The Red Hook Criterium is the world’s premier track bike criterium, since 2008. With four spectacular events scheduled in Brooklyn, London, Barcelona and Milan, the series is unique in that it requires athletes to race multiple laps around a 1km (approx.) technical circuit on brakeless, fixed gear track bikes. Taking cues from international motorsport, athletes begin by competing in timed qualification rounds to establish grid positions for the main event. The finals, traditionally raced at night, are held in front of thousands of spectators at each destination.

Athletes accumulate points for finishing each race, traveling from one city to the next, vying for a position on the championship podium. With the continued, four-race schedule, riders will need to perform consistently if they are to contend for the series trophy with each race bringing its own dynamic throughout the season. The Red Hook Criterium Race Series has grown year on year since its inception in 2008, bringing global media attention, big crowds and increased interest from series sponsors. In 2016, The Red Hook Criterium, having already established firm roots in the cycling community, is ready to move forward again as one of the most compelling, competitive, spectator friendly sporting events in the world.

After three exhilarating races in Brooklyn, London and Barcelona Red Hook Criterium returned to Milan for its seventh year. This is the report, with pictures by Olaf Pignataro

A cool night in the industrial neighbourhood of Bovisa, Milano was the stage for the last race of the 2016 Red Hook Criterium Championship Series. All eyes were on series leader Ash Duban (Affinity Cycles, USA), Kiera McVitty (Why Be Normal?, GBR) and 2015 series champion, Ainara Elbusto (Conor WRC, ESP), to see who could manage their race and take away the ultimate prize of Series Champion. Hot on their heels, however, were 43 athletes determined to disrupt the race including RHC Barcelona No. 4 winner Rachele Barbieri (Cyclance Pro Cycling / Ird, ITA), Gretchen Stumhofer (Aventon Factory Team, USA) and Red Hook Crit veteran Jo Celso (Team Cinelli Chrome, USA).

First blood went to Barbieri who claimed the first lap prime in commanding fashion, creating a small gap between herself and the rest of the field led by Elbusto. Lap 2 and Elbusto, looking very composed, closed the gap and left Ash Duban in the middle of the lead pack and in danger of losing valuable championship points if the race were to conclude in the way it had shaped up in the early exchanges. Jasmine Dotti (Ridewell Oscar Cycling, ITA) took to the front of the race going into lap 3 as the pace settled but a surprise move by newcomer Ilaria Sanguineti (BePink, ITA) created a 4 second gap and forced the hand of Elbusto and Barbieri who chased vigilantly.
Italian riders were well represented across the field with over 30% flying the flag for the host nation, it was inevitable one of them would make an impression and early indications suggested pro rider Martina Alzini (Team Cinelli Chrome, ITA,) as well as Barbieri, could be up to the challenge trading places at the front of the pack and closing any attempted break from their competitors.
15 laps to go and Elbusto made a gutsy sprint through the field to assert herself on the race leaders, but, characteristically, Barbieri responded to nullify the attack taking the lead and governing the race. This would set the standard for the next few laps as challenges from Alzini, Dotti and Sanguineti would be reeled in by Barbieri in what was becoming an all Italian affair at the front.

At this stage it was Great Britain’s Kiera McVitty who made her presence known and led the pack going into lap 12. She had ridden a very smart, and energy conserving race to this point and it was clear she was looking to advance her championship standing.
Despite this, Barbieri, Stumhofer and Sanguineti broke away and as they headed toward turn 9 Barbieri exhibited her now trademark acceleration and claimed her second prime of the evening collecting a total of 6 points before even crossing the finish line.
A gap of over 12 seconds developed and although Ash Duban was left in the chase pack, the three women out front, should they finish in the top 3, would take valuable championship points away from her main competitors – Elbusto and McVitty. But the chase pack, now led by Jasmine Dotti, continued to chase down the race leaders as the sweeper moto began to claim rider after rider behind them.

18 athletes now remained – 3 in the lead group, the chase pack led by Dotti consisting of around 10 riders including McVitty and Duban. But McVitty began to struggle and moved to the back of the pack. This proved to be decisive as she was swept by the moto and retired from the race with no points. The fate of her championship would lie with the performance of Duban, Elbusto and now Barbieri who threatened to claim 2nd place in the championship which she could secure with a win.
The pace appeared to be taking its toll on the chase pack and the gap between them and the lead group was beginning to look unassailable. Elbusto and Duban had each other marked and the next couple of laps would see them trade places at the front of the chase pack. Duban would win the championship if she could keep on the wheel of Elbusto.

