Schafer, Gulick take victories at Red Hook Crit series opener in Brooklyn

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The tenth edition of Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn was held Saturday, delivering a pair of very different winners.

In the men’s race, experienced German Stefan Schafer (Specialized-Rocket Espresso) rode away from his main rival, 2016 series winner Colin Strickland (Intelligentsia Racing), on the final lap to cross the finish line alone.

In the women’s race, relative newcomer Colleen Gulick (Deluxe Cycles) stayed out of trouble to win the field sprint.

The day’s action began with a new format of qualifying heats in the afternoon. The late-April weather in Brooklyn was ideal, with clear skies and warm temperatures. It would have been hard to ask for better conditions for both the racers and the nearly 10,000 spectators that packed the waterfront venue to watch the racing.

The new Super Pole format required full commitment.

Stefan Schafer out-sprints Colin Strickland for victory

In men’s racing, Schafer proved, twice over, that last year’s win in Milan was no fluke. The experienced German fought from the back in the Last Chance Race to make it into the final, during which he made his way from the second-to-last row to the front and eventually into a breakaway with defending champion Colin Strickland.

Schafer used a cleverly timed attack in the final half-lap to seal his victory and become the first rider in Red Hook Crit history to win from any spot on the grid.

Video: Men’s finish

A new qualifying format kicked off the day’s racing with nonstop action from all five of the men’s heats, providing a first true glimpse of everyone’s fitness as well as insight into how some of the high-profile newcomers might fare.

In Heat 1, Tristan Uhl (Aventon Racing) played the waiting game along with all the other contenders. On the final lap Uhl proved yet again that he probably has the best single lap effort in the field, opening a gap through the start-finish line that he was able to successfully hold to the line.

The second heat started quickly with State Bicycle Co’s Addison Zawada stringing things out early. When the pace relented, the group bunched up and Brian Megens (Fixedgearcrit.com) decided to take a chance, opening a decisive gap with seven laps to go and holding a 12-second advantage all the way to the line.

Heat 3 was arguably the most stacked of the five qualifying rounds, with defending champ Colin Strickland (Intelligentsia Racing) as well as strong contenders from every major team represented. This heat was aggressive from the start, but with no let-up in the pace there was never a chance for someone to jump away from the field. A large group of favorites contested the first field sprint of the day; Alec Briggs jumped Strickland on the last straightaway to take the win by a small margin over the defending champion.

The fourth heat was notable for two reasons — it turned out to be the fastest of the day, and it contained two former WorldTour riders. But it was Eamon Lucas (Specialized-Rocket Espresso) who went to the front early and bossed the field around. Cesar Valenzuela, fresh off his Mission Crit win, was extremely aggressive as well and put in several attacks that Lucas had to then neutralize. Despite such a strong showing, things went sideways quickly for Lucas, who abruptly unclipped on the last lap and went over the barriers, taking himself out of contention as the field set up for a sprint. Filippo Fortin was able to capitalize from the confusion and took the win with both Davide Vigano (Cinelli Chrome) and Francesco Chicchi (BIKE Channel) advancing to the final.

By contrast to Heat 4, the fifth heat was the slowest of the afternoon. Aldo Ilesic of Specialized-Rocket Espresso showed himself to be a team of one and never looked to be challenged for his spot among the top three wheels. On the final lap he simply accelerated at the front of the field with a force no other could match, beating the second-place rider by five seconds in the last half-lap to take the win.

Colin Strickland, in the grid.

After a short break in the action the athletes that just missed making it into the final returned to the course for a familiar event, the Last Chance race. Among them were several surprises including half of the Specialized-Rocket Espresso team. Lucas and Schafer both suffered from poorly timed mechanical issues and both needed to make it into the final.

A new twist was added to the Last Chance race for 2017. In previous years, the top 10 in the race would simply be awarded the last 10 positions on the start grid for the final. This year the winner would start the final in 16th spot, right behind the riders that qualified for the Super Pole. The unlucky rider in second would join the rest of the Last Chance top 10 at the back of the grid, just like in years past.

