Preview: What to watch for at this weekend’s Red Hook Crit Milan
After an uncharacteristically quiet 2018, the Red Hook Criterium returns to Milan this Saturday, October 6, for the ninth edition of Europe’s premier fixed-gear criterium.
The 11th year of the Red Hook Crit race series saw an unexpected contraction with the cancelation of the London and Barcelona events. Race director David Trimble attributed it to unanticipated costs.
“Every year the races have gotten bigger,” Trimble said. “With more spectators came more logistics cost, and in particular this year our security expenditure for Brooklyn saw an unexpected and sudden increase. The choice for us was to either spend money we didn’t have or scale back and come back stronger in 2019.”
In the past, all Red Hook events have broken even, and Trimble intends to keep it that way with the intention of finding more support for 2019 to return the series to full strength.
However, these fluctuations should not affect the quality of the athletes making their way to Milan for another shot at victory. In fact, both the men’s and women’s fields are the largest assembled in Red Hook history. It’s hard to predict where the overall future of the fixed-gear criterium discipline is heading, but it’s safe to say that the demand from athletes for races is only growing.
Barbieri returns as women’s favorite
Undoubtedly the most impressive palmarès on the women’s start list belongs to Rachele Barbieri (IRD Fiamme Oro Squadra Corse). The 2017 Scratch Race world champion has proven herself a powerhouse off the boards as well, a winner of Red Hook Crit races in Barcelona and Milan with dominant displays of speed. Barbieri sat out the 2017 Red Hook season due to commitments on the road and track, but she’s sure to want to keep her undefeated Red Hook record intact.
While Barbieri is the pre-race favorite, the women’s field is absolutely stacked. At the top of that long list of contenders is Ainara Elbusto (Santafixe BLB London), the winningest rider in Red Hook Crit history with five victories in her carrier. Her last win came in Brooklyn in 2016, and though she has been on a few Red Hook Crit podiums since, victory has eluded her due — mostly to bad luck. This year in Brooklyn she was involved in a crash with Elena Valentini (T RED Factory Racing Team) that prevented both riders from finishing.
It’s also easy to draw parallels between Barbieri and Dani Rowe (née King) of WaowDeals Pro Cycling. Rowe, a three-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist, absolutely dominated in London in 2016, but when she returned to the event a year later, she was hard-pressed to make an impact on the race — likely due to a combination of a higher level of competition as well as riders unwilling to give Rowe any leash whatsoever.
The same could easily hold true for Barbieri, as she is likely to be heavily marked by veteran riders in the peloton. Chief among them is the duo of Raphaele Lemieux and Carla Nafria of Specialized-Rocket Espresso. Lemieux won in Brooklyn earlier this year, in large part due to Nafria’s willingness to close down moves for her teammate. With that kind of support, Lemieux will be tough to beat on Saturday.
It would be impossible to not mention Ash Duban (The Meteor-Hey Allez!) in a conversation about veteran Red Hook Crit riders. The American won her first Red Hook event in Milan back in 2014. Consistent results in 2016 gave Duban her first series championship, and in 2017 she won again in Barcelona. With a solid fourth place in Brooklyn earlier in the year, it would be foolish to not see Duban as a contender.
“Having Barbieri back in the race doesn’t change much for me personally,” Duban said. “Hopefully she can contribute to the pace and the race will be hard. That’s what I want. A harder race is definitely better for me. I’m confident in my experience and my form. Hopefully there’s a breakaway and I’m in it. Either way my plan is to ride for the win.”
If history is any indicator, sprinters will rule the day in Milan. The circuit is chock full of fast straightaways, and lacks hairpins. Typically the women’s field is whittled down by the fast pace, but the win is usually decided by a sprint or a late daring attack from a group, the one exception being Barbieri’s breakaway win 2016.
Fortin, Williams set for a rematch in Italy
The sprint between Justin Williams (Specialized-Rocket Espresso) and Filippo Fortin (Team Bahumer Critlife) in Brooklyn was well over six months ago at this point, but it’s unlikely that either rider has forgotten it.
For Fortin, the win in Brooklyn confirmed him as the man to beat and saddled him as the great Italian hope for the victory in Milan, where no Italian man has been victorious. For Williams, while his result in Brooklyn wasn’t satisfying, it confirmed the charismatic American as a top Red Hook contender after several seasons of anonymous results in RHC events.
Strong teams in Milan will support both men. However, no team has yet been able to match the coordination of Specialized-Rocket Espresso, and while the question of team support is an important one for the two rival sprinters, the men’s race in Milan has not ended in a field sprint since the 2014 edition.
Alec Briggs (Specialized-Rocket Espresso), who was the final lead-out man for Williams in Brooklyn, attributed the lack of bunch finishes in Milan to particular combinations of race dynamics.
“I watched Colin Strickland’s win in 2015, and the bunch had no cohesion back then,” Briggs said. “I don’t think team tactics at Red Hook where much of a thing back then. In 2016 when Stefan [Schafer] won the field just marked Strickland, who was so dominant that year. And last year it was just very negative with the Italians watching only each other for the overall. I just don’t think that will be the case this year. With such a small series, the overall is still wide open, and everyone will be racing to win. It’s going to be a bit of a free for all this year. Everyone is going to be going for it, but I think there are so many strong riders that a breakaway could still go.”
Chief on the list of riders who will potentially give the sprinters trouble is Davide Vigano (Team Cinelli) and David Van Eerd (Team WIT). Vigano won the overall series in 2017 and has never finished a Red Hook event worse than fourth. However Vigano is still searching for his first win for himself and his team. He’d certainly love to also be the man to break Italy’s drought in Milan.
Van Eerd, an easy going, full-time medical student from the Netherlands, already carries a victory from Barcelona on his palmarès, and with a strong fifth-place in Brooklyn he could easily be the one to spoil the party for the Italians.
It’s also to be expected that a few of the second-tier favorites will be looking for chances to get up the road with a bit more leash from the field — riders like Allesandro Mariani (IRD Squadra Corse), Matteo Cecchini (Cykeln Divisione Corse), and Michael Capati (URB – Rhevo Probike). All three have realistic chances of making it into the right move. Mariani did just that last year in Milan when he followed the acceleration of Ivan Cortina (Bahrain Merida) to land himself on the second step of the podium. All three are also Italian and will have the home crowd support on Saturday.
However, if history is to repeat, then it’s incredibly likely that a small and unassuming breakaway could easily steal the day for the fourth year in Milan. With the long pause in racing between the two events, combined with the largest-ever Red Hook Crit Milano fields, Saturday’s race is going to be an exciting and unpredictable race.