Words: Maria David
Last Saturday was the second edition of the London round of Red Hook Criterium series. This international high adrenaline discipline is very much at the sharp end of racing. Imagine riding a track bike in a town centre criterium. That's exactly what's involved.
No brakes are allowed, and there are corners, hairpins, and narrow stretches of road to contend with. If you needed to add to the heart pumping excitement, you’ve also got loud thumping music, spectators cheering, lively commentary and lots of cowbells to egg you on! That’s Red Hook in a nutshell. You can even repeat it all again as there are rounds in Barcelona, Milan, and Brooklyn to race as well and as the races are not attached to cycling federations, no racing licence is needed.
The social aspect of this sport sounds great, but the racing sounds… exhilarating at best, and a little scary if we’re honest. Why would you want to risk life and limb getting involved in these exploits? Well, 50 women and 280 men did so at the Red Hook circuit races on the Greenwich Peninsula and they came away really energised and buzzing.
“The race was absolutely amazing! I had been apprehensive about what it would be like, especially as you are racing with no brakes, which is scary." - Dani King.
In particular, team pursuit Olympic Champion Dani King, who was making her debut at the race, after failing to make the Team GB selection for Rio. She had a storming race, too. The WiggleH5 rider obliterated the field, which included world fixed-gear champion Jasmine Dotti from Italy. Speaking at the end of the race Dani said: “The race was absolutely amazing! I had been apprehensive about what it would be like, especially as you are racing with no brakes, which is scary." After a number of laps in a breakaway that included Jasmine Dotti and series leader Ainara Elbusto of Spain, King launched herself off the front and lapped the field, much to the excitement of the large crowds on this breezy Saturday evening. Commentator Gabe Lloyd, described King’s performance as an “impressively dominant performance" and also praised the way the way that the British had got behind Red Hook when it is just in its second year.
So why did the mere mortals line up to take part in this more challenging aspect of cycle racing? I quizzed these not-so-faint-hearted women about their motivations...
Imogen Humphris, Aged 27, Artist, London
Speaking to my team mates they reminded me what it’s really about – which is about challenging myself but not beating myself up afterwards.
I was in two minds about Red Hook as it’s not normally the kind of racing I do. But speaking to my team mates they reminded me what it’s really about – which is about challenging myself but not beating myself up afterwards. We came here to push ourselves and have a really good time. I do track cycling so am more used to going around in one big circle. Having all these corners makes it challenging. The pressure of competing against an Olympic Champion is you don’t want to be the rider who gets it wrong and knocks them out! We really enjoyed this and are thinking about doing the rounds in Barcelona and in Milan.
Hannah Raymond, aged 29, New York City, Dog Groomer
I rode on a random bike borrowed from a friend. I am glad I made it round unscathed!
I live in New York city and as I’m riding on the streets all the time that’s very technical, very dangerous, lots of fun….so Red Hook is right up my alley! The Brooklyn course and the London course are technical, but there were three hairpins at Brooklyn. There weren’t any hairpins on the London course but there were three really tight turns one after another and there is a stretch of the course that is pretty bumpy with pot holes. Also in London the course is tighter so there is not a lot of room. It was super technical. Furthermore, my bike didn’t show up in London so I rode on a random bike borrowed from a friend. I am glad I made it round unscathed!
Jo Smith, aged 29, teacher, Canterbury
There’s none of this seriousness like you get in a road race or track race.
I ride a bit of everything. I’ve done loads of road racing for a couple of years and this year I’m doing track. But really I’ll race anything with wheels! Red Hook is really exciting. It’s a one-kilometre circuit lined with people cheering you on the whole way round. You are racing against people from around the world, and it’s just fun. There’s none of this seriousness like you get in a road race or track race. Being a teacher I couldn’t get to Brooklyn in a weekend, but I did London and Milan last year. Our women’s team is great. We are called “Whybenormal", which sums us up - we just come to the races and enjoy ourselves.
Sami Moreno, aged 23, Surf Monitor, Barcelona
I like to race for fun.
