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The Red Hook Crit takes over the Greenwich Peninsula in London this coming weekend for the second round of its championship series. The first round in Brooklyn highlighted the importance of championship series points throughout the day of racing for both men and women, while unique race dynamics also emerged for both fields. In the women’s race, former world track champion and Olympic gold medalist Dani King returns to see who can stop her, while in the men’s field all the teams are trying to figure out how they can beat the Specialized-Rocket Espresso team.
The new points format
While most of the focus for athletes was the new qualification format in Brooklyn, many overlooked the changes that were made in the points structure for the championship series. The race now awards three championship points for winning a qualification heat, the Super Pole, and either of the prime laps. That is a potential of 12 championship points on offer for a rider who can win all four of these bonuses.
Eléonore Saraiva (Aventon Factory Team) currently leads the women’s field just one point ahead of Colleen Gulick (Deluxe Cycles) by virtue of the points she earned winning her qualifying heat, as well as the super pole. Despite Gulick winning in Brooklyn, she is now sits second heading into London.
These bonuses will potentially change the way riders approach race day as they reward consistent performance throughout rather than just a single-minded focus on the final.
On the men’s side, the top three riders in the standings are all within five points. With Stefan Schäfer of Specialized-Rocket Espresso leading Strickland by just two points (35 to 33 points respectively). Schäfer’s teammate Aldo Ino Ilesic sits another two points down on Strickland, with 30 points.
Schäfer failed to pick up any bonus points in Brooklyn giving away the mid-race prime to Strickland as they co-operated in the breakaway. Chances are he won’t do this again. Conversely, Strickland had forgone competing in the Super Pole, which if he had won, could have potentially gave him the series lead by one point.
All this boils down to the simple fact that in order to win the championship series riders can no longer just focus on the final. The 12 bonus points on offer throughout race day have a big impact on standings and potentially change much of the race-day dynamics as riders start to factor them into their strategies.
The London Circuit
The London circuit is dramatically faster than the course used in Brooklyn. The absence of hairpin corners drives the race speed through the roof. Most riders will be using a gear several inches taller to cope with the higher top speed. But the big news for London is that the circuit will be run reverse from last year. The main reason for the change was to solve a blind apex issue with turn three (now turn six) which caught out some riders.
Colin Strickland (Intelligentsia Racing) likes the change.
“The changes will mean that it will be a fight to hit turn three at the front to guarantee having good momentum as the exit is slightly uphill, but other than that it shouldn’t change the race dynamic too much,” Strickland said.
Juliet Elliott (Assos), a rider who calls London home, was also enthusiastic about the reversal. “It’s nice to keep everyone on their toes by changing things up from year to year,” she said. “The London track has a lot of surface changes per lap which makes it a challenge, but the crowd is amazing, so it’s hard to complain.”
Women’s race: The return of Dani King
To call Dani King a favorite is a bit of an understatement. The three-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist showed up last year in London and simply left everyone in the dust. King rode away early, and with a disorganized chase behind essentially neutralizing itself, she would go on to lap the entire field.
However it seems unlikely that the field will allow her to pull the same trick twice. King essentially painted a huge target on her back with her performance last year. With all eyes on her, she could potentially be stuck in the position of having to make the race. It’s hard to know if her overwhelming fitness will be enough for the Cylance pro to overcome the talented field.
The one factor that may potentially allow King some leash is her lack of series points. London was King’s only appearance in the Red Hook Crit series and it seems like the same will hold true this year as well. This could potentially change the calculus of series hopefuls such as Gulick, Saraiva, Jasmine Dotti, and 2016 Champion Ash Duban (Affinity Cycles), who may favor focusing more on each other rather than King.
Gulick is excited at the prospect of seeing how she stacks up against a rider like King.
“I have some mixed feelings about the heavy hitters showing up,” Gulick said. “I think having riders like Dani (King) in the race might actually be better for me, because I like the pace to be high. On the other hand, it’s going to hurt more. But I definitely want to know how I stack up in such a high-caliber field.”
