Red Hook Crit Brooklyn No. 11

I’ve been racing road bikes for almost nine years; since I was 16 years old. You know, the kind that shift, coast, brake, etc. So, when I received a phone call from my teammate, Johnny Corcoran, asking me if I would be interested in participating in this year’s notorious Red Hook Criterium in Brooklyn, New York under the flag of an up and coming local bicycle manufacturer, I couldn’t resist the opportunity.

For those who don’t know, the Red Hook is one of the world’s toughest and most dangerous cycling events. Riders participate in heats throughout the day riding fixed gear bikes - no gears, no coasting, no brakes - in an attempt to qualify for the feature event in the evening under the lights on a sinewy, technical, and arguably extremely dangerous race course.

I used to lambaste fixie riders, criticizing them for their reckless obsession with these bikes that were seemingly inferior to those that I had come to know so well. It was incomprehensible why someone would want to speed along out of control to inevitably be taken out by one of a million apparently obvious risks. But, then I rode one for the first time, and my perception changed almost immediately. Our sponsor, Kingdom, provided us with a soon-to-be-released model called the Elska, and within only a couple rides I quickly began to understand why people thought they were so fun. As a team, we spent the six weeks we had to prepare for the Red Hook getting to know these wild, “raw” machines, and by the time we arrived on the East Coast, I think we all felt at least some sense of preparedness. That confidence would be short lived, however.

Race day was Saturday April 28th. Back west it seemed like everyone with a fixation for two wheels was either up in Prescott, Arizona for the Whiskey Off-Road or out in Southern California for the Dana Point GP, both highly prestigious events in their own right. But, at Red Hook we felt like we were participating on one of the biggest cycling stages in the world. The first round of qualifications went well for exactly 50% of our squad. Johnny navigated through the field from almost 60 riders back to secure a top 20 and automatic qualification for the feature race in his very first go. Christina Hashimoto just missed an automatic qualification herself in the initial women’s heat, but easily moved along in what Red Hook calls the Another Chance Race (ACR - although it’s really your last chance). Jace Kuyper, perhaps the nicest human being on planet Earth, and I started the first round men’s heat number two together, although before the race was even three-quarters completed we had both exchanged pleasantries with the tarmac. Officials kept Jace from restarting, but I was allowed to chase on for a 34th/80 finish, which secured me a fourth row start in the ACR.

The Men's First Heat on board with Johnny

 

I was a little shaken after my authentic and abrupt introduction to big-time fixed gear racing, but I found a way to psych myself up for the ACR. After completing some minor repairs to our bikes, Jace and I warmed up and found our way to the starting grids for what we hoped wouldn’t be the last time this year. The race began, but almost immediately came to a pause as what must have been a pretty spectacular crash blocked the road and required a hiatus. After the restart, a rider who had created a small six-second gap began again with his advantage intact and only grew it to the finish line, leaving effectively only four qualifying finishing places available (only the top five out of the remaining 60 riders in the heat move on to the finals in the ACR). Jace and I almost instantly established ourselves within the top ten riders in the remaining 10 laps of the race. We were both feeling confident that we would have the ability to move on if we kept it up, but with two laps remaining we found out that that probably would not be the case. 

As a rider’s tire blew in the apex of corner two, about ten of us experienced one of those “oh shit” moments on a very dramatic level. As can be seen in the picture below, Jace’s day was brought to an immediate close. I somehow managed to find a space between where the gentleman who in the photograph is currently upside down and rider to his right end up about two seconds later. Unfortunately, the time it took me to realize that I was still on my bike and that I had not just ruined my shorts allowed six riders up the road with a pretty unassailable gap. I took the sprint from the group that had reformed around me for eighth place, but in the end I came up just three positions short.

Picture credit to Nicholas Groll

 
 

The Women's Another Chance Race on board with Christina

 

In the finals, both Johnny and Christina rode in a manner they should both be extremely proud of. Neither of them finished, but with starting positions so far back in fields that at some points literally spanned more than half of the course at full speed, they definitely did the best they could have hoped for. Our whole team, including Andre Abreu, the founder of Kingdom; and Nick Wilson, our dedicated photographer, learned immensely over the course of this trip. I think it’s safe to say we’re all hooked, no pun intended, and all want to return next year with even higher expectations. Obviously, SLM Coaching deserves a shout out and thank you as well. Without John Salskov orchestrating my training, there is no way I could have had the legs to even think I had a shot. See you in 2019, Red Hook.

The Men's Final on board with Johnny

P.S. Johnny is far too humble, so the team and I will do it for him. During his frantic chase from the back of the field to the front group during his first heat qualifier, he scored the Strava KOM for the new course. While the big names were busy marking each other at the head of the field, JC was busy going to crown town, so who’s the real winner?

 

To be continued...

We’re working on a little RHC trip documentary about the whole race to provide everyone a more in depth perspective on the journey. Stay in touch via all of our social media platforms to see it first!

 
Jake Spelman