Right from the gun it was obvious that this was going to be the Lucas and Schafer show. The two teammates took turns at the front forcing the pace. With two laps to go the teammates had separated from the race with only Gonzalo Andres able to follow. On the final lap Schafer let the gap open to Lucas as the Specialized duo took first and second. While playing the role of the good teammate, Schafer set himself up yet again to try and make his way from the very back of the final race to the front.

Video: Men’s start
https://www.instagram.com/p/BTfuQ5lgt3k/

The men’s final got off to a blisteringly fast start, with three riders attacking for the first-lap prime. Briggs, who was clearly having way too much fun, took the prime with a little wheelie across the line and then simply proceeded to keep pedaling with his teammate, Eamon Lucas, on his wheel.

The Specialized-Rocket Espresso team wanted to set the tone from the get go, but Intelligentsia Racing wasn’t interested in playing their game and sent Marius Petrache up the road. He quickly built a seven-second gap, with a strong chase coming from Zawada and plenty of other fresh legs in the field. The gap was quickly shut down and with 23 laps left it was Specialized and Intelligentsia on the front of the field throwing punches at each other to see what might stick.

Stefan Schafer faces the media after the race.

Uhl was having none of it, and decided to have a go. His move drew out Lucas as well as Briggs who both tried to get up the road yet again. Evan Murphy, racing for Mash SF, was next to try his luck at breaking the Specialized grip on the field but Ilesic was instantly on his wheel. Strickland, meanwhile, had yet to make any efforts and was sitting comfortably in the top 10 wheels. Seeing his chief rival close down a gap must have been his signal to launch, and he did not hesitate. Only one rider was able to join the defending champion and it just so happened to be the only rider that was able to best him last season.

When Strickland took a quick look under his arm, he saw two things — a gap to the field, and Schafer on his wheel.

Video: Onboard footage from Tristan Uhl
https://www.instagram.com/p/BTg4r0Qlooi/

Neither rider hesitated to fully commit to the move, both fully confident in their teammates in the field to be able to win should they be chased back by the field. Behind them, Specialized worked hard to prevent anyone from closing the gap, showing complete confidence in Schafer’s ability to bring home the win.

The duo cooperated smoothly through the halfway prime extending their gap to 15 seconds over the field. A two-man group of David Santos and Luca Ursino attempted to bridge across to the leaders but that effort fizzled as Ilesic continued to patrol the front of the main bunch. With six laps left to race, the leaders’ gap peaked at close to 30 seconds.

Aldo Ilesic did not have an easy ride to his fifth consecutive podium finish in the series.

At five laps to go a hard crash in the main field forced a race neutralization and restart. The gaps were held intact with the duo of Strickland and Schafer holding on to a 23-second advantage. With neither rider particularly known for their sprinting ability, it became a question of who would jump first. As the duo exited the hairpin turns with 1.5 laps to go Strickland seemed to have Schafer distanced, but the German veteran didn’t panic. Using the straights, he slowly closed the gap. With just a half-lap left to race, Schafer jumped hard, accelerating past Strickland to take the win.

The field came in almost 30 seconds behind the duo, and Ilesic mopped up the field sprint for 3rd. This gave Ilesic his fifth third-place finish in a row —  which is a scary level of consistency but also begs the question of when he will finally get to one of the next two steps on the podium. Meanwhile Strickland and Schafer have entirely monopolized winning, claiming the last five series races between them. A rematch is scheduled in London on July 22.

The men’s podium of the 2017 Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn, from left: Colin Strickland, Stefan Schafer, and Aldo Ino Ilesic.

Colleen Gulick takes out field sprint to claim women’s race

After a full day of racing, with two qualifying heats, a Super Pole contest, and the final race under the lights, Colleen Gulick of Deluxe Cycles was crowned the champion of Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn No.10.