Careful observers might have noticed the four other unattached British riders on the women’s start list who are not named Dani King. All four are young up and coming athletes trying to make a career in cycling who were convinced by King to give the race a try. Amy Hill and Megan Chard are both aiming for 2018 Commonwealth selections, while Beth Taylor is the current Welsh criterium champion. It’s hard to say how much of an impact these road riders will have on the race given their lack of experience in the discipline.
Kiera McVitty (Revo Racing) returns to racing in her hometown of London after missing the season opener in Brooklyn. She shared some thoughts on competing against accomplished riders like King.
“I am used to racing against the World Tour level riders,” McVitty said. “I expect them to bring the pain. But in a 40-minute criterium, things are a little different. The World Tour riders are more used to racing three- to four-hour road races. So a super-short effort combined with a fixed-gear bike — that they may have very little experience on — creates a unique race dynamic where anything could happen. However you can rely on certain people to be predictable. We all know that the likes of Dani, and the other professional riders she’s talked into racing, will go hard.”
Men’s race: Specialized-Rocket Espresso vs. the field
It’s hard to think of someone like Colin Strickland, who’s won four Red Hook Criterium races since the end of the 2015 season, as an underdog. But now that Strickland is racing for Intelligentsia Racing it’s become apparent that the team support he received from Specialized-Rocket Espresso was a big part in his success.
In Brooklyn, Strickland was in an almost ideal situation with his breakaway companion, Stefan Schäfer, a rider for the team with the most cohesion and teamwork in the field. However at the end of that race we learned that although Strickland is a talented breakaway artist, Schafer had the speed when it counted most.
Despite this Strickland still seems to still be betting on the breakaway in London. “I don’t foresee a sprinter winning,” he said. “I could be wrong, if enough attacks counter each other it could effectively self-neutralize and what’s left of the field will sprint it out. But in that case, Aldo [Ino Ilesic] still wins. My suspicion is that they will try to neutralize me and get the win for Aldo. He’s the most consistent rider on that team and I think they would like to have him leading the series as well.”
Eamon Lucas (Specialized-Rocket Espresso) disagreed with Strickland’s assessment, stating that the team doesn’t care which one of them is up the road. Their main focus is to win the race, he said, and they’re happy to shut down the field behind any of their teammates.
Many riders voiced frustration with a lack of cooperation among themselves after Specialized-Rocket Espresso’s teamwork delivered a win to Schäfer.
“If two of the strongest riders get a gap, no one should sit and wait,” said David Santos (Aventon Factory Team). “The moment to react is when it’s happening. When they went, I couldn’t believe the guys at the front didn’t at least try to start chasing right away.”
For Santos and his team, the goal in London is to make sure they have representation in the break. “When we see a break forming in London and we are not there… well, one of us better be sure to get there, or at least try,” he said.
Evan Murphy put it more bluntly: “The teamwork was really shit in Brooklyn. As soon as Colin and Schäfer were off the front there was no coherent chase, only attacks that were noncommittal.”
Isaac Howe (Aventon Factory Team) was a bit more thoughtful with his response. A long time mainstay on the domestic crit circuit in the U.S., Howe has always been known for his methodical approach to racing, which he’s clearly applying to his new discipline.
“Generally speaking, I would think that the technical nature of the course and the shortened distance will increase the odds of a breakaway being successful,” he said. “On a fixed bike, long straightaways have limited impact on speed for both a break and a chasing peloton, it’s really the number and intensity of the pulls riders take that makes a big impact.”
What’s clear heading into London is that a big part of the success Specialized-Rocket Espresso has enjoyed comes down to having riders willing and able to effectively sacrifice for the singular goal. Too many other teams have riders with different objectives — and if any of them hope to win, they need to get focused.
CyclingTips is the official media partner of the Red Hook Crit series.