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On Saturday, April 28, Red Hook Crit Brooklyn will host cyclists from over 40 countries for its 11th edition.
“The Crit,” as it’s now known by many, is the originator of an ever-increasingly popular discipline of fixed-gear crit racing that has slowly but steadily been gaining mainstream acceptance in more traditional racing circles. In 2017, Italy became the first country to host an official fixed-gear criterium national championship, and the Italian cycling federation has officially recognized the format as its own distinct discipline.
The 2018 international fixed-gear criterium season has already started around the world with races held in Italy and the Netherlands. Last weekend’s Mission Crit in San Francisco kicked off the season in the United States. But essentially these are tune-up races for the big show in Red Hook on Saturday.
Below are six things to watch for at the 11th Red Hook Crit Brooklyn.
1. Brand new course promises more speed
For this edition of the race, a new circuit will challenge the athletes. The significant change is the “opening up” of a few hairpin turns and a new finishing straight, the longest in the history of the race. Both changes should contribute to an expected increase in overall speeds as well as potentially tilting the balance of the course in favor of the fast finishers. The previous circuit saw average speeds hovering around 46kph for the men and 41kph for the women, and this year those speeds are likely to be much faster.
“The new [course] layout features many sections of perfect tarmac thanks to the repaving work done by Formula E,” said race director and Red Hook Crit founder David Trimble. “Despite no slow hairpins the nine corners and waterfront winds will create a busy, technical, and dynamic race. The finishing straight will be the fastest and longest in RHC history, so this may be one for the sprinters — if they can hold the race together until the end.”
2. More of the unexpected in 2018
Success was hard to replicate for RHC riders in 2017. Not a single rider won more than once from either the men’s or women’s peloton at any of the four Red Hook Crit series events. Expecting the unexpected has suddenly become the norm.
Dominant athletes like Colin Strickland (Meteor X Giordana), who won three out of the four races in 2016, could only manage one podium appearance in 2017. Dani King (Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling) had similar difficulty repeating her crushing victory in 2016 where she lapped the entire women’s field in London. In 2017, King could only just make it into the top fiove. These results in 2017 reveal an overall increase in depth within the fixed-gear crit discipline whereby the level for both the men and the women is going to be world class in Brooklyn on Saturday. Seeing a past winner on the top step in either race could almost be a surprise.
3. Big team shake-ups in women’s field
Last year many of the best women in the field were racing solo, so it was not surprising to see some shuffling happen in the offseason. Ash Duban, a constant presence on Red Hook Crit podiums, including a win in Barcelona last year, has teamed up with Sammi Runnels (formerly of Aventon Factory Team) and Nicole Mertz to form the Meteor-Hey Allez! team.
“It’s really exciting to be able to race with Ash and Nicole,” said Runnels of the new team. “I really enjoy racing as a team, and after not being able to finish Mission Crit (due to a broken spoke) I’m hungry for more.”
With Mertz and Duban both finishing in the top five at Mission Crit, we expect a good showing from this new team in Brooklyn.
Raphaele Lemieux was easily one of the breakout stars of the 2017 season. With her total domination in London, as well as the second place in Milan, it was not a surprise that Specialized Rocket Espresso came calling with an offer. Lemieux will now join forces with Carla Nafria, who finished ahead of Lemieux in Brooklyn last year. It’s easy to imagine that expectations will be high for both riders to deliver a result in Brooklyn this Saturday.
4. Women’s champs are back
Defending champion Colleen Gulick (Pickle Juice) is back to try and repeat her win from last year, but she’ll face a stiff challenge from another previous winner, Ainara Elbusto (Santafixie BLB London). Elbusto is one of the most prolific winners in Red Hook Crit history, having won five events since her debut race in Barcelona four years ago. Two of those victories were in back-to-back editions of the Brooklyn race, in 2015 and 2016. Elbusto’s absence from the 2016 edition of the race left the door open for Gulick to win in her debut.
Elbusto will have a teammate in Margaux Vigie, who had some very impressive performances last season in Europe and will be racing in Brooklyn for the first time. Gulick, however, is still racing solo and will likely have to count on her sprint to secure her a place on the podium. “I think the longer sprint this year could really change up the race tactics and has potential to totally shake up how the finish plays out,” Gulick said. By contrast, Elbusto will want to go at it alone especially after she lost a two-up sprint to Duban last year in Barcelona.
