Revamped Red Hook Crit attracts Olympic champ, WorldTour veterans

The Red Hook crit changes its qualifying process for 2017 and attracts WorldTour pros plus Olympic champion Callum Skinner.

Brooklyn’s Red Hook Criterium rolls into its 10th edition on Saturday with a brand-new qualifying format and a strong field of retired and current pro riders. The race, which is credited for popularizing the fixed-gear road criterium format, will again be held at the Brooklyn cruise terminal in Red Hook.

The race was first held in 2008 on quiet backstreets in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood as part of a birthday party for organizer David Trimble. In subsequent years the race attracted spectators and racers, and moved from the city streets onto the closed cruise terminal. By 2013 the race’s swelling popularity forced organizers to initiate a qualification process for the final event. Under that original qualifying model, cyclists rode a one-lap time trial around the course, with the fastest qualifying times advancing to either the final event or the last-chance race, which sent its top finishers into the final.

For 2017, organizers have changed the qualification process again. Organizers asked would-be racers to submit an application that included a personal essay explaining why they should be entered into the race and stories of their own cycling exploits. Organizers spent weeks reading these applications, and whittled the men’s field down to 300.

“We got some really good stories out of that,” said Trimble. “We used to be first-come, first-served. This year we picked people who really deserved to get a spot, which should raise the overall level.”

Of the 300 men’s racers, the race will then hold 20-minute qualifying races in the lead up to the final race on Saturday night. Each 20-minute qualifying race will feature competition between 60 riders, with the top 18 riders advancing to the final, and spots 19-30 advancing to the last-chance race. The top-three finishers for each heat will be given a preferential starting position for the final race.

Trimble said he borrowed the qualification concept from Grand Prix motorcycle racing.

“In the past we had riders flying in from all over the world and they would just get a few minutes on the track trying to qualify,” Trimble said. “Under this new format all of the athletes will get a chance to race.”

For the women’s race, the race will hold two qualifying heats with approximately 60 riders each, with the top-50 riders advancing to the final.

For the past five years, the race has attracted a smattering of domestic U.S. road racers, retired professionals, and riders who focus on fixed-gear style road races. For 2017 the race has attracted retired WorldTour rider Francesco Chicchi, who formerly rode for Quick Step-Innergetic and Liquigas before retiring after the 2016 season. During his pro career Chicchi won stages of the Amgen Tour of California, Volta a Catalunya, and Tour of Missouri.

Joining Chicchi is another retired WorldTour rider Davide Vigano, who previously rode for Team Sky and Lampre-Merida.

The race has also attracted Scottish track cyclist Callum Skinner. Skinner won gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero in the Team Sprint competition, and silver in the individual sprint race.

The two will compete against last year’s series champion Colin Strickland, who won three of four Red Hook rounds in 2016 while riding for the Specialized Allez Allez team. This year Strickland is racing for his own squad, called Intelligentsia Racing. His former team, Specialized, has expanded to five riders including criterium specialist Aldo Ilesic and German racer Stefan Schafer.