came in the form of a pretty standard single speed hybrid bike that I used to smash it to work and back.
This led to a fascination with single speed and fixed gear, so I did the London hipster pilgrimage to Brick Lane Bikes and had a custom built black and green fixed gear Track bike built for me. I loved it from day 1 and I’ve ridden fixed gear ever since.
The summer of 2013 brought a road bike into my life with the acceptance of my biggest challenge to date. A 1000 mile journey from one corner of the UK to the other. John O’ Groats to Land’s End. This was really the trip that ignited my passion for cycling in all forms and got me pushing large distances. I smashed it back to camp every day finishing in the top 50 on most days and in the overall classification.
My self-titled nickname is the #pedaldancer for the way I love to climb and dance about on the pedals – A far cry from high speed flat crit racing but it’s where I feel most at home on a bike. A trip to the Pyrenees in 2015 was where I fell in love with the high mountains – I managed 625 Miles and 11,455 metres in 6 days and loved every painful minute of it!
When and how did you start racing in Criteriums?
My first criterium was officially Red Hook Crit London in 2015, in the weeks leading up to it I had ridden a couple of the road races at Lee Valley Road circuit (winning both Cat 4 races and consequently being moved up to Cat 3). But Red Hook London was my first fixed gear crit and I loved it. I was in the best shape of my cycling career and ready to dive into the unknown. The course was narrow, tight corners and long fast straights. It was the first event in London so the course was a complete unknown to everyone. I was lucky enough to be with my 3 team mates from East London Fixed so we had a strong line-up of 4 riders for qualifying. This was all going very well until I unclipped out of my left pedal and had no way of stopping at high speed. It was either a strategically placed hay bale or some metal fencing – I chose the hay bale and luckily escaped with only cuts and bruises. Unfortunately my team had kept going and left me on my own, so I picked myself up, checked the bike and got back on the course. I sneaked into qualifying in 78th place out of 300 riders. The top 85 qualify and sadly I was the only member of East London Fixed who made it into the final race. From 78th I then smashed through the field to finish 55th in my first ever crit race which I was super happy with. I then devoted the rest of the year towards training for Red Hook Crit Barcelona and Milan.
Can you tell us about your Bikes?
At the moment I’ve been applying the well-known formula amongst cyclists; N+1. I currently own 5 bikes.
- My Quirk Cycles race bike equipped with Halo carbon wheels and Rotor 3d track cranks. This is my speed demon and used exclusively for racing Track and Fixed Gear crits. Hand built and custom fitted by Rob Quirk, it’s made out of Columbus HSS and Max steel. This creates a lightweight but responsive frame which is finely tuned for criterium racing.
- I also own Gears!! I have a Canyon Ultimate CF SLX 9.0 Di2 Aero – this is my road bike and is used to conquer the high peaks of North London and Surrey!! And usually once a year I head down to the Pyrenees or Alps to give the legs a proper work-out. This bike is my pride and joy and I keep it wrapped in cotton wool, practically next to my bed. Equipped with Dura-Ace Di2 and Zipp 303 wheels, it’s basically a pro level bike and does justice to my pedal dancing!
- Colossi Low Pro – This was my first fixed gear racing bike which is now my everyday beater. I put 800mm wide MTB bars on it and a low saddle. I just sit back and roll to work and around town on this bad boy – Very chilled out ride but serves a purpose.
- Cinelli Mash SSCX – Only recently purchased this bike as it was a really good deal for the complete bike. It has a high quality aluminium frame, single speed FSA cranks and appropriately noisy cantilever brakes. It’s fun to ride with a spiny ratio of 38×16. I’ll be using it as a winter commuter and for some CX racing in the Autumn/Winter.
- My last bike is a classic Bianchi Pista Track which I used to train on but it’s now been relegated to being another beater commuter bike. Although it’s seen some action, I once cycled to Paris in 24hrs on a 48/14 ‘sprinter’ ratio. It still has a spot in my heart!
You’re also a road racer, do you use the road as your training for the crits or are they both objectives?
I began road racing so I definitely have a soft spot for it. It’s also a lot more accessible and available in the UK. Road racing is years old and is a common past time for the weekend warriors. So I use it to hone my racing craft along with keeping the legs and lungs up to speed.
