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BROOKLYN, NY (VN) — What’s the best way to navigate a slick, rainy road course on a fixed-gear bicycle? Can the rider with the most impressive résumé overcome two much stronger teams? Will a new course design change the racing dynamics on an infamously windy, technical circuit?
These questions are at hand as the Red Hook Criterium heads into its 11th season this Saturday with its annual race at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal on the eastern end of the city’s Red Hook neighborhood. The event has made historic progress since it was originally held on open city streets on a chilly night in 2008. It now attracts a field of hundreds of riders from across the globe—so many riders arrive that the race holds qualifying events to seed riders for the nighttime finals.
Red Hook also boasts a sponsorship lineup of major non-endemic brands, a sizable media footprint, and thousands of spectators at each of its four stops (Brooklyn, London, Barcelona, Milan).
For 2018, race founder David Trimble has made another change to the event. Trimble created a new twisting course around the cruise terminal that utilizes tarmac and chicanes that were part of a Formula E (Formula One for electric cars) auto race held at the venue this past summer.
“Every year the goal is to take the race forward,” Trimble said. “This new circuit is much more different than the one we’ve used in the past. I think the corners are not super difficult to get through cleanly but they are going to be difficult to get through quickly.”
The other dynamic that may influence the race is New York City’s infamously unpredictable April conditions. Throughout its history the Red Hook Criterium’s springtime date for its Brooklyn race has produced a wide range of conditions, from driving rain and wind, to muggy, hot conditions.
Wet weather can create havoc for the racers, since they compete on brakeless fixed-gear bicycles. Riders must navigate corners without braking, and when the tarmac gets wet and slippery, crashes abound.
“When it’s slippery the speed goes down anywhere from two to four miles per hour and it kind of becomes survival mode,” said Colin Strickland, winner of the 2016 Brooklyn race. “You take the slower inside turns and you are just kind of at the mercy of other riders.”
The week prior to this year’s race has seen driving rain and winds, and Saturday’s prediction is for cool, dry temperatures.
In recent years the race has featured tight battles between organized teams—it has also attracted riders with experience at the highest levels of the sport. Last year the final round of the series, held in Milan, was won by Bahrain-Merida’s Iván García, whose attack overcame the strength in numbers of two major teams.
For Saturday’s race another such battle will play out in the elite men’s field, as Italian rider Davide Vigano (Cinelli-Chrome) looks to overcome the much stronger teams Specialized Rocket Espresso and Baumer Critlife in his quest to finally win a Red Hook race. Vigano’s race résumé includes WorldTour experience with Team Sky (2010), Leopard-Trek (2011), and Lampre (2012-13). He won the Red Hook series overall in 2017 with consistent finishes, yet he was unable to win an actual round.
Vigano’s impressive resume could be undone by both teams. Baumer Critlife will likely race for its marquee rider Filippo Fortin, who recently completed the Tour of the Alps for Austrian continental team Felbermayr-Simplon Wels.
Specialized-Rocket Espresso will attack the race with a lineup of top riders with both traditional and fixed-gear criterium experience. Justin Williams, a former member of the U.S. National team, recently joined the team alongside Eamon Lucas, Alec Briggs, and German team newcomer Angus Morton, who formerly raced on the Jelly Belly-Maxxis team.
The team is led by Stefan Schäfer. A police officer in Germany, Schäfer won the 2017 Brooklyn race, and also won last weekend’s Mission Crit fixed-gear race in San Francisco.
And then there’s Colin Strickland, a former winner of the series, who now races alongside former Jelly Belly pro Michael Sheehan on the MeteorXGiordana squad. Strickland has a penchant for attacking in the waning minutes of the race to win solo.
“There are big teams now that control the pack and close down a gap, or decide not to,” Strickland said. “For me it makes sense to attack—if there’s slow reaction time or if there’s wind I can get away.”
The women’s event should come down to a battle between a host of former winners. American Colleen Gulick, who won the 2017 Brooklyn race, comes in as a co-favorite alongside Spanish rider Ainara Elbusto, who owns five victories on the circuit. French rider Elenore Saraiva is also a rider to watch — in 2017 she won the series overall.
Stay tuned to VeloNews.com for more coverage from the 2018 Red Hook Criterium.