The sounds of ringing cowbells will soon greet Greenwich Peninsula, signaling a much anticipated party. Everyone is invited, so long as you’re down for a party, eating good food while watching some of the world’s most talented cyclists embrace pain without fear on brakeless bikes.
The event is known around the globe as the Red Hook Criterium (RHC), the world’s premier track bike criterium, which returns to London for the second year running, having travelled to New York City, Barcelona and Milan as a four-part championship series. In the next round this Saturday, thousands of fans and curious bystanders will crowd the Peninsula to see unpredictable drama unfold up close.
Urban cyclists, professional road racers and track specialists from nearly 40 countries are coming together to earn a reputation as one of those bold enough to take part and succeed in the RHC.
The exhilarating momentum happens around a technical circuit – designed by US-based architect and cyclist James Trimble – that takes advantage of the landscaped Peninsula park and The O2, allowing spectators to stay close to the continuous action.
Riders will navigate quick and challenging turns across multiple laps while racing just inches apart from one another. This is partly what makes the Red Hook Crit so engaging and suspenseful.
The race’s cultish nature has drawn in professionals for the past few years, including at this year’s edition in London, which will feature 2012 Olympic gold medalist Dani King. And of the 250 men and 54 women set to compete with King, these athletes are expected to shake up the competition and put on a show worth coming to.
ALEC BRIGGS (U.K.)
A local Londoner who moonlights as a DJ, Briggs has made three appearances in the RHC, including the first London edition in 2015 where he finished 13th overall, luckily recovering from a broken collarbone caused by a crash at another Red Hook race.
An unflinching Briggs returned to the RHC in Brooklyn earlier this year and used his speed to navigate his way to a seventh place finish overall.
He’s yet to hit his full potential, but London No. 2 could very well be the opportunity. “It will be a lot more intense than Brooklyn. I think a lot of people have a few things to prove,” Briggs said. “The level seems to up and up each race. There’s loads of pros and big hitters. It’s an honor to race with them. It’s even more fun to have a crack at beating them.”
COLIN STRICKLAND (U.S.)
The winner of Brooklyn No. 9, Strickland is no stranger to being on top of the podium. He enters the London field in first place in the championship standings and with two consecutive RHC titles under his feet – the first one dating back to Milan in October 2015.
Strickland had counter-attacked with 11 laps remaining and held steady, taking advantage of a 14-second lead to cross the finish line first.
His power, strength and endurance carried over to Brooklyn No.9. Despite delays at this year’s Brooklyn race, when the men’s event was twice delayed due to mass pileups, Strickland never lost focus. He attacked mid-race, taking the lead until the finish, when he crossed the line 25 seconds ahead of second place.
The Texas native, whose day job is a consulting environmental scientist, will again compete alongside teammate Aldo Ilesic of Slovenia as they look to tag-team a dual podium effort.
IVAN RAVAIOLI (IT)
A former professional rider, Ravaioli has twice claimed RHC titles, one in Brooklyn in 2015 and the other in Barcelona in 2015.
He finished second to Strickland at Brooklyn No.9 earlier this year and will look to take first position in London, as he aims to defend his championship series title.
At age 35, he has more racing experience against the field. Ravaioli competed professionally on the road and on the track for several years and he once won a bronze medal in the team pursuit at the junior world championships in South Africa in 1997.
Before his RHC debut in Milan in 2014, he described the RHC as a “crazy thing”, but was intrigued enough to enter the mayhem and bring forth a second-place effort overall.
Ravaioli’s experience as a former world tour professional makes him a top contender, says Red Hook Crit race director David Trimble, adding, “He is a master tactician.”
DANI KING (U.K.)
A three-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist, King makes her RHC debut as the most accomplished rider in the women’s field. A talented veteran racer, King won gold in the women’s team pursuit at the 2012 Olympics in London. She’s a fresh threat in the women’s race, with the potential to finally end the winning streak of Spanish rider Ainara Elbusto, who has dominated with five RHC titles since 2014.
“I’ve seen YouTube clips and just thought ‘wow, that’s crazy’,” King said of her initial exposure to the RHC. “When the opportunity to ride came up, I went for it. I think the racing is going to be frantic – flat out from start to finish and highly competitive.”
The 25-year-old from Southampton made the switch from track to road racing in 2015 and was just seconds from claiming a bronze medal in the Team Time Trial at the 2015 World Championships in Richmond, Virginia.
Earlier this year King claimed fourth overall at the Santos Women’s Tour in Australia, unshaking her competitive resolve after she recovered from a life-threatening crash in a training ride in 2014, where she broke several ribs and suffered a collapsed lung.
“My highest expectation is to finish toward the front of the group,” King said of her RHC debut. “I could really struggle, as it’s a new event to me. We’ll see. I’m certainly looking forward to it.”
AINARA ELBUSTO (ES)
Elbusto has claimed five women’s titles in seven starts since her debut at the RHC Barcelona No. 2 in 2014, including London No.1 in 2015. She enters the London edition as a race favorite looking to keep her momentum since she won Brooklyn No. 9 in April, which featured the largest women’s field ever.
Elbusto, a professional track cyclist since in 2010, is known for her aggressive approach to racing, willing to go on the attack when bigger teams attempt to control the pack. Her first RHC win brought international recognition to the 23-year-old, who is from Zurukuain, Navarra, Spain and hails from a lineage of cyclists that includes her father and brothers.
While her sprinting ability isn’t her strongest asset, her perceptive racing tactics are partly what make her a consistent threat. Elbusto also has more than a decade of cycling experience, having started in the sport at age 11.
Her serious dedication – she trains about five days a week – will only grow her potential and possibly sustain her elusive command against her competitors.
“She is so strong and so skilled that she makes it look easy,” David Trimble said. “If you watch her closely, you realize that she is a student of the crit. Every possible detail has been thought about leading up to the race.”
FLEUR FAURE (FR)
Fifth in London in 2015, Faure will again bring her aggressive approach to the Peninsula, where she’ll aim to redeem her performance from Brooklyn No.9. In April, she was expected to contend for a spot on the podium, but crashed during the final lap, putting her out of the race entirely.
The 23-year-old finished second to Elbusto in Brooklyn in 2015 and also in Barcelona in 2014, her RHC debut, which she made after having only one month of fixed-gear experience.
A professional road racer from the south of France, Faure switched her training earlier this year to focus on preparing specifically for the RHC. Whether or not she can push her way to the top remains to be seen.
“I like to be brakeless and to fight with the best girls,” Faure said. “It doesn’t intimidate me.”
The Red Hook Crit returns to Greenwich Peninsula on Saturday 9 July.