In 2008, I organized the first ever Red Hook Crit to celebrate my 26th birthday. As someone who came up with one foot in traditional road bike racing and the other in unsanctioned urban alleycat races, I wanted to create a competition that would combine the physical intensity of road races with the amazing rivalries and spirit from the urban cycling scene. Despite the modest turnout at that first RHC event in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the atmosphere was intense and the race was a memorable one, with Kacey Manderfield pulling ahead to victory in a tight sprint against her male rivals.
Seven years on, Red Hook Crit has become a New York City cycling institution and spread across the Atlantic, with additional races held annually in Barcelona and Milan. RHC events pit world-class competitors against one another, racing on brakeless track bikes, with thousands of spectators cheering them on. This year, we’re excited to be hosting our first Women’s Criterium and introducing a field of future women cycling champions.
Regardless of how much time you’ve spent in the saddle, I’ve put together this guide to explain Red Hook Crit race essentials and highlight top competitors to watch at the upcoming event.
Red Hook Crit No. 7 will be held on Saturday, March 29th and is free to attend: more info on location, schedule and volunteer opportunities is available at redhookcrit.com.
[Featured image © Eloy Anzola]
The “crit” in Red Hook Crit is short for criterium. Criteriums are cycle races held on short courses with multiple laps, usually lasting less than an hour, with a focus on speed rather than endurance. The Red Hook, Brookyn criterium course is a ¾ mile circuit with a number of tight turns — including a 180-degree hairpin and high-speed chicane — making for a very technical ride.
RHC races are unsanctioned, meaning there’s no “official” cycling organization overseeing or ranking the race. Beyond being unsanctioned, what sets RHC races apart from more traditional urban criterium races — like the Harlem Skyscraper Classic — is the requirement that all riders have brakeless track bikes. That combination of speed, a technically difficult course and brakeless bikes makes for an intense race for competitors and spectators alike — think of it as a Formula One for cyclists, pitting riders against one another tooth and nail while pushing them to their physical limits.
Crit riders navigate technical turns at speeds exceeding 35 MPH © Eloy Anzola
Red Hook Crit brings riders come from all over the world and nearly every discipline of cycling. Since its inception, four Crit winners have gone on to sign professional cycling contracts.
From the men’s field, perennial favorites are Neil Bezdek, overall winner of last year’s Red Hook Crit events, and Evan Murphy, who placed second in three separate RHC races. A big factor this year will be riders coming from warmer climates (warm weather training through winter months gives them a huge advantage): Columbia’s Mario Paztuque, Spain’s Pablo Rodriguez and California’s Rainier Schaffer are all riders to watch in 2014.
With the women’s field, it’s a totally different story. There’s no established hierarchy there. We’ll be starting at page one on the women’s side, which is one of the most exciting elements of this year’s event. This could be a career-making race for some of the women riders and one for the RHC history books.
At the victors' podium (from left): Cooper Ray, Marc Marino, David Trimble, Neil Bezdek, Kyle Murphy and Al Barouh © Conan Thai
The most important rule for riders is to ride within their own ability level. As organizers, we’re taking as many safety precautions as possible to ensure their safety. Riders are given race rules, a course map, a list of technical requirements and general notes in advance of the ride. We’ll have a medical team of five paramedics and two ambulances on site in case of injury.
Red Hook Crit race qualification was borrowed from the motor sports world. Registration is capped at 250 riders. Those 250 riders are then broken down into six groups of approximately 40 riders. Each of those riders gets 20 minutes within their group to set their individual qualifying lap times, with the top 85 advancing into the race.
Crit rider Steve Frattini navigates a turn © Eloy Anzola
Scoring & Strategy
The race is 24 laps long and for most riders the Crit is a sustained sprint, with the top three finishers claiming a place on the winners’ podium. Riders who are lapped get pulled from the race, with as few as 20 of the original field of 85 cyclists crossing the finish line.
Riders can score extra points by winning a “prime” — a race within a race held at the first and twelfth lap; first lap prime competitors often form their own niche in the race, but twelfth lap prime winners often end up first at the finish line.
Best Way to Watch
Get there early to get a good spot for the main event. An added bonus of staking out your spot is that you get to catch the Red Hook Crit 5K foot race — featuring some world-class runners — and the qualifiers for the bike races.