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Raphaele Lemieux (Team iBike) and Filippo Fortin (Team Bahumer) emerged as winners when the Red Hook Criterium Championship Series rolled into London on Saturday, July 22.
Despite sunny conditions all week, race day brought typical London weather with gray skies and lots of rain. The slick course conditions demanded total concentration from the riders to navigate eight turns per lap with very limited traction.
In the women’s race, Lemieux completely dominated, winning her qualifier heat race, both primes, and gapping the rest of the field on the last lap to win.
The men’s race saw Team Bahumer get its tactics right, delivering Fortin to the line in a field sprint.
With King Neutralized, Lemieux Emerges as Winner in London
Dani King (Cylance Pro Cycling) justifiably had all eyes on her. For many racers, the pre race plan was simply following her wheel. Everyone expected her to duplicate the London performance from last year where she nearly lapped the entire field.
Eleonore Saraiva (Aventon Factory Team) led the field off the line. She was quickly overhauled by Lemieux, who used the chicane followed by a slight rise on the back side of the course to create a gap and win the first lap prime.
Lemieux, fresh off her Red Hook Criterium debut in Brooklyn where she placed fourth, was clearly on a mission to not miss the podium in London. The former Canadian speedskating national team member seemed to be on great form. Her first lap acceleration opened a small gap that the field differed to King to shut down.
As the rest of the field watched King, Tanja Erath (Fixedpott) took over setting tempo on the front. Erath was racing in London in the brand new Rockstar Games Top Antagonist skin suit, and it appeared that she was interested in retaining the title for another race by trying to lead the most laps. King was holding her place up front with pre-race favorites Jasmine Dotti (IRD Carrera Squadra Corse), Carla Nafria (Specialized-Rocket Espresso), and Brooklyn champion Colleen Gulick (Deluxe Cycles) queued up on her wheel.
With 18 laps to go King accelerated for the first time in earnest to try and break the rest of the field but she was matched by Saraiva, Nafria, Lemieux, and Dotti. The five riders pulled out a gap on the rest of the field which strung out behind them. But when King flicked her elbow a lap later trying to get some help from the field, she got nothing. Unwilling to continue pulling four riders around King allowed the rest of the front group to come back, and it was once again all together going into the mid-race prime.
Lemieux repeated her strategy from the first lap and won the mid-race prime in the same way. King used the increased tempo of the prime lap to launch a counterattack, but she was again heavily marked and neutralized by the field and was unable to create separation. However, King wouldn’t go down without a fight, attacking two more times in the closing laps.
With the field neutralizing all of King’s attacks, the closing action was initiated by Jasmine Dotti. Gulick was quick to respond, jockeying for a spot near the front with a little bit of elbow use. The accelerations were not enough to split the field and going into the final lap Saraiva and King were side-by-side. Gulick jumped with Lemieux on her wheel into turn three. With less than a half-lap to go, Lemieux attacked through the chicane and up the hill to get a gap that she was able to hold to the line. Behind her, Saraiva pipped Dotti to round out the podium.
“The rain really made a big difference,” Lemieux said. “Some of the girls were really strong but could not drive their bikes in the rain. I felt really comfortable driving today and it really helped. I knew I had to be on the front going into Turn 3 if I wanted to win. I knew I could get a gap there as long as I was in the front. So I did my sprint into that turn and it worked out.”
Italian Teams Control the Race as Specialized-Rocket Espresso Falters
The expected showdown in the men’s race between Specialized-Rocket Espresso and the rest of the field failed to materialize. Specialized was plagued by setbacks all day, starting first with Aldo Ino Ilesic absent in London, leaving them short one very important rider on the start line.
(The team’s only public statement about it was posted to Instagram: “We are sad to say that Aldo has not started here at Red Hook Crit London. Wishing him the best while he is home in Slovenia.”)
It was a major blow to the team’s ambitions, as Ino Ilesic was a huge part of their last four Red Hook Crit victories. The Specialized-Rocket Espresso team was still in fighting spirits, however, and ready to throw down with series leader Stefan Schafer, local hero Alec Briggs, and Eamon Lucas taking the start.
The first-lap prime was hotly contested with Marius Petrache (Intelligentsia Racing) out-sprinting Ivan Ravaioli (Team Cinelli Chrome). Petrache pulled out a sizable gap after his prime win but seemed distracted by his handlebar mounted camera while the field reeled him in. Lucas immediately went to the front to set tempo and control the field until his teammates Schafer and Briggs could make their way to the front. But just four laps into the race Schafer found himself on the sidelines, out of the race with a flat tire. With no free-lap rule, riders must fix whatever issue they have before the field comes around. In London, this task is nearly impossible on the 950m circuit.
Lucas was either unaware of Schafer’s flat or was at this point trying to lead enough laps to earn the Rockstar Games Top Antagonist award. Further back in the field Specialized-Rocket Espresso had more problems with Alec Briggs also suffering a flat tire. Briggs was quick on his feet, though, and instead of attempting to change his wheel he simply grabbed Schafer’s bike from the sidelines. Despite the quick thinking, the flat cost Briggs a chunk of time, and he was now chasing.
At the front end of the race, Olivier Leroy (Aventon Factory Team) beat out Petrache for the mid-race prime. Lucas again came around to set the tempo with Davide Vigano (Team Cinelli Chrome), Filippo Fortin (Team Bahumer), and Martino Poccianti (Cykeln Divisione Corse) all sitting near the front watching the Specialized-Rocket Espresso rider closely.
With 15 laps to go a crash between Turns 1 and 2 required the race to be neutralized and restarted. Lucas was one of the riders that hit the deck hard, making sure that no rider of the Specialized-Rocket Espresso team escaped misfortune. Fortunately, he was able to collect himself and restart with the rest of the field by taking his spot on the front. Still intent to lead enough laps to collect the Rockstar Games Top Antagonist award, he set tempo with Team Bahumer content to let him do the work.
Speaking after the race Lucas explained, “I asked the guys to let me get the points until 10 to go. After that, I told them you can race, but just let me get the points.”
As promised, Lucas disappeared from the front of the race with 10 laps to go. He was replaced by his teammate Briggs, who had chased back to the field after the restart. Behind him, Colin Strickland (Intelligentsia Racing), who up until this point had been absent from the front of the field, appeared in the top 10.
In the closing laps, attacks started flying from all the favorites. First Petrache, then Vigano took turns trying to break the field. Both were chased down by Giovanni Longo (Team Bahumer) trying to keep the race together for his teammate Fortin. The race became single-file as three Team Bahumer riders came to the front and really started to turn the screws on the field.
With three laps to go Briggs, who’d finally made it back to the front, put in a big dig to the delight of his hometown crowd. Strickland countered hard hoping that the pace would either break his rivals or force them to make a mistake. His efforts almost paid off as he held a small gap at the start of the last lap.
Fortin jumped hard with half a lap to go with Vigano on his wheel. The duo overhauled Strickland with less than 400 meters to go. Fortin held on to take the win ahead of Vigano; behind them Strickland failed to hold off a hard-charging Briggs who would round out the podium in third.
“My teammates helped me stay at the front in the final,” Fortin said. “Vigano opened a small gap to Strickland on the last lap so I sprinted past him and overtook Strickland in Turn 3. Then I just took off on the little climb and tried to hold everyone off.”
The Championship Heads to Barcelona Next
With two rounds completed in the series. Strickland assumed the series lead for the men, holding a three-point lead over Vigano. For the women, Saraiva maintains her lead by just one point over Lemieux.
The next round of the Red Hook Criterium Championship Series will take place in Barcelona on September 2.