No stranger to the track bike, Gulick is a multi-time national champion on the velodrome, and she also brings experience with high-level results on the U.S. domestic criterium circuit. Still, heading into Saturday’s fixed-gear criterium, Gulick was considered a dark-horse pick due to her lack of experience in this particular discipline.

Video: Overhead shot of women’s sprint

In the first heat of qualifying, Gulick battled for the lead almost the entire race, fending off two riders from Aventon Racing and two more from Affinity Cycles.

Defending series champion Ash Duban (Affinity Cycles) surfed wheels just behind the riders fighting for the lead, presumably saving matches for later in the evening. With the constant battle for the lead keeping things fast, no rider was able to build a significant gap and the bunch set itself up for a hectic field sprint. Coming out of the hairpins on the far end of the course, Duban was boxed out on the outside by Esther Walker of Aventon Racing, with her teammate Eleonore Saravia glued to her wheel. This perfectly timed move handed Saravia the win, with Gulick showing her strength by holding on for second.

The second heat saw a very different race dynamic with several crashes on the first lap spurring the riders to keep things strung out and fast. The unrelenting pace kept the field lined out. Despite the tremendous pressure being applied at the front the race, the lead group held together until Tenja Erath (Fixedpott) surprised the field by getting a small gap with two laps to go. While the field deliberated, Sammi Runnels (Aventon Racing) jumped from fourth wheel and quickly joined the lone leader. On the final lap it was clear that Runnels had the advantage through the hairpins. She turned this slim lead into a winning margin, pulling out 11 seconds in the final half-lap as Erath sat up behind, content to take second and move onto the Super Pole.

The field was relaxed before staging.

In the Super Pole round a group of 16 women took to the track for a flying lap contest. Saraiva, winner of the first heat, went for it, claiming three series points as well as the top spot on the grid — and making her winning intentions pretty plain in the process. Conversely Runnels, the winner of Heat 2, stayed true to her pre-race strategy and took it relatively easy, finishing 14th, seemingly content to start the final race with more gas in the tank.

The final women’s race of the night got off to a bumpy start with a crash off the line that required a restart. Once the racers were rolling however Saraiva, who won the Super Pole and her qualifying heat, claimed the first-lap prime. She was quickly overhauled by Erath who went on to impose herself on the field by setting a hard tempo that quickly strung out the field. Lurking just behind her and showing no interest in exerting herself this soon in the race was Gulick.

Colleen Gulick leads Jasmine Dotti though one of the faster corners of the race.

Meanwhile, Runnels found herself in the unusual position for a race favorite, riding at the back of the lead group that was still quite large. The field remained single file with Erath pushing the pace heading towards the halfway prime. Behind her Saraiva, Gulick, and Francisca Campos (Santafixie BLB) jockeyed for position.

Heading into the prime the action really got going as Campos pushed Gulick far outside in the hairpins to set herself up to take the prime. A resurgent Runnels, who had finally made her way back to the front of the field, counter-attacked the prime sprint and drew out Carla Nafria (Team Crit Life) and Gulick. Their move was short lived and set up a slew of counterattacks from all the main contenders. Dotti, Duban, and Raphael Lemieux all tried their luck to get away. But with four laps left in the race everything had come back together and the group began to wind up for what had now become an inevitable field sprint.

Video: Another angle from women’s sprint

Gulick took her spot on the front and began to slowly wind up the pace heading into the final lap, with her head on a swivel to make sure her pace was strong enough to prevent anyone from overtaking. Saraiva briefly challenged for the lead on the back straightaway but Gulick had the faster inside line and was able to lead into the last two corners with enough speed to hold on for the win.

Colleen Gulick in the post-race media frenzy.

Saraiva held on for second, with Nafria rounding out the podium for third. A smattering of pre-race favorites claimed spots in the top 10 with Duban, Dotti, and Runnels taking fifth, sixth, and seventh.

The season-long battle will continue at the next round in London on July 22.

The women’s podium of the 2017 Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn, from left: Eleonore Saraiva, Colleen Gulick, and Carla Nafria.

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