The fourth and final part of the Red Hook Crit series took place in Milan on October 10. Four Thundercats flew out to race: Dimi, Henry, Michael and me (Jess). Of the four of us Dimi was the Red Hook veteran having raced London and Barcelona this year, Henry and I had raced London and it was Michael’s first Red Hook and his first fixed gear crit.
Spirits were high the day before as the global fixed gear community descended upon the piazza of the Duomo – a breathtaking Gothic cathedral in the centre of Milan’s oldest district – where hidden underneath was an underground bar where the rider registration then pre-party took place. We bumped into fellow British teams East London Fixed, Full Denim Jacket, WHY BE NORMAL?, 5th Floor, KYCU Velo and Pedlas as well as making a few new friends. After a conservative number of drinks we found a place to fuel up for the following day (read: eat pizza).
October 10th dawned with gloriously sunny Milanese weather and we arrived at the Red Hook team area mid-morning. Most of the other teams had gazebos, vans and chairs already set up. Having only flown over with bike boxes and hand luggage we set up shop in an empty parking bay with a few of the other UK teams. Most of the boys were in qualifying group 3 so it wasn’t long until it was time for them to start warming up in the Tacx rollers area.
The course in Milan was less technical than London, it was wider with more forgiving turns although they still punished any rider who underestimated them. The new qualifying rules of 10 minutes untimed riding to learn the course followed by 15 minutes timed to record a fastest lap helped minimise crashes from overenthusiastic riders gunning it from the start (looking at you ELF!). Dimi clocked one of the fastest laps in the session, putting him at 7th place in the overall standings. Henry and Michael became separated and had to attempt their fast laps solo which inevitably meant their times weren’t as good and they finished below the cut-off for the men’s final race but still in contention for the last chance race.
Dimi’s top time was gradually eroded away as the rest of the qualifying groups went through and Henry and Michael’s hopes for the last chance race were snuffed out. Eventually Dimi was pushed below the threshold for the men’s race by 0.10 seconds and into last chance race.
Group 2 was the women’s group and I lined up with 41 other women at the start. All of us would qualify for the final race but our fastest lap time would determine our position on the starting grid. David Trimble counted us down. We set off and I tried to follow the line of the more experienced girls around the course. Being the most comfortable riding in circles on the velodrome I’m the first to admit that I’m not that confident at taking corners at speed and my qualifying time showed it with a mediocre 28th place.
Between the last qualifying session and the women’s final race was the last chance race for the riders ranked 86-150 in the qualifiers to battle it out for the final 10 places in the mens race. You can smell the determination in the air as these strong riders, pride stung from having missed out on automatic placing by less than two seconds in most cases, go full gas from the start, intent on setting things right.
Dimi stayed with the front group for the first part of the race, but when a red flag went up after a crash and he slowed thinking that the race would be restarted, the rest of the group carried on and he lost his place, ending up in 37th place after tiring himself trying to bridge. London friends Dan Coops (Full Denim Jacket) and Owen Blandy (ELF) had better luck, working their way up through the race to 13th and 18th place respectively and Alex Blomley (5th Floor) showed his form by nabbing 7th and a well earned ticket to the main race.
After a break it was time for the women’s race. I was UTTERLY unprepared for the instant, balls out sprint as soon as the flag fell and after the Cinelli Chrome rider in front of me boxed me against the side of the course I ended up even further towards the back of the bunch than my crappy 28th start position almost straight away. The peloton strung out and the fastest riders started to gain distance. I did my best to make up time and on every straight section I leapfrogged riders ahead of me until I was at the very front of the chasing group but my continued caution on corners made any chance of bridging to the front futile.
In our chasing group only Instagram friend Hannah, Janine (WHY BE NORMAL?), Kelli (Cinelli Chrome) and myself took big turns on the front and halfway through I realised with a bit of pride that I was throwing myself around previously terrifying corners without even thinking. Eventually we scooped up Kym Non Stop (Aventon) who had been dropped from the first group. She evidently recovered because she attacked on the last lap, dropping the rest of the group but I managed to follow her and despite my best efforts to outsprint her on the final straight – spinning so hard my front wheel was bouncing off the ground – I finished half a bike length behind her in 23rd place. I’d hoped to improve on my 19th place from London but it was a good race and hi-fiving the crowd on the last lap of the track made me feel like a rock star so I was happy.
In the men’s final race we cheered on the 5th Floor guys and our friend Michael Stromberg aka Yankee Shitbag, a former NLTCBMBC rider who was sent back to the US for stealing our jobs and now rides for his NY bike shop’s team NYVARK. But mainly we cheered the poor guy who in an early crash ripped his skinsuit in a very unfortunate place and was haunted by hysteric chants of “CULO! CULO! CULO!” around the whole course. Culo is Italian for bum, FYI.
And with that the racing was over and the rest of the night was dedicated to celebrating a fantastic event. It was a perfectly organised day and so exciting to be a part of it. Chapeau David Trimble, it takes something pretty special to bring so many people together from around the world, including lazy Londoners who normally wouldn’t bother leaving the capital, let alone fly with bikes to another country to race. Bringing Red Hook to London this year has completely invigorated the fixed scene in the UK and created a huge appetite for fixed gear crits which didn’t really exist before. There’s now more and more conversations happening to get crits happening in London and across the UK which will hopefully come to fruition early next year. Watch this space!