Fixed Gear Crit

Breakfast of Champions: Camille Udny

For this instalment of our Breakfast of Champions (BOC) interviews, we chatted with pint-sized powerhouse Camille Udny. Very recently recruited by the prestigious Team LOOK criterium, Camille, 23, manages to balance her busy life between her family life, her career as an industrial designer, and her rigorous training schedule in Romans sur Isère, France. In addition to training for the 2017 crit season, Camille has also clipped in as a road rider, as a member of the Division Nationale Féminine du Chambéry. Driven, passionate and a master of her tight schedule, we are so pleased to be able to find out what makes Camille tick. (hint: it’s food)

Header image:
Interview & text: Julia A. Wittman

Breakfast Prime

JW: So Camille, first and very important question, what did you eat for breakfast this morning?
CU: Actually I ate a lot of things, so I sent you a picture of my breakfast!

Photo by Camille Udny

CU: My everyday breakfast is eggs and bacon, and this morning I also ate buckwheat oatmeal and applesauce. I added on an an orange and a bit of chocolate cake that I baked yesterday, and voilà.

JW: I saw that yesterday, it looked so good!
CU: Haha, yes indeed… on the weekends I like to treat myself at breakfast.

JW: As you should. However, eggs and bacon… that seems a bit like an American breakfast, no?
CU: Actually it is more left over from when I was studying in Scotland. That’s where I started eating eggs and bacon every morning, and I continue to do so.

A LOOK at the Mavic Maverick

JW: Of course we must mention the big news of the year which is that you joined team LOOK criterium, partnered again this year by Mavic, among others. Congratulations!
CU: Thank you! I am really happy to be on the team this year.

JW: I imagine you are very inspired by this evolution! It’s a big deal…
CU: It really is. I would even say that it is pretty prestigious because I am representing such reputed French brands as LOOK and Mavic.

JW: Prestigious is the mot juste. Both names are already icons on the track. Bravo! You should be proud.
CU: Oh, thank you.

JW: And so you are teammates with the L’Henry brothers, Félix and Thibaud as well as François Février, all three of which composed last year’s team.
CU: Exactly. It was actually François Février who started the team.

JW: Good to know! So tell me more about how this all came together, as we know that last year you were sponsored by BeastyBike and Hirondelle Bike shop.
CU: Well as you know at these races we end up running into the same people constantly, so naturally we become friends. I got along really with François, Félix and Thibaut as soon as I met them, and at the end of last season François suggested that I join the team. So of course I jumped at the opportunity.

Photo by Paul Williams

JW: I know that you live a bit far from the rest of your teammates. How to you work out your training or group rides with the distance?
CU: It’s true that the guys live a bit more North than I do, but we talk all the time to organise group rides and travel logistics, and also where we are with our individual training. That being said, each one of us is ultimately responsible for our individual training, because isn’t always easy to find time to train together. Everyone on the team works full time. Riding bikes is a huge part of our lives, but it isn’t the only part, and it is a challenge for all of us to balance family life, work, and training. We do our best and see each other when we can.

JW: That leads me to my next question… You are very active on social media, and I have seen that you have been training intensely and consistently all Winter. How do you manage to find a balance between family, friends, work and training?
CU: It isn’t always easy. Luckily I have a pretty flexible work schedule which permits me to optimise my time. I clock in at 7 AM which allows me to take my lunch break at noon so that I can leave around 4 or 5 PM and that way I always have a decent hour and a half to two hours to train every evening. With regards to my family, since we all live in the same town we see each other all the time which is great. For my friends, more often than not I see them at the crits so for the moment I haven’t really been going out that much, I am more waiting for the races to start to see everyone.

JW: You must still have fun on the weekends from time to time!
CU: Haha, yes I do. Recently I took a little break  and spent the weekend with my friends La Nuit Noire in Montpellier.

