The Red Hook Crit seems to stick out on our calendar like a… well, like a big. Red. Hook.
Before it expanded into European waters and before the concept of riding bikes with any more than 1 gear entered our brains, this was the race we (collectively The 5th Floor) dreamed of participating in.
Over the years the race has changed dramatically – the scale of production, the level of riders and fascination it attracts. Yet that original mystique remains for us. This is a race that resonates with our very beginnings, our first loves, and now it’s got its hooks firmly in us.
Nevertheless, with the heightening of its production brings new layers of appeal and with it, anxiety.
Increased media coverage ramps up the hype beast almost as soon as the previous year is over, leading to palpitations at the mere mention of #critweek.
Seeing your friends and international comrades for perhaps the only time this year is tinged with the feeling that you’ll be stripped bare in front of your peers on a level playing field, and the slew of photographers mean that the rest of the world will see it too.
The overriding feeling however is that after spending most mornings racing before dawn like a dirty secret between you and that mornings peloton, the Red Hook Crit offers a gladiatorial stage that I describe as my Monaco GP.
The circus had been rolling in all week in the lead up to qualifying on Saturday. Luckily with Battenkill the week before I’d kept nerves and thoughts at arms length as long as possible. Prospect Park took on a distinctly Italian flavor and a team mate coming in from London would break that spell, it was definitely crit week.
The new track layout and that fact I hadn’t raced the event since 2013 meant that everything felt fresh. Myself, Chris and Reece from 5th LDN pitched up in our assigned paddock space and tasked ourselves with our usual pre-ride routines to try and add familiarity to the unfamiliar. We tried somehow to channel the excitement of the RHC spectacle and meet n’ greets with our friends and team mates into some kind of focus and useable energy.
Being in qualification group 4 we knew the majority of the big times would come in the later 3 sessions and that we would be measuring ourselves purely on personal output rather than stopwatches. There would be no ‘that’ll suffice’ from us.
It was immediately apparent that the new course layout was not only faster but could accommodate multiple lines and that the wind would be a factor. For the first time in my experience a team train of 3 or more riders would be a help rather than an hindrance in ensuring the best possible time.
We would have to learn quick. 20 minutes is a long time but only 2 un-compromised hot laps would be possible before output is depleted and the 50 or so qualifiers are so strung out that clean lines don’t exist.
We decided to to utilize our CX knowledge and make our 2nd lap a hot one – this ultimately would be our fastest…
For a moment we were riding a high on the feeling that we couldn’t have given it more, and for a brief 20 minutes until the close of qualification slot number 3 the numbers seemed to agree with that feeling… I was sitting 4th overall, Chris 10th and Reece in the mid 20’s.
Reece was doing the math, I respected his stoic realism when faced with the telling piece of paper and figures in front of him. Without emotion he readied himself for the prospect of the last chance race. His calculations were to prove brutally accurate for more than just himself …
To be continued…
Body Images: Phil Garofolo
Slider Images: 1-3 Donalrey Nieva
Slider Images: 4- 6 Quinn Gundersen