Meanwhile, with 2 laps to go, Barbieri and Sanguineti were seen to be discussing tactics. Going into the last lap through turn 4, Stumhofer was forced to put in a strong attack but Barbieri struck right back and powered through turns 6 and 7 continuing her sprint through the finish line to claim first place and, therefore, 2nd place in the overall Championship behind Ash Duban. Sanguineti finished 2nd and would win the Rockstar Games Top Antagonist Award for her continued aggression and stamina in her very first appearance at the Red Hook Crit. Gretchen Stumhofer held on for 3rd place on tonight’s podium.

Milan has always been a fast circuit but qualifying in today’s session suggested this could be the fastest race in the history of the crit.  The course record previously stood at (1:31.53) and that was beaten by no less than 14 riders. Two Italians including Barcelona No.4 4th place qualifier Martino Poccianti (Cykeln Divisione Corse A, ITA) and 2015 series champion Ivan Ravaioli (Team Cinelli Chrome, ITA) set a blistering pace of under 1:30 and claimed first and second on the grid respectively. Despite this effort, series leader Colin Strickland (Allez-Allez Specialized, USA) and teammate series runner up Aldo Ino Ilesic (Allez-Allez Specialized, SLE) were placed third and fourth and looking to repeat their dominance as they’ve done at every race this year.

Ivan Ravaioli sprinted for the first lap prime followed by William Lewis (Dosnoventa Attaquer Team, FRA) led by crowd favourite Mario Paz Duque (IRD Carrera Squadra Corse, COL) who lead the pack going into laps 2 and 3. In a signature break, however, Strickland took the lead and began to set the pace before Olivier Leroy (Aventon Factory Team, FRA) powered up the inside after turn 7 to cross the line with a small gap.  He would ultimately create an 8 second gap and as Strickland receded back into the chasing pack Paz Duque took the initiative. With 20 laps still to go, the race had started with a blistering pace and the onus was on the chasing pack to bridge to Leroy who had consolidated on his earlier break. Paz Duque, Strickland and now Ilesic had all traded places but no-one outside of this group was willing to assert themselves on this race, despite Ilesic urging the pack to do so.

But the hard work paid off and the pack were able to reel in Leroy with Strickland, once again, taking the lead and governing the pace of the pack which, at this point, had strung out into single file going into lap 8. Every rider, seemingly aware that a break from Strickland could spell the end of the race, was sticking to his wheel.  A surge from David Santos (Aventon Factory Team, USA) put him into contention for the mid-race prime as well as spirited attempts by Ravaioli, Paz Duque to keep any breaks at arm’s length. Attacks from Bahumer Racing Team’s Alvise Zanasca (ITA) and Filippo Fortin (ITA) threatened to change the narrative but Allez-Allez Specialized’s Aldo Ino Ilesic set off with them and was able to control the pace as he’s done so many times before.
After these series’ of attacks there was a reshuffle in the pack which presented an opportunity for Olivier Leroy to resurface after his early break. He was able to power past Ilesic to claim the mid-race prime.
The pace once again settled and the pack stretched in single file through turns 7 into the home straight where Mario Paz Duque took to the front closely followed by both members of the Allez-Allez Specialized team.  Paz Duque seemed determined to carve a gap between himself and the rest of the field but Strickland was simply not letting it happen, closing the gap once again and leading from the front going into lap 16.

8 laps to go and the pack was stretched but all were in touching distance of a podium finish. It was only a matter of time before someone made a push for the lead and it was Stefan Schafer (Maloja Pushbikers, GER) who qualified in 82nd place who was the surprise instigator. Emanuele Poli (Supernova Factory Team, ITA) capitalized on Schafer’ break and pulled with him to create a significant gap and with only 4 laps to go Strickland, with Raviaoli close behind, began to stretch out the chase peloton and bare down on the surprise leaders. The leaders’ work began to pay off and the gap increased to over 16 seconds. It was now clear the winner of Milano No.7 would be one of the three riders who had bravely attacked the field and there was a palpable sense of panic in the pack as the script was being rewritten for podium finishers.
Strickland, Ilesic, Ravaioli, Paz Duque pushed as hard as they could but seizing his opportunity, Stefan Shafer kicked on into his own lead and despite visibly hurting from his herculean effort, he dug deep to round turn 9 in the lead and comfortably cross the line in first place.
Emanuele Poli consolidated on his break with Shafer and crossed the line in second place for his first podium finish. Ilesic was able to bridge to a photo finish third place in what was an unpredictably thrilling conclusion to the race and to the 2016 season.