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See also the report written by: Lodovico Pignatti Morano
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By Neil Bezdek:

“Is it OK if I race with a video camera on my handlebars?”

I shouted that question over a boisterous crowd moments before the start of last Saturday’s Red Hook Criterium in Milan. Beneath me was a borrowed fixed-gear bicycle, and I didn’t want to upset the owner by tacking a bulky camera onto his gorgeous minimalist frame.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Antonio Colombo, owner of Columbus tubing and Cinelli bikes and of my machine for the evening.

“Just win!”

The Red Hook Criterium is the most stressful event of the year for me. This is no routine park race. The hype’s been building.

With its offbeat format—a nighttime crit raced on fixed-gear bikes with no brakes—the Red Hook draws athletes from all walks of sport and throws each a curve ball.

Roadies like me have to adjust for constant pedaling and limited gearing. Track riders learn to negotiate changes of speed and tight corners in a dense pack. Fixed-gear messenger types contend with athletes who treat their bodies as if they were science experiments. Even the most seasoned racers have to deal with something new.

For weeks, online forums have been lit up with speculation and trash talking about the course and how pre-race favorites—who don’t usually race against one another—would stack up. Milan’s locals had been meeting on the course to train, test and re-test different gear ratios in an effort to find the fastest. There was the ever-growing list of prizes. The media coverage made the race feel like an all-or-nothing contest.

And in some ways it is.

The Red Hook happens just twice a year, in Brooklyn in the spring and in Milan in the fall. Unlike a lot of other races, there’s no event the following weekend to offer redemption. The outcome bolsters or haunts each racer for half a year. And after taking second place in the last two races, let’s just say the monkey on my back had worn a deep, painful groove.

As our 80-rider field rolled off the start line, it hit me that the next hour would be the most important of my three-week trip to Europe.

All during my stay, I’ve been aware that I’m essentially a representative of my country and its cycling community. So I’ve striven to be a polite guest. In theprevious week’s granfondo, for example, my aim was to show the competition that America can produce a skilled, etiquette-abiding cyclist.

But on the Red Hook Crit course, that mindset got thrown out the window.

After agonizing over this race for months, I had one concern: winning. No fun. No mercy. A diplomatic Dr. Jekyll replaced by a bloodthirsty Mr. Hyde.

In the end, the pressure lifted and my normal demeanor returned moments after I crossed the finish line, in first and just inches ahead of last year’s winner.

The relief was immense. And not just because I’d won. With the race over, I could relax and enjoy Europe.

Note: The Red Hook Criterium has been an astonishing success, and not just because it generates a great deal of hype and suspense. The event brings together cyclists, fans, and photographers who would never cross paths otherwise. While the occasion for the event is the race itself, it’s almost a distraction for the participants. To travel halfway across the world, stay in Europe for three weeks, and focus entirely on the outcome of a 45-minute bike race, well, that’d be an enormous waste. Strangely enough, now that the race is behind us, we can enjoy the best parts of it.


Race stats and ranking:

TIME: 43.01
Average speed: 45.20 / 26.84 mph average
Fastest lap Neil Bezdek 2:14 48 kph / 30 mph average
1st Lap Prime Neil Bezdek
2nd Lap Prime Neil Bezdek
1. Neil Bezdek 43.01
2. Jon Ander Ortuondo ST
3. Alexander Barouh +01
4. Francesco Martucci +01
5. Danilo Borroni +01
6. Chas Christiansen +02
7. Tommaso Nolli +02
8. Nathan Trimble +03
9. Paolo Calabresi +05
10. Kacey Manderfield +05
11. John Taki Theodroacopulos +05
12. John Kniesly +05
13. Gabe Lloyd +06
14. Alessandro Stabilini +06
15. Marcello Scarpa +06
16. Giorgio Vianini +06
17. Riccardo Perego +07
18. Enrico Pezzetti +30
19. Giovanni Luigi Bocchi + 1:38
20. Ferdinando Pertusio + 1:38

Editing by Lab8
Cameras and footage provided by Chris Thormann
Onboard Neil Bezdek's bike
Race stats provided by David Trimble

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