Photo by Pom La Nuit Noire

JW: As you should! You deserve it. Speaking of training though, as you said you and your teammates arrange your training around your individual schedules which means that more often than not you are training alone. In the Winter you are often training indoors which really requires a huge personal motivation. I can imagine it can get lonely.
CU: It very often is. But the thing is that this year I have a training plan because I am also doing road cycling, so I know exactly what I need to do. It’s true that I can’t always find people to ride with, and so, yes for the most part I train alone. However the fact that I have a definitive schedule of exercises that I need to do and everything is indicated with respect to the time period and the specific work I need to do in preparation for the upcoming races, I manage to stay very motivated.

Multi-disciplinary and Extraordinary

JW: Tell me a bit about that, because at present you are practicing two very different cycling disciplines.
CU: That’s right. I have started road racing this year with the Division Nationale Féminine de Chambéry.

JW: What are your thoughts on practicing both at the same time?
CU: From my experience road cycling/racing is quite technical, so it’s interesting to be immersed in this genre and to be able to apply what I learn to fixed-gear criteriums . In the end, is isn’t at all the same format and of course not the same bike, but the goal is the same. I’m convinced that the skills that I learn with road cycling can only help me to progress in criterium racing, at least I hope!

JW: Perhaps a silly question but do you prefer one over the other?
CU: Ha! I think that If I answer this question I might get in trouble… But more seriously, it’s true that road cycling offers a lot more possibilities in terms of trajectories and vistas. If you want to work on climbing, fixed-gear isn’t necessarily the best option.

JW: An honest observation. Ascending Mont Ventoux, which you know very would be…

Photo by Michel Udny

CU: More than a little complicated.

A family affair

JW: So we spoke earlier about your family, and it’s clear when we see you all at the crits that you have enormous support from your family. Your dad is pretty much your biggest fan. It’s really a pleasure to see the bond that you have with your family.
CU: That’s exactly right. My dad does a bit of cycling as well which is a strong bond between us, but he just does it for fun. He actually started cycling a couple of years before I started riding fixed-gear and started competing.

JW: So I did a bit of research before this interview and there was a great article with last year that talked about how you got into this sport in the first place. From What I understand you began crit racing in 2014, is that right?

CU: Yes, exactly. My first crit was the NMC3. I built up my first fixed-gear bike when I was 17, and in the beginning it was really  a means of transport to go to my uni classes and to get around basically. At that time I wasn’t thinking about competing at all. Then when I was studying in Grenoble I linked up with the riders there that were taking the discipline pretty seriously, so I started riding with them and it’s thanks to them that I found out about the National Mustard Crit.

JW: And there you had pretty good results from the very start.
CU: Well, I would say that last year was really my first “big” year, where I was really focused on competing… I did 12 races I think. And yes, I suppose we could say that overall it went pretty well.

JW: I think we can definitely say that! Tell me a little more about this very significant past year for you. Is there one race that stands out to you, or something that happened with regards to your performance that really changed you?
CU: I guess I could say that at the NMC4 this year I had this kind of savage force that seemed to come out of nowhere and actually really surprised me. I had trained consistently from January on and it was really in Dijon that I saw the tangible results of my effort. I took third place in that race.

Photo by Gingerbeard

JW: And even at the Red Hook in Barcelona we saw first hand that you had some pretty amazing results.
CU: At RHC Barcelona I came in 17th place. And there again I was really happy with my results… I actually couldn’t even believe my eyes. Red Hook is really a totally different level.

JW: So Camille, tell me. Do you have any rituals that you do before you race? How do you prepare?
CU: One thing that I love is when my mom braids my hair just before the race, when she is able to attend. But that is really one thing that puts me right in competition mode, and makes me feel ready to race, because I know in this moment when she is braiding my hair that its about to go down. She does my warrior braid and then I leave for combat.

Photo by Gingerbeard

JW: It’s phenomenal to see such heartfelt support from your family. So much love!
CU: I’m really lucky. We are really are so close and it helps me just as much in my everyday life as it does for my races. I could spend my entire life thanking them for their encouragement. They are great for that.

Looking back and pedalling forward

JW: So this year, with your stats from the last and in addition to your new team collaboration, to you feel that the pressure is on? How do you feel going forward?
CU: You know, I’m not really the kind of person to put too much pressure on myself, I mean apart from 15 minutes before the race. Above all I do this because I love it, of course I always compete to win, but it isn’t a huge burden on my shoulders either. I ride for myself above all. Of course if I succeed in valorising my team and our sponsors as I should, that is always the best case scenario. That is my hope.