Eleonore Saraiva returns as overall series champion in 2017, and she brings a new Aventon Factory Team. Her consistency in 2017 saw her finish second in Brooklyn and London, then go on to take fifth in both Barcelona and Milan. She will be supported by Mission Crit winner Esther Walker, former Olympic rower Lisa Worner, and longtime crit racer Kym Perfetto. It’s no secret that Saraiva wants to win, and perhaps with the championship under her belt and her strong team, Saraiva will change her previous conservative tactics and finally secure a Red Hook Crit victory.
5. No shortage of favorites in men’s race
The men’s final is loaded with pre-race favorites. Last year’s Brooklyn winner Stefan Schafer (Specialized Rocket Espresso) returns with teammates in Eamon Lucas and Alec Briggs as well as two new additions, Justin Williams and Angus Morton. This stacked team absolutely dismantled the Mission Crit (their first team race this year), with Schafer winning out of a two-man breakaway and Williams taking third in the field sprint. The sentiment from the rest of the athletes in the field is that anyone on this team could potentially win the race in many different ways. As long as they keep it together and ride as a team, they will be hard to beat.
But arguably the biggest pre-race favorite is Italian Filippo Fortin (Bahumer CritLife) who is coming to Brooklyn from a heavy European road racing schedule with his Felbermayr-Simplon Wels team that includes a win at GP Adria Mobil on April 1. Last year Fortin won in London and finished on the podium in Barcelona and Milan. It’s likely that the only thing that kept him off the podium in Brooklyn was an unlucky puncture.
“I like the new course,” Fortin said. “To me, it looks very fun.” That makes sense given his finishing speed and affinity for pushing big gears. Fortin will have some strong back up from his team, with Giovanni Longo and Alvise Zanasca to chase the moves. Veteran Francesco Martucci, who has the most RHC starts of any active racer, will hopefully be keeping the team on track and working cohesively for Fortin and the race win.
It’s honestly a bit surprising that Davide Vigano (Team Cinelli) has yet to win a Red Hook Crit race. The former Team Sky rider was Mr. Consistency last year, finishing second twice (London and Barcelona) and fourth twice (Brooklyn and Milan). However out of all the top favorites, Vigano probably has the weakest team around him. Teammate Ivan Ravaioli was an asset in Brooklyn last year but was outmatched against Specialized and Bahumer. Ravaioli will have to find the form that saw him win Brooklyn in 2015 to ride as a super domestique for Vigano and deliver the win that eluded him in 2017.
6. Outside bets in the men’s race
This section could easily be its own article, and honestly, that’s why we love the Red Hook Crit. These races capture that “anything is possible” feeling better than any other cycling competition in the world today. If you’re a fan of the underdog, this section is for you.
Colin Strickland (Meteor X Giordana) was the dominant rider of 2016, but he had no such luck in 2017. It’s hard to call him an outside bet, but with his recent focus on gravel races, who knows what Strickland is bringing to Brooklyn this year?
Aventon Factory Racing is bringing a five-man squad to Brooklyn with Olivier Leroy, Jake Magee, David Santos, Chris Tolley, and Isaac Howe. Despite missing Tristian Uhl, the squad still hopes to make an impact on the race. Santos is coming of a second-place result at Mission Crit, where he was able to bridge across to Schafer, getting himself into the race-winning move.
Bruno Langlois (Velo Cartel), on the other hand, is a real wild card. Brooklyn will be his first fixed-gear crit, but it’s easy to imagine that the former Canadian National Road Champion could fly under the radar of most to a breakaway victory.
This tactic probably wouldn’t work for someone like David Van Eerd (Team WIT). The 2017 Barcelona winner will likely be too well marked. But then again, rumor has it that he won that race mostly because Trimble told him he couldn’t do it.
Evan Murphy (Mash SF), Luc Ducrot (F.A.S.T. Amsterdam), and Robin Gemperle (No. 22) will all be on the attack, hoping for some of that Red Hook Crit magic to happen. With just a little bit of luck, any of these riders could be on top of the podium at the end of the night.