If social media is your source, then the infamous carnage of Red Hook arguably exceeds all other aspects of the race. What make matters worse is whenever you ask someone what it's like they usually start shaking their heads, fumble over a few words to finally settle with "dude, it's f*cking crazy". In hindsight it makes sense that 30 minutes prior to my morning qualifying heat I found myself nearly shaking with nerves and a pounding heart that made speaking normally almost impossible. I was terrified and clearly I'd lost my edge.
With a year of no racing and 10% of the training I'd ever done prior to starting a season, I had no clue what to expect. My game plan to "be a student of the race" was not only tacky but it backfired and I found myself obsessing over my competitors, their bikes, warm-up routines, and their grins as they wound up their wind trainers in the 80 degree sun. For a moment there I just copied them, completely forgetting everything I've learned over two decades of racing.
I'm not sure if the hollers from other racers toward me in the first laps were from confusion over the persisting neck twitch that I can't seem to shake, or if I was racing as wound up as I was feeling inside. Honestly, I think it was the neck but either way it doesn't matter because 3 laps in I realized this was absolutely nothing like I feared and the nerves completely went away.
Immediately I forgot I was on a track bike, I was there just railing the course like the hundreds of crits I'd done before. Had my lips not been stuck to my dry, dehydrated mouth I'm sure I would have let out a slightly arrogant smirk realizing how unbelievably different things are going to be come Red Hook #2 in London. I qualified 9th in my heat earning me a starting position in 42nd for the big show at 9:30 that night.
The rest of the day was easy. Admittedly I was a bit surprised how fatigued my legs were because I never felt like I went hard in the qualifiers. The Red Hook Brooklyn course is super narrow and technical, similar to the Mandalay Bay Vegas Crit but much narrower in some spots. We just never went that fast (25-27mph) and it was a lot of slowing down and sprinting back up to speed.
The main event would be a whole different story. From the moment the race started it was a spun out sprint into he first 180 degree right turn, then immediately into another 180 degree left turn. Since no one has brakes you have to slow with your legs and often skidding your rear wheel intermittently to scrub speed is the most efficient way to slow down, by the time I made it to the turn I was riding through a plume of tire smoke. It sounds rad, I know, and that's because it is. What it's not though is scary, here's why.
In American crit racing you have to be mindful about the bro in front of you who's going to clip a pedal doing something stupid through a corner, and at the same time you also have to never forget about the chump behind you who's going to try to squeeze past you through a non-existent gap to advance one position. You don't get this in fixie racing as much because everyone has to pedal through all the turns and since slowing down takes so much more time generally people are slotted into position prior to even making the turn. However, it's that slow braking that makes fixie racing scary because you have fewer options in avoiding crashes, and the lack of rapid braking or speed modulation makes bailing out from sketchy maneuvers less manageable.
At one point I felt like all I was doing was anticipating the crash and then moving out of the way to avoid from being caught up in the enviable pileup. That happened about 10 times because I rode 30 guys back for most the race. It's not unlike any other race in that sense, if I was at the front that would happen less.
For a while I struggled with advancing positions. It could be because I'm not super strong right now and I couldn't just wind it up a little faster on the straightaways, and since cornering offers minimal opportunity for movement I only moved up by passing people when they crashed or once it past the 20 minute mark and many riders started to tire.
At 8 laps to go I realized everyone was backing off the gas much sooner before the first 180 degree turn then they had earlier in the race and I found that if I just punched it through that extra 200 meters I could pass bounds of people with not much extra effort. In two laps I was in the company of my teammates and the others composing the top in the field.
Unfortunately, that next lap a bad crash occurred and due to its severity a red flag was pulled and the field was neutralize. We lined up to restart once the riders were safely off the course but all that compounded fatigue and distance between groups on the course that landed the entire Aventon team in the top bunch was instantly gone when we started again seeing 5 to go.
We ended up finishing with a rider in the top ten but I was of no help getting him there. The gun went off and it was like the fight I went through at the beginning of the race all over again. I stayed safe, tested my limits, but rolled in at 28th. I was stoked although I don't think much of that excitement stems from my result but rather the relief that I avoided any and all of the potential outcomes that had me nervous at the start earlier that morning.
I'm so thankful for Aventon bikes for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this incredible team and race series. It's just two months until the next Redhook in London and I'm feeling really good about where I'll be come race day.