WorldTour winner: Cortina (Bahrain-Merida) takes Red Hook Crit debut in Milan

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The fourth and final round of the Red Hook Criterium Championship series, held in Milan Saturday, saw two new winners emerge. Maria Sperotto (Bepink-Cogeas) and Ivan Cortina (Bahrain-Merida) claimed surprising victories. Both riders race with UCI WorldTour teams, both are quite young — 20 and 21, respectively — and both were competing in their Red Hook Crit debuts.

Eight years ago, Milan was the first Red Hook Criterium event outside of its namesake Brooklyn neighborhood, and over that time that the Italian cycling culture has embraced the event. The crowds were out in full force in the Milan neighborhood of Bovisa, with fans packing in along the course, as well as on neighboring balconies, roofs, and walls.

The 1.2km track in Milan is unique as it’s the only one of the four-event series that is still laid out on city streets and not on a purpose-built track. There are no hairpins on the Milan circuit, but the narrow streets, tight sight lines, and nine high-speed corners all play a part in testing the athletes.

Ivan Cortina (Bahrain-Merida) won his Red Hook Crit debut.

In the women’s race, Sperotto, 2o, overhauled Raphaele Lemieux (Team iBike) and Elena Valentini (Brianza Squadra Corse) through the final corner to win her first Red Hook Crit event. Behind her, Eléonore Saraiva of Aventon Factory Team finished fifth to clinch the 2017 Red Hook Crit series title.

In the men’s race, Cortina, the 21-year-old Spaniard, who finished the Vuelta a España last month, followed first-lap prime winner Alessandro Mariani (IRD Carrera Squadra Corse) and never looked back. The duo managed to pull their gap out to 30 seconds before the end of the race with Cortina overhauling the Italian on the last lap to win. Filippo Fortin (Team Bahumer) won the field sprint for third ahead of Davide Vigano (Cinelli-Chrome), with Vigano’s fourth place enough to secure the 2017 series title by 10 points over Fortin.

Video: Men’s field sprint

Sperotto takes her first Red Hook Crit win

The women’s final kicked off with a hotly contested first-lap prime. Saraiva lead through the final corner with the clear intention of taking the series points. Lemieux tried to come around her but came up just a half-wheel short. This effectively clinched the 2017 championship for Saraiva, who settled back into the large front group of favorites.

Lisa Worner of fixedgearcrit.com launched the first earnest attack of the race, but the large group of favorites, led by Virginia Cancellieri (IRD Carrera Squadra Corse), was not interested in letting riders go.

Video: Women’s first-lap prime

The start-stop racing continued until Ash Duban, riding unattached for the first time this year, strung out the field. Tanja Erath (Fixedpott) continued the effort as the speed seemed to lift the closer the race got towards the midpoint. Sperotto, who had spent most of the race sitting third or fourth wheel, showed herself for the first time by winning the mid-race prime.

With the pace of the prime lap forcing splits in the field, Worner and Erath tried to escape again. Saraiva seemed content to let moves go and looked very relaxed in the front group as others closed the gaps for her. With five laps to go, the favorites had more or less regrouped, with riders taking a moment to do a headcount.

Maria Sperotto, on her way to winning in Milan.

In the closing laps Keira Mcvitty (Revo Racing Team) and Carla Nafría (Specialized-Rocket Espresso) put in big efforts to get away, but it was too late as the field started charging towards the field sprint. Sperotto was first to the last corner and then continued to pull away from Lemieux to the line. Valentini surprised some of the other pre race-favorites to claim the third spot on the podium.

Video: Women’s race field sprint

After the race, Sperotto commented that it was her first fixed-gear criterium, and that she hopes to find ways to fit more into her full-time road commitments with the UCI Women’s WorldTour team Bepink-Cogeas.

“The crowd and the atmosphere of this race are just so good,” she said. “I think I like it better than road or track. I don’t know if I can come race the other races next year because of my race program is not set for next year. But hopefully I’ll come back.”

Saraiva crossed the line in fifth, which was enough to clinch the 2017 Red Hook Crit series title by 21 points over Lemieux. “Tonight I had to chose between winning the race or winning this jersey,” she said. “I chose the jersey. It’s a very nice jersey.”

2017 series champion Eléonore Saraiva, just before the final.

Cortina goes early to steal the race from the favorites

At the Red Hook Criterium series, the first-lap prime is always a hard start to the race, but it’s rarely decisive. So when Mariani got a little space with Cortina on his wheel after winning the prime, no one thought it was likely the race-winning move.

“I looked back to see we had some space and decided to gamble a little” Cortina said after the race. It clearly paid off, as the two riders quickly pulled out almost 10 seconds on the bunch.

The first team to respond to the dangerous move was Specialized-Rocket Espresso. They put all four of their riders onto the front of the race to limit the damage while also trying to get some help from Team Bahumer and Cinelli-Chrome.

Alessandro Mariani (left) and Ivan Cortina thrilled the Italian crowds.

For a moment it seemed that the gap had stabilized, but then Team Bahumer started having problems. The riders tasked with helping Fortin were suddenly sitting mid-pack, totally out of position. It also grew apparent that this was a situation that Vigano and Cinelli-Chrome were perfectly happy with — Cortina and Mariani would sweep up the big points that Fortin needed to overtake Vigano in the series.

At this point, all the chasing fell on the shoulders of Specialized-Rocket Espresso, but they were running out of time. By the mid-race prime, the gap had ballooned out to 20 seconds. But Specialized-Rocket Espresso was not giving up, and as the laps wound down, several names began to drop from the peloton, including their own rider Eamon Lucas, as well as RHC mainstay Colin Strickland (Intelligentsia Racing).

Video: Ivan Cortina wins the 2017 Red Hook Crit Milan

Cortina made his move for victory on the back side of the course on the final lap, putting in enough of gap between himself and Mariani to fully celebrate as he crossed the line. Behind the duo, Fortin edged Vigano in the sprint, but fourth place was enough to give Vigano the 2017 Championship victory.

After the race, Fortin did not hold back with his frustration. “I had problems with my team,” he said. “When the gap opened, we missed it. Then Cinelli did not want to chase because they knew I needed the big points to win. I was surprised they did not want to ride for the win themselves, so I’m disappointed.”

By contrast, Cortina could not contain his excitement. “Coming to this race, I had done a few smaller fixed-gear crits, and I was hoping to finish,” he said. “I didn’t expect this, but I am very happy.”

The eighth edition of the Red Hook Crit in Milan closed out the 2017 series.

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