No extra “Yahoos within the Avenue”: The Brooklyn race attracts prime cyclists

David August Trimble first hosted the Red Hook Criterium in March 2008 on the sleepy streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn, with about 15 cyclists on bikes for a velodrome. It was informal and unapproved, with little vision for the future.

“The first year it was just, ‘How do I make a race that is super fun and get people to come to my birthday party?'” Said Trimble.

But Trimble, who has a background in auto racing, ultimately focused on making racing an annual event.

“In my head was the idea of ​​creating Formula 1 cycling,” he said.

Trimble’s goal is to create a spectacle despite grumbling that the race is breaking away from its roots.

On Saturday night, a warm breeze carried Trimble’s voice from the booming speakers over the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal as he counted down the start for 100 riders in the 10th Red Hook Criterium, now a popular fixed-gear cycling race known as the Red Hook Crit .

The event is no longer a chaotic street race, but is held on a winding, slightly more than a kilometer long, closed racetrack with tight chicanes, curved bends and high-speed straights.

Kacey Lloyd won the first Red Hook Crit and participated in several other competitions. He was often in the top 10 of a coed event until 2014. Lloyd, who is now overseeing the race’s website, welcomed the development of the race.

“It’s not just a bunch of Yahoo on the street anymore,” she said. “There is so much more structure. Some people think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s awesome. “

The planning eventually became so time consuming that Lloyd and Trimble stopped attending the event.

Red Hook took an important turn in 2013 to become a better-oiled, professional event when Rockstar Games, a video game company, was signed as title sponsor. In previous years, registration was limited to 100 drivers, based on availability, and there were no qualifying races. The sponsorship enabled the organizers to accept additional contributions.

That year, starting with the inaugural race in Brooklyn, the critic expanded to a series of four races. From 2010 to 2012 competitions were held in Brooklyn and Milan. With additional resources and a growing interest in fixed gear races, a stop in Barcelona and a second race at the Brooklyn Navy Yard were added. (The Navy Yard event was a one-off race, and a race in London was added in 2015.)

By 2014 there were enough cyclists to start a women’s division. This year’s reviewer had 279 men and 69 women to complete qualifying. The top 100 men reached the final, while there were 60 places in the women’s final.

What began as an underground night race among friends at the intersection of Richards and Dikeman Streets, now attracts some of the world’s best cyclists.

The 2017 field included Colin Strickland, the winner of the 2016 series, who achieved three race victories with the Allez Allez-Specialized team. Callum Skinner, track cycling gold and silver medalist for Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics; and the retired World Tour rider Francesco Chicchi from Italy. Francisca Campos, a former Olympic mountain biker from Chile, returned to Red Hook after finishing ninth in the 2016 women’s standings.

Trimble, 34, said he wanted to keep the race open to everyone, but admitted that increasing levels of performance made it difficult for everyone but the top riders.

“When we started, the top athletes were national course champions,” he said. “Now they are gold medalists.”

The Red Hook race has also resulted in similar fixed gear criteria in the US and Europe.

“You can’t talk about fixed gear racing without talking about the Red Hook Crit,” said James Grady, founder of San Francisco’s Mission Crit. The Mission Crit held its fourth annual race a week before Red Hooks and attracted some of the same drivers.

Zach Morvant, who took on Mission and Red Hook, said there was more emphasis on preparation than ever before. Morvant focuses on interval training, improves the handling of his racing bike and pays attention to nutrition.

“Drinking a beer before a race, that doesn’t happen anymore,” he said.

The increased participation meant adding structures such as qualifying runs and time trials to determine the starting position. More racers also led to a greater focus on safety and track design. Red Hook has been criticized for the risk of fixed gear bikes riding a multi-cornered route at speeds in excess of 35 mph without braking. A competitor had a broken jaw in 2013.

“I incorporated a lot of motorsport safety into this race,” said Trimble. “Like the way we use course marshals, how we use flags, and how we use fall protection.”

In 2015, Trimble began working with Liam Worthy, a London cycling consultant who worked in the 2012 Olympics.

Some precautionary measures include applying grip tape to areas of the track prone to tire slip and creating look-throughs at corners with small orange concrete markings to reduce the risk of hitting the metal barriers that enclose the track.

After each run, Worthy drives the course to observe conditions and make adjustments. His team of marshals is positioned along the route and uses flags to communicate safety risks, just like in motorsport.

However, crashes are inevitable. Several occurred on Saturday, with the hardest in the men’s final with five laps remaining on the red flag to allow medical staff to attend to an injured driver.

The future of the Red Hook Crit will depend on reaching more viewers and keeping them busy for a full day of racing, Trimble said.

“Whenever we choose a venue in another city, we really think, ‘How can this grow?'” He said. “The goal is to make cycling races viewer-friendly.”

The Red Hook race has built partnerships with food and beverage manufacturers, and a five-kilometer race on the bike course was introduced in 2012. Live streaming is a likely next step in expanding the critics’ audience.

“When you are here in person, you can feel that energy,” said Lloyd. “We need to figure out how to actually get close to this on a screen from a distance. Getting it right is a very expensive process. “

The organizers have already broadcast the race on jumbotrons at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal – just like in Formula 1.

The costs associated with cycling races are often insurmountable. The Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, which began in 1985, was canceled this year due to lack of funding.

Trimble doesn’t downplay the financial obstacles.

“It might go on or not,” he said. “We have to take steps to make it work. It gets more expensive every year. “

The last race on Saturday had the two outliers Strickland and Stefan Schäfer from Germany. Schäfer, the only driver to beat Strickland in the Red Hook series in 2016, took the win on the last lap. A budding rivalry could be a good thing.

“I think it has great potential,” said Trimble. “I think we have the right formula.”

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