JW: There’s no doubt that you will. And this year for the crit season, do you have specific hopes or objectives?
CU: This year I will organise my crits around the schedule of the French Road Cycling Cup that in which I will be racing. But my principle objectives will be the crits that Maxime is organising where I expect to see good results, and then, of course for the Red Hook series we’ll see how it goes.

JW: I guess we could say that there is something in the mustard.
CU: Hahah, that must be it. Well we should say that there is something in the Bourgogne region, there is something that seems to work.

Photo by Gingerbeard

JW: Is there something in particular that you learned from last year’s season that you want to apply moving forward this year?
CU: Wow, what a question…I suppose to not be afraid to be in the peloton and find and secure my place once I’m there. I think it’s important and it’s something that I’ve never really done before. Right now I am really working on that and it’s something that I’m starting to gain a bit of confidence with.

JW: Understandable. Especially because not only is it a question of endurance in the peloton, it is also a question of finding a strategy to get out of it when need be.
CU: Thats exactly it. Actually, when I first began, I felt very suffocated and even afraid at times. When we are all there in the peloton shoulder to shoulder, and it can be an overwhelming experience, but once you get the hang of it, it’s fine.

Babe from Bourgogne

JW : So one thing that we at FGC love about this sport is the strong and growing female rider community. Any thoughts on being a part of that ?
CU : I feel that there is really a mutual respect in this community, as much for the men as  for the women. Girl riders have just as much their place in this community as the men do and ou can really feel it. I also think that in this community people do not get caught up in unimportant things that have nothing to do with the sport, which can sometimes be the case in road cycling for example. We don’t get distracted by petty matters, we know that we do this because we love it. If we have good results, all the better, if not, no big deal. There isn’t an enormous pressure.

JW : And yet, technically and physically, fixed crit racing is one of the more brutal disciplines in cycling.
CU : It’s true, it’s even quite dangerous, let’s be honest. But maybe this respect comes from has to do with this aspect. I can’t think for the guys, but I imagine that in their place seeing female riders I would still think… we are all here to compete, we are doing the same thing. Often times it’s a mixed peloton so we all have to work and think together, regardless of gender, before taking a huge risk. There is also a lot of anticipation involved in this sport. We really have to think ahead. We can’t try to execute these manœuvres at the last minute, because then it is already too late. Everything we do on the fixed gear bike requires an enormous amount of focus and presence, whether on the street or in a crit. We really don’t have a margin for error because with one second of distraction it’s all over.

JW: Do you have any reflections on this sport and it’s recent evolution?
CU: For me, I think that just in the past few years the skill level of the riders has already augmented tremendously. We can see on social media that many different teams are really upping their game, even traveling abroad to train. One week of doing practically nothing other than riding can result in huge gains and so we can all see how determined everyone is. It’s pretty crazy just because a few years ago it wasn’t like that at all. It’s also remarkable to see that this sport has attracted so many people from other areas of cycling; athletes that train all year on the road that want to give fixed gear crit racing a try, it’s enormous.

JW: How would you like to see it evolve in the future?
CU: As these races become more and more international, I think it is going to become more and more complicated to place. That being said, for the smaller, more local competitions like the NMC or the NL crit series, I hope that these events will always stay true to everything we love about fixed gear… The atmosphere of being with friends and family, riding and celebrating. Most importantly we need these smaller races to offer a friendly venue for newcomers to feel welcome to try it out. I would have never raced in a Red Hook Crit had I not had experience with these smaller races. No one wants to start out for the first time on the Red Hook track.

JW: Well, except for Olivier.
CU: Haha, true.

JW: Camille, thank you so much for your time and your insight! I wish you the best luck in your training and I can’t wait to see you in Red Hook!
CU: I am really looking forward to racing in New York. I have never been there before so I can’t wait to see it, and I am excited to represent my team and our sponsors, and just do my very best in the Red Hook crit!