I actually can’t believe that this is the first time I’ve sat down to write more then a few sentences about the Red Hook Crit. There is probably a lot I could write about my personal experience with the race but at this point, but that was four years ago and so much has changed. I know this is cliche, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
So let’s start with the things that have stayed the same. The race is still track bikes only—no brakes. It’s still in Red Hook, Brooklyn on a circuit that more or less resembles the first circuit used here in 2011 (the first year it moved off the street and onto a closed circuit). There are still a lot of familiar faces that raced then that are still racing but that’s really about it for things that have stayed the same. Now, before we move on to things that have changed though I want to say that I don’t want to equate change with bad. Yes, The Red Hook Crit is different now then it was then, but it’s also a better race for it.
This year the race picked up some new sponsors. Mostly I’m talking about the big S. I know Dave has already caught plenty of flack for that move but I can’t fault him for it. He’s in an enviable position among race promoters where companies come to him instead of the other way around. Just like every race promoter he’s got to keep the lights on so he can’t exactly turn down folks just because someone thinks they're not cool or just jumping on the bandwagon.
The race itself is bigger, faster, and flashier than ever. I’m sure the average race speed has gone up. There are only a handful of folks that were competitive a few years ago still racing and judging by where they show up on the results sheet now it’s only gotten more competitive. The field draws a huge European contingent as well as a sizable group of pro domestic crit racers looking for a new challenge. It is interesting to note however that this year’s winner, Colin Strickland, has been racing the crit since at least 2012. Colin has developed since then into a top domestic rider. I think we can add him to a long list of names of folks that showed promise at the crit and then went on to translate that into success at a very high level on the road.
The quality of talent in attendance has improved judging from the size of the lead group over the last few years. Guys get faster year to year but also the race just draws more talent now. For a while I thought it was a bit weird how seriously the race was being taken. But it makes so much sense now. One only has to look up the coverage for the crit and then compare it to the coverage for something like Athens Twilight. I guarantee you no one in Italy knows who won the latter but there’s definitely a more of a great deal of folks there that now know the name Colin Strickland. It makes me chuckle when I hear the “hipster” comments being thrown around mostly because of how inaccurate they are now. But, also because the reality of pro racing domestically is pretty bleak all around with teams and races struggling for money and sponsors.
These problems of domestic pro racing are exponentially worse for the women in the sport. Even less money, even fewer sponsors, and much less coverage. In this realm the RHC is once again doing better. Introducing a women’s field in 2014 with equal prize money and equal support so no more precious male ego’s were crushed by Kacey (who won the very first edition of the race and was a fixture in the top ten for years after). The women race in front of huge crowds with enthusiastic support from the fans but most importantly the race organization gives them as much coverage, exposure, and worth as they give to the men. The Crit is doing what little other professional races are doing right now. It’s growing and providing huge opportunities to all the athletes that come to compete.
Part of what has made the race so successful is of course the person behind the helm. It was always obvious to me that Dave Trimble had a knack for race promotion as well as story telling. The race itself is spectacular but it’s the stories that Dave tells about the race (and occasionally how he embellishes them) that have really made people give a shit. He talks up the Crit like no other promoter I know and it works. In 2013 when I raced the ill fated Navy Yard edition of the race the story he spun about the rivalry between myself and Neil Bezdek was… Well, I don’t want to say exaggerated but it was certainly written out of the context of our friendship. But let’s be real, no one cares about two friends racing each other. But a rematch between two rival champions? Yeah, Dave could sell that. The consequence of this is stress on the athletes. Some people take the attention in stride, some don’t. It was certainly part of the reason why I stepped away from the race.
Even though I don’t want to race and I am certainly a jaded bike racer in many ways, I still like to come back to the crit when I can. It’s always amazing to see friends and competitors and catch up with folks I don’t get to see very often. At the same time walking around a sea of nervous and high strung bike racers I did not at all desire to join them. I was happy running around the course with a camera in hand and taking in the spectacle. Or, as some have written recently, the carnage.
So this is the point in the column where I weigh in on the crashes. Honestly, while I was at the race it didn’t seem like anything extraordinary had happened. When the now infamous moto crash happened. It didn’t seem like a big deal. The racers went to get warm and spin around. A few folks did have to catch rides in the ambulances but that’s pretty normal bike racing. The organizers were stressed but they were prepared. At the time, on the ground the issue that concerned the racers was actually getting the race going again as soon as possible while everyone waited for ambulances to arrive so the race could start with a full compliment of them on stand by.
It was only after I had gone home that I saw the footage of the crash and the immediate condemnation from the internet peanut gallery. Folks jumped to a lot of conclusions really fast which is what the internet is all about. Public opinion rallied quickly against the Crit, the driver of the moto, as well as the racers them selves for taking part in race. The sheer volume and negativity really bummed me out. Especially when I step back for a second and think that just a few weeks ago Antoine Demoitie was killed while racing Ghent Wevelgem (brakes and UCI sanctioning and all). The outrage was there for sure but no one was going to be awarding professional racers the darwin award any time soon.
My own thoughts about the incident really boil down to the fact that David Trimble and his race staff take rider safety and input so much more seriously than any race promoter I have ever dealt with. The moto drivers have been driving in front of the race to keep the racers safe since 2012. That moto ran lead for three other races that day with no issue. It was an accident plain and simple and one that I've seen happen in many road races. Shit I have lost count of how many times I’ve had to maneuver around a stopped moto official or pace car that has stopped on the course for whatever reason in the middle of a Crit.
In conclusion, that crash sucked like every other crash in every other bike race sucks but it sure as shit wasn’t Dave Trimble’s fault or the racers who were racing their bikes just like they always do. Personally, I can’t wait to see how this years battle’s that started in Brooklyn a week ago play out over the next three rounds in Europe. How will the larger European teams respond to the surgical precision of the Specialized Duo? Who knows? But I do know that a lot of people are really excited to find out.