I like to race for fun. I have been racing my track bike on the road for a few years in Spain and at first these racers were not so serious and not so many people were doing it. But now so many more people are doing it and even serious racers are turning up! I started racing at Red Hook this year and Brooklyn was my first race. It was really cool and laid back so I decided to do the other races. The London circuit today was a bit crazy though, as there were a lot more crashes than in the other races I do, so I needed to pay more attention.
Alex Diem, aged 28, PhD student, Southampton (originally from Germany)
This is harder than riding in a velodrome as you have to slow down for the corners and then suddenly pick up speed
I recently started riding on the track with my university track cycling team, and I also like riding my fixie around the streets. I had known about Red Hook crits for a while and decided to give this a go. It’s fast and lots of fun, but some of the corners are quite dodgy so in the qualifying round there were quite a few bad crashes. This is harder than riding in a velodrome as you have to slow down for the corners and then suddenly pick up speed. I definitely want to try Barcelona and Milan, though this would be next year as I am preparing my thesis.
Jasmine Dotti, aged 23, professional racer, Milan (second place rider)
I knew Dani King would be very strong so I consider that I came first out of the “mere mortals"!
I got into racing fixies when a guy I knew said to me “you really should try it". I immediately felt in my groove and loved it. I have done many fixie races on the road, including the World Championships in Berlin which was 42km, and I won it. My first Red Hook crit was in Milan last year and it was great. I am pleased with my result in London as I knew Dani King would be very strong so I consider that I came first out of the “mere mortals"! I have raced in London previously at the Ride London GP and the Tour series when I raced for Velosport Pasta Montegrappa, and it’s wonderful to be here.
Keira McVitty, aged 22, Art and Design student, London
I think that more roadies should try and do Red Hook and prove that they’ve got the balls!
It was insanity and a wish to do something fun that made me enter Red Hook. It’s a mad adrenaline race, and so different from any other race. Red Hook is the extreme element of cycling and I like this because it’s like a fixie holiday. Unlike the other races I do on the national circuit, I don’t train for this or even ride a fixed-gear bike around town. Socially it’s a really amazing event as you see people from so many different places. I am really pleased that Dani King is supporting this event. I think that more roadies should try and do Red Hook and prove that they’ve got the balls! The London race was more technical than at Brooklyn but I wanted to give it a good go for the fans!
Anna Usabiaga, aged 26, professional racer, San Sebastian
I crashed when I was trying to get a good time in the qualifying round...
I am a track racer and race in a lot of competitions around Europe. I decided to do Red Hook as it helps me in my other races. But today was not good because I crashed when I was trying to get a good time in the qualifying round. It was quite windy and I had doubts about my gearing and the pressure in my tyres. My first Red Hook was in Brooklyn this year, so I am still learning. I preferred Brooklyn because it was wider, which is better for a beginner. I look forward to learning more and racing without crashing!
It was amazing to race in front of a home crowd with people cheering my name all around the course.
Some students in the local college built and designed a fixed-gear bike as part their design and technology project, and the Red Hook Crit was the ideal to race to try it out. Even though my bike handling skills are okay I was still so so nervous before the event, especially when I saw the names of the people on the start list. I also wanted to do a good job on the bike for the kids who spent so much time and effort building my bike. Once I started the practice laps I loved it, and it was amazing to race in front of a home crowd with people cheering my name all around the course.
Meghan Kane, aged 26, Software Engineer, New York
At Red Hook you get to meet people from all around the world and everyone’s really friendly.
My boyfriend recently got me into crit cycling though I needed an extra push to do a Red Hook crit. It’s a little scarier than other races, with all the corners. I have been cycling for a long time but I started training for this just three months ago. All the sharp turns means you need a lot more technical handling than in other types of racing. It’s definitely high intensity racing! I was happy I didn’t crash, especially as all of the crashes happened right in front of me! When you ride on a course like this you have a special sense of alertness. At Red Hook you get to meet people from all around the world and everyone’s really friendly. Someone helped me change my cog before the race. It’s such a nice community.
Think you've got what it takes to get involved and have a go? Check out the series website here.