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This past Saturday night the Red Hook Criterium came to Milan for the ninth time. For the first time ever an Italian man stood on the top step. Filippo Fortin (Team Bahumer) took a convincing sprint victory in the men’s final. In the women’s race Rachele Barbieri maintained her perfect win record in Red Hook events, taking her third career victory ahead of a stacked field.
The morning qualifying heats saw quite a bit of rain, and the slippery track conditions claimed quite a few of the top riders. Notably, Samantha Fox (Team Schindelhauer-Gates) and Davide Vigano (Cinelli Team) — two pre-race favorites that were taken down in qualifying and unable to take the start in the evening finals. But as the evening neared, the rain stopped, the Milan crowds swelled, and the track dried out, setting up perfect race conditions for the finals.
Barbieri remains undefeated
With her last Red Hook start being two years ago there were definitely some questions about whether or not Barbieri would be as dominant as she once was. The level of competition in the women’s field has grown considerably over the past two seasons and being a world champion track rider and past Red Hook winner is no longer a guarantee of success against riders like Raphaele Lemieux (Specialized – Rocket Espresso), Margaux Vigie (Santafixe BLB London), and Lisa Worner (Aventon Factory Team). “The scene has grown so much and [it] is becoming more and more difficult to win,” Barbieri said.
Lemieux kicked off the evening by winning the first lap prime in front of a single-file field and was immediately counter-attacked by Worner. But the field was not going to let any anyone get away with riders such as Barbieri and Elbusto constantly attacking to test the resolve of the field. At this point, the pressure at the front of the race had cut the front group down to 20 riders in just five laps.
As the halfway prime approached a small group tried to get up the road including Lemieux and Barbieri. Seemingly not happy with the efforts of her breakaway companions, Barbieri attacked out of the group. At this point, the field behind was now down to only 10 riders. Despite Barbieri’s efforts, Lemieux was able to not only stay in touch but also win the mid-race prime, securing her valuable championship points. With Barbieri not racing in Brooklyn earlier in the year, she could not beat Lemieux in the overall and appeared unconcerned with the primes.
However, the prime lap would set off what would be the final cascade of counterattacks.
“I was sitting second overall in the [Red Hook Crit] standings, and Ainara had nothing to lose,” Santafixie BLB London rider Margaux Vigie explained. “Ainara said that she will work for me trying to tire riders like Barbieri and Lemieux. In the last 10 laps, I started to try and win the race.”
Elbusto counterattacked Lemieux, who was then chased down by 2017 series champion Eleonore Saraiva (Aventon Factory Racing). Next to go was Elbusto’s teammate Vigie, but she was then countered by Esther Walker (Aventon Factory Racing). Elbusto continued to try and control the field for Vigie, but the final laps changed the race once again.
With three laps to go the front of the field had improbably come back together, but Nerea Nuno (Rio Miera Cantabria Deporte) was having none of that. She attacked and immediately got a gap that she was able to stretch out to several seconds.
“At three laps to go, [Nuno] was alone off the front but after a lot of attacks earlier in the race to try and finish alone, I had decided to not chase,” said Barbieri. Going into the final lap, Nuno was holding a few seconds advantage over the field. “I wanted to set myself up for a long sprint,” Barbieri continued. “But, Raf was on the front to chase, so I was just following her until three corners to go when I attacked full-gas. Before the last corner, I had passed [Nuno], and I went full-gas to the finish!”
Barbieri was able to hold off Barbara Guarischi (Cinelli Team) to win her third Red Hook Criterium event. “I’m glad to be here for the whole atmosphere,” she said. “But winning in Milan is real satisfaction.”
Nuno held on to take third even after her late-race attack. For her brave effort in the final few laps, she took home the Rockstar Games Top Antagonist Award.
After the race, Lemieux did not look particularly disappointed with her sixth place finish. Her qualification heat win plus winning both primes meant she secured the 2018 championship series victory.
Fortin takes a historic victory
With an all-Italian front row on the start grid, the pressure was most certainly on for the host country’s riders to finally deliver a men’s winner in the race’s nine year. With Vigano not taking the start, the likeliest contender to deliver was Fortin who was notably absent from Friday’s press conference, preferring instead to let his legs do the talking.
After a brief start line mishap, the men’s field was restarted smoothly with the full race distance still on the cards. Red Hook Crit newcomer Ide Schelling (SEG Racing Academy) proved his mettle by winning the first lap prime while Fortin had some trouble off the line, failing to get clipped in quickly. This took the Italian from the front of the race down to about 25th place. This could have proved very dangerous for his chances, but Fortin was not discouraged and was able to make his way quickly back to the front, a sure sign that he was feeling good.
By contrast, Justin Williams (Specialized – Rocket Espresso) was not off to a good start and soon found himself a bit too far back in the field. This would prove to be the American sprinter’s undoing as he struggled all night to regain position and would eventually lose contact with the front of the race. “I just didn’t have it,” he said. “I knew my only chance was to have the slowest fast race possible. So I tried to ease into it and work my way up, but the legs didn’t want to cooperate today. I mean, it’s October … it’s been a long season.”
Back at the pointy end of the race things remained relatively unchanged, despite several efforts from David Van Eerd (Team Wit) and Alec Briggs (Specialized – Rocket Espresso) the Italians seemed to have things very much under control heading into the mid-race prime which was won by Fortin. With half the race distance behind them, Team Bahumer began to get serious about protecting Fortin, sending Giovanni Longo to the front to close down attacks and eventually set a tempo to prevent further attacks.
Longo would prove crucial in the final laps of the race, fighting back multiple attacks from Schelling and Stefan Schaefer (Specialized – Rocket Espresso). For his late-race efforts Schelling would be awarded the Rockstar Games Top Antagonist prize but ultimately would go on to finish fifth.
As the bell rang for the final lap Longo lead the field across the line with Fortin on his wheel. Longo’s efforts were rewarded with Fortin charging across the line to take the win ahead of Jesus Alberto (IRD Squadra Corse) in second and Michael Capati (URB Rhevo Pro – Bike A) in third.
“Sometimes you have to wait before speaking — actions speak louder than words,” said Fortin. “I stayed silent; didn’t attend the press conference. The response was written on my helmet: ‘Answered.'”
Not only did Fortin end the Italian drought of victories in Milan with his race win, but he also secured the championship series win for 2018. Next year Fortin will likely move on to other goals in his cycling career having secured a contract with Cofidis. In what is likely his final Red Hook Criterium, Fortin certainly went out on top.