2011 starts with a bang

Red Hook Criterium 4, powered by Eastern Mountain SportsTrack bike crit at night.

by Brean

The Red Hook Criterium has grown into a big-time event over the past four years, and this year the quality of the competition made a huge jump due to the addition of Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) as a title sponsor, online registration, and it's natural growth through word of mouth and media coverage. I knew it was going to be massive this year when I saw that EMS dedicated its valuable window space to a display for the race on it's Soho storefront. What a cool thing for them to do. Velonews viewed the race last year, and Bicycling had a preview for this year. There were a few pros in this race as well as top-level mountain bikers and dudes from Italy and Spain and Mexico. I used the term big-time already, didn't I?

Also different this year was a new course (due to local politics), and the organizer could not work in cobbles. Instead there were curbs and hairpins.

They did call-ups, which put me towards the back at the start. This is the one area where I think the race could use improvement because I think call-ups are unwise. They make it so that a bunch of inexperienced/slower people are in a position where they feel they have to sprint at the start. Yeah, that's fun. And the fast people get even more of an advantage by being in front for the start. In this race, there is a hole shoot like in cyclocross because the course is so technical, and drafting plays such an important role. Whoever is in front on the first lap should be able to stay there, and I suppose everyone knows that.

So on lap 1, a whole bunch of goofballs were in front of me, in addition to the cream. One crashed directly into the curb heading towards the west hairpin. Fucking scary. Then two guys went down in the hairpin itself. I thought that was was going to be a big pileup, but to everyone's credit and luck, all the other racers got around it. Both of these happened in front me, and my hopes of getting to the front pack went out the window. Then I worked with a good group for a while, moving up, picking off riders dropping out of the lead group. But they had a huge lead and were a bigger group, so we kept losing ground.

It was cold, but there were still so many spectators that the crowd would roar and really keep you motivated. I loved it. It was the biggest crowd I've seen at a bike race since the 80's. But the crowd also swarmed the lap counter so that we didn't know the lap count until the bell lap. With two to go (as it turns out), I saw a group ahead that I took to be the second lead group, which had splintered. So I made a big, big effort to catch them, which took a whole lap. A good guy I know from the track, Aaron H., went with me, though I didn't know it until we were almost on the other group. Turns out that these guys were getting lapped (at least I think that was the case). The organizer announced that we were getting pulled, but Aaron and I thought he could not have meant us. So we continued on and finished the race on-lap. I told Aaron I wouldn't contest the sprint and that I just wanted to keep us ahead of anyone who might be pursuing us. I figure we finished top 20, probably around 15th or so. I'll have to check the videos when they come out.

Dan Chabanov, a working messenger in New York, won the day, beating former messenger Al Barough (3rd) and pro and former messenger Neil Bezdek (2nd). Way to go guys!