This winter I also plan to race Track at Lee Valley and the occasional cyclocross race – although this is mainly for the free beer!
Favourite place to ride/race?
This is a slightly odd choice as I’ve only ridden in this place once. My Dad was born on the Portuguese island of Madeira in the Atlantic. I recently visited my uncle and lots of family out there and it was the first time I’ve taken a road bike with me. Madeira was born from an ancient volcano and it’s no surprise that it’s not flat! In fact, it has some of the steepest gradients in Europe. It’s not a place for road cyclists to usually go and more suited to mountain biking. I went out for 4 consecutive days looking for steep and long climbs. I definitely found them – many of them untouched by roadies so I made my attempts to smash them all! One in particular was very memorable, strava segment – “Highest Point you can reach on a bike”. A 13.4 mile climb, 4,150ft climb up to the highest point on the Island at 6,000ft. Safe to say I’m the KOM for this segment!!
Biggest achievement on 2 wheels?
My Biggest achievement to date was probably in the Ride London Classic 2015. I rode the same route in 2014 in torrential wind and rain in a still decent time so I knew what to expect. 2015 was very different however as the weather was much better and I knew I’d be in for a good race. I was allocated in the first wave of riders at 6.03am from the Olympic Stadium. 27,000 riders compete in the ride so it is hugely competitive with many people purely there to smash through the course as fast as possible. That was my plan! As soon as we were released onto the closed roads of East London, the pace was frantic with a revolving chain gang at the front averaging over 27mph. In all honesty, it was actually fairly comfortable as most riders were taking a turn in the wind. The Surrey Hills of Box and Leith came and went with no trouble; in fact the most difficult part of the ride was the descents and trying to find some space on the road. No stopping, 100miles in 3hrs 58mins. I was really pleased as sub-4hrs was my aim. I managed to stay with the front group and finish 5th Overall out of 27,000 people. A good day in the saddle!!
Any further plans for this year?
This year I will cement my place amongst the Fixed Gear peloton and hopefully finish in the top 20 at a Red Hook Crit race. I’ll also be racing the Rad Race, Cologne and Berlin in June. RHC London, Barcelona and Milan, The London Nocturne and probably a few more roadie crits. I’ll be gearing my training towards 60 minute crit races rather than longer road races as I’ve done before.
Towards the end of the year I’ll be riding the first two days of the Ride across Britain ride starting from Land’s End this time. I will also spend time in the Pyrenees with my team Ben who lives there and also a secret project in the Alps in early July. And finally, I’ll be participating in a secret race coming up in the next few months, a one battle between two different sports!! – watch this space.
So, Finally, How was ‘RHC’ Brooklyn?
It’s only been two days since I got back from New York and I’m already missing the city, the people and of course the Red Hook Criterium. I spent just over a week in the Big Apple and loved every minute of it. The first few days were adjusting to the time difference and trying to stay healthy – no burgers, no beers despite the exciting build up during #CritWeek.
Race day and I cycled across the city to the cruise ship terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Once kitted up, I got warmed up on the rollers with the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan Island as a backdrop. Pretty epic way to start the season! I had my brother over from San Francisco and a few other mates from the London teams which really helped in preparation. I started in the 4th Qualifying group and managed to lay down 2 hot laps within the 15 minute period. Unfortunately I qualified 97th out of 300 and 12 spots off the final race. So it was the last chance race for me where qualifiers from 86th to 150th race for 18 laps and the top 10 go forward to the final. It was an unrelentingly fast race with no drop in pace. The course was loads of fun with two hairpins, two long straights and two double apex corners that you could take at full gas, leaning into the corner. Despite my best efforts I could only manage a 14th Place finish, 4 places from the final – However I would’ve been absolutely dead if I had qualified. 13 mile of racing at 26.5mph with average HR of 180bpm was enough for me!
All in all, I was pretty satisfied with my performance and where I am at this point in the season. I broke my hand about 2 months ago which meant I lost 4 weeks of training so to be at this level, I’m pretty happy. Look out London, this is my city and I’m going to beast it!!
Big thanks to Owen for spending the time to answer all our questions. Look out for him at RHC London!