Preview: Everything you need to know about this weekend’s Red Hook Crit Milan

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The final race of the Red Hook Criterium Championship Series will take place Saturday, October 14, in Milan. After three rounds of extremely competitive racing the men’s, women’s, and team championship titles are all very close. Eléonore Saraiva (Aventon Factory Team) and Davide Vigano (Cinelli-Chrome) are both nursing very slight leads over their rivals while both looking for their first Red Hook Crit win in Milan.

Saraiva tries to hold off Lemieux for overall while hunting for a first RHC win in Milan

As with the previous three races, the bonus points available for winning the heat race, Super Pole, and the intermediate primes in the final will be crucially relevant to any of the four women who have a mathematical chance of winning the series. There are 12 bonus points throughout the day available to any given rider and combined with the race results points, Saraiva, Raphaele Lemieux (Team iBike), Ash Duban (Affinity Cycles), or Jasmine Dotti (IRD Carrera Squadra Corse) could have their name inscribed on the championship trophy.

Luck has proven to be a big factor in the 2017 Championship Series. In London, a puncture relegated Duban, the Barcelona No.5 winner and 2016 series champion, to 17th — which is now proving very costly in her bid for the 2017 championship. In Barcelona, Lemieux grabbed six points with a heat win and Super Pole victory but was forced to retire early with a flat tire. So far luck has sided with Saraiva and Italian Jasmine Dotti (IRD Carrera Squadra Corsa), but the fact that Dotti has not earned a single intermediate point this season explains why she is as far back in the series standings as she is.

The only path to victory for Duban or Dotti is to win the race while Saraiva, who has finished no worse than fifth this season, and Lemieux score absolutely no points. Anything is possible in bike racing, but Duban and Dotti must be flawless while others have serious problems for either of them to have a shot at the series title.

Eléonore Saraiva in the leader’s skinsuit, which she has worn since Brooklyn.

Saraiva’s biggest challenge for the series victory comes from Lemieux, sitting 26 points behind her. To win Lemieux must get all the intermediate points and win the race while Saraiva needs to finish outside the top five. It’s a tall order for any rider to pull this off, but Lemieux did accomplish this incredible points sweep in London.

To secure the series win, Saraiva can’t take anything for granted. An early puncture could scuttle her chances, as it did for Lemieux in Barcelona, or she could miss the break due to her conservative race style. There will also be plenty of contenders riding for the race win with no thought of the series championship. Duban has won in Milan before, and would make a big statement taking a second win this season. Dotti would love nothing more than to win in front of her Italian fans. Tanja Erath (Fixedpott) and Carla Nafria (Specialized-Rocket Espresso) have been in the hunt all season and could take advantage of being less marked by others due to where they are in the overall standings. Also, there are six new professional riders registered and if they race like Ilaria Sanguinetti or Rachele Barbieri last year, there will be entirely new points calculations to find the 2017 champion.

Raphaele Lemieux, after winning in London.

Vigano, Fortin square off for series while others have one last chance at a RHC win this season

The men’s championship heads to its conclusion with nine riders holding a mathematical chance of winning. In a 2017 season that has seen three different winners, many different names claiming bonus points, and strong teamwork, Saturday’s race will be fast and aggressive. The top two riders in the series are Italians, each with a possibility to win the overall, if not the race itself. It will not be easy for them, as there are many series contenders who are looking for their first win of 2017 and many new top-level racers coming to Milan.

Probably the biggest surprise of the overall series battle is the fact that none of these riders are from the Specialized-Rocket Espresso squad. The team that dominated all of the 2016 season, as well as convincingly winning the season opener in Brooklyn, has failed to factor in the overall series standings. Stefan Schafer, who won in Milan last season, is their best ranked rider at 13th with no mathematical chance of winning the title. The team will, however, bring all four of its riders to Milan, so count on them to be the protagonists, aiming to close out the season on a high note with a win.

Intelligentsia Racing is another team that, despite its impressive roster, is still hunting for a first Red Hook Crit victory. Last  year’s champion Colin Strickland has been present all season, but has been unable to continue his dominance of last season. He sits fourth in the championship but will most likely risk this spot with aggressive racing to secure a victory with help from his new teammate Kevin Girkins, who impressed with his RHC debut in Barcelona a few weeks ago.

8bar Bikes, the most dominant team in Barcelona, brings David Van Eerd (third in the championship standings) and Tim Ceresa to Milano. Van Eerd’s path to winning the championship is a long shot, so it’s likely he will focus more on repeating his winning performance in Barcelona, or setting up Ceresa for the win.

Davide Vigano (Cinelli-Chrome), closely marking the Intelligentsia Racing pair of Kevin Girkins and Colin Strickland.

Milan has historically been a race where professional riders make their Red Hook Crit debut. A notable newcomer will also be looking to spoil the party for the favorites: Ivan Cortina of UCI WorldTour team Bahrain-Merida will be making his RHC debut. He is the first active WorldTour rider to compete in the event. Cortina brings incredible fitness to Milan; he rode very aggressively during the World Road Championships in Norway, animating the final 5km of the U23 race on his way to finishing 21st. He also made his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a España this season, where he finished third on Stage 19, and fifth on Stage 21. His lack of championship standing could allow him to take advantage of being less heavily marked than other riders, despite his WorldTour jersey.

The top two riders in the 2017 Championship Series are Vigano, with 84 points, and Filippo Fortin (Bahumer Racing), who has 71. Both Italian riders are riding for Italian teams; winning the championship, and winning in Milan, is a huge objective for both men. For Vigano, winning is the best way to guarantee his championship title. If he doesn’t win the race, he will need to collect prime points along with a high finish to prevent Fortin from overtaking him for the title.

It’s likely that Vigano will be racing to get into a breakaway that doesn’t include Fortin. Both riders have impressive finishing speed, but so far Vigano has only beaten Fortin once head-to-head, and it seems that he doesn’t want to leave his championship hinging on a sprint with his Italian rival. A bit of added motivation for Vigano is that Milan is his hometown, and although he has been on the podium twice this season and now leads the series, he has yet to win a RHC race. It’s been clear from his post-race emotions in London and Barcelona that a win is something Vigano desperately wants.

The final round in Milan will see two battles play out simultaneously. The battle for the overall is really between just two men, but if they watch each other too carefully it could create opportunities for others to steal the race win in Milan.

The men’s peloton, under the lights in Barcelona.

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