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Red Hook Criterium: Fortin, Lemieux survive soggy night

Filippo Fortin and Raphaele Lemieux won the rain-soaked Red Hook Criterium in Brooklyn, New York.

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BROOKLYN, NY—With five laps remaining in the men’s final of the Red Hook Criterium—the famed fixed-gear road race known to produce dramatic crashes and mayhem—Mother Nature added another element to the racing.

Rain bucketed down and gusting winds swept across the south Brooklyn neighborhood, soaking racers and spectators alike in a matter of seconds. The 1.1km route across the Brooklyn cruise terminal slickened, and the 35 or so riders in the front group slowed to navigate the course’s eight sharp turns with caution.

As the peloton picked its way through the final laps, powerhouse team Specialized-Rocket Espresso amassed at the front to set up its sprinter, American Justin Williams. As Williams entered the final righthand turn before the sprint—perhaps it was the slick road or tired legs—he swung wide to his left. His line opened a gap, and Italian rider Flippo Fortin (Bahumer-Critlife), snuck around Williams on the inside, charged to the line, and took a narrow victory.

“Maybe it was more easy to win because I was alone,” Fortin said after the win. “When I saw Specialized go to the front I stayed on the wheel of Justin because I know he is a good sprinter in America.”

Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn Top 10 Men

  • 1. Filippo Fortin (Ita), Bahumer-Critlife, 48:37.37
  • 2. Justin Williams, Specialized-Rocket Espresso
  • 3. Alec Briggs (GB), Specialized-Rocket Espresso
  • 4. Davide Vigano (Ita), Cinelli-Chrome
  • 5. David Van Eerd (Nl), WIT
  • 6. Evan Murphy, MASH SF
  • 7. Michael Capati (Ita), URB-Rhevo Probike
  • 8. Kaj Verhaegh (Nl), WIT
  • 9. Stefan Schaefer (G), Specialized-Rocket Espresso
  • 10. Matteo Cecchini (Ita), Cykeln Divisione Corse A

Top 10 Women

  • 1. Raphaele Lemieux (Can), Specialized-Rocket Espresso, 43:33.7
  • 2. Melanie Guedon (Fr), T Red Factory
  • 3. Margaux Vigie (Fr), Santafixie BLB London
  • 4. Ash Duban, Meteor/Hey Allez
  • 5. Lisa Worner (NL), Aventon
  • 6. Roxanne Fox, Schindelhauer-Gates
  • 7. Michelle De Graaf (NL), IRD Squadra Corse
  • 8. Ashley Faye (NL), LA Sweat
  • 9. Esther Walker, Aventon
  • 10. Nicole Mertz, Meteor/Hey Allez

Indeed the soggy weather struck after Williams and his Specialized-Rocket Espresso teammates had executed a textbook display of criterium control for much of the 50-minute race, which sent riders around the course 32 times. Specialized came into the final with five of the strongest riders in the bunch. Eamon Lucas is a former member of USA Cycling’s U23 national development team; Angus Morton recently retired from a domestic racing career with Jelly Belly-Maxxis; Justin Williams raced in Europe and in the United States with Rock Racing and Cylance, among other teams; German rider Stefan Schaefer owns two Red Hook Criterium victories; Brit Alex Briggs is a veteran on the international fixed-gear scene.

For the first half of the race Lucas, Morton, and Schafer took turns attacking off the front while Briggs and Williams stayed protected in the field. Rival teams IRD Squadra Corse and others worked on the front to shut down the moves.

Fixed-gear racing features multiple variables that change the racing dynamics from traditional road criteriums. Well-timed breakaways often survive to the line—with just one gear the entire pack has a fixed top speed. The pack must pass through turns single-file or, else riders risk striking their pedals on the asphalt. Moving up through the pack presents a challenge—often the race is decided by the five or 10 riders at the front of the pack.

And riders must use their leg muscles to both propel themselves forward and decelerate or stop.

“The fatigue you put on your muscles from braking is incredible—you have to put out way more power just to go fast,” Lucas said. “You fatigue in a much different way than in [a road criterium]. It’s critical to be as flowy as possible through the turns.”

The Red Hook series—there are races in Brooklyn, London, Barcelona, and Milan—has historically favored those riders with a blend of experience in both high-end road racing and fixed-gear events. The 2017 series winner, Davide Vigano, rode as a domestique for Sky, Leopard-Trek, and Quick-Step.

Fortin, 29, also races for the Austrian UCI Continental team Felbermayer-Simplon Wells. In the hours after his victory, Fortin boarded a flight to Innsbruck to compete in Austria’s GP Vorarlberg, before traveling to Luxembourg for the Fleche du Sud. Fortin said the unorthodox events have given him a much-needed mental break from the rigors of European road racing.

“Road [racing] is very stressful and this is very fun for me,” Fortin said. “It is a good escape.”

Lemieux gives Specialized women’s crown

The men’s race took the course shortly after Specialized-Rocket Espresso rider Raphaele Lemieux took a dramatic victory in the women’s race. Lemieux embarked on a solo attack with five laps to go, was caught by the peloton on the final lap, and still had enough strength in her legs for a victorious sprint.

“When the pack caught me with one lap to go it was good because I could rest for five turns in third position,” Lemieux said. “In the final turn I was third and the two girls in front of me went too wide and I had a good position for my sprint.”

The women’s field hit the course prior to the rainstorm, yet like the men’s race, the pack was shredded by early breakaways. French rider Margeau Vigie (Santa Fixie) made an early move that was eventually brought back by Lisa Worner (Aventon), who also surged ahead and rode solo for multiple laps.

After Worner’s move was neutralized her teammate Esther Walker then went it alone, before her move was brought back by Lemieux.

Lemieux’s victory is her second on the Red Hook circuit; in 2017 she won the London stop of the series. Her efforts on the circuit add a new dynamic to her already prolific sporting career. Lemieux was a member of Canada’s national team for cycling and speed skating for multiple during her teens and 20’s.

These days Lemieux, 35, is an optician in Montreal. She tried her first Red Hook race in Brooklyn in 2017 and finished fourth in the event.

“I have my 40-hour a week job and I can be a criterium racer on the weekend,” Lemieux said. “When I quit speed skating I never thought I’d be an elite athlete again. I think it’s fun to travel and race.”