Fixed Gear Crit

BREAKING: Red Hook Crit changes the qualification system

Red Hook Crit just announced a massive change in their qualification system. The notorious Hot Lap system is being changed into a Heat Race system. We had the chance to sit down with the founder and owner of RHC, David Trimble, to get the full details of the new system, the motivation for the change, and the implications that the new system will have for the riders.

Photography: Tornanti CC

Why is the RHC Qualification format being changed?
Ever since we partnered with Rockstar Games and expanded into a global championship the demand for starting spots has far outnumbered available race spots. In order to keep the race open to everyone, we introduced qualifying as a way of earning a spot in the final.

Initially, the timed qualifying sessions were fast but not particularly intense. Qualifying lap times were roughly the same or slower than race lap times so any high-level athlete could cruise through conservatively and still start in a decent position. Nearly all experienced cyclists qualified and the up-and-coming riders just needed to improve slightly to make it into the final.

As the competition rapidly evolved so did the intensity of qualifying. As the speed increased and lap times plummeted the margin for error shrunk exponentially. On the exact same circuit, the fastest time in Milano in 2013 would not have been good enough to qualify just four years later. For many making into the final had become a nearly impossible task.

Athletes began taking increasingly high risks to set a time. The proven tactic was to join a fast train of riders who were all dangerously committed to their lap. If anyone made a mistake it often resulted in multi-rider incidents because reserving any amount of caution was too slow. After every big crash, a story emerged about how incredible that lap was going to be. For many the difference between qualifying or not was determined by how brave they were.

In summary, we felt the current qualifying format had evolved to a point where the edge between success and failure had become too sharp. The RHC has always prided itself on being inclusive of athletes of all abilities, and this door was gradually closing.

Aldo Ino Ilesic on board footage during the Red Hook Crit Barcelona No.4 qualification

Introducing the new format: Heat Races and the Super Pole
The new format is simple; race day will consist of Heat Races, the Last Chance Race, the new Super Pole session, and the traditional Final. Each RHC competitor starts their race day with a 20-minute heat race resulting in earning a spot in the Super Pole session, direct advancement to the Final, another try in the Last Chance Race, or elimination.

The men’s field will be limited to 300 athletes. This field will be divided into 5 heats with 60 athletes each. Athletes will be assigned to their heat race randomly. We will set the starting grid for each heat race based on prior results and our discretion. As it is up to the luck of the draw there is no limit on how many teammates can be in a heat race (team size is still limited to 6 riders).

The heat races will be 20 minutes in length. In Brooklyn, this amounts to 15 laps. The top 3 finishers of each heat will advance to the Super Pole. Positions 4th – 18th of each heat race advance directly to the final. The next 15 (positions 16th – 30th) will advance to the Last Chance Race. Everyone finishing outside the top 30 will be eliminated. Lapped riders will be pulled from the heats.

The winner of each heat race will score 3 championship points.

The heat system will have a lot of similarities with the Last Chance Race

Goals of the new format

To make the event safer
In recent years we have had fewer incidents in the races than qualifying. Instead of railing a corner on the edge of control athletes will now have to pace their efforts over an entire race distance. When there are crashes, the course marshals will have more time to clear the track, which will result in fewer red flags and schedule delays.

To make the race more fun for riders of all abilities
While the RHC has evolved into a more serious sporting event we believe that the race must remain all-inclusive. Realistically making it into the final is not going to be easier but ‘not qualifying’ should now be a lot more fun as everyone will compete in a race. The fact that everyone can now race will accelerate the skill level in the Fixed Gear Criterium world.

To make the race more spectator friendly.
The previous format was exciting if you knew what you were watching but for many spectators it was a dull twenty minutes of riders going around slowly with a couple of bursts of speed thrown in. The new format will be exciting to watch all day. The dynamics of different top favorites going head-to-head in the heats will certainly help rivalries form. The Super Pole session, with all fifteen riders on track at once, will be spectacular.

The new system aims to be more spectator friendly

What is the Super Pole session and how will you set the starting grid for the final?
Initially, the top finishers of each heat race will be on equal grounds, so we need a way to set the sharp end of the (Yvo) grid. To do this, the top 3 finishers from each heat race will contest a 1 lap Individual Time Trial called the Super Pole.

Athletes will be launched before the start/finish line so it will be a flying lap. The time will be taken at the line.

The 15 athletes will start in descending order (third place finishers, followed by second, and then first) starting 3-5 seconds apart. The last starter will go before the first starter finishes his or her lap so everyone will be on track at the same time. In the rare case that someone catches the next rider they must pass which will negate teammates strategizing to help each other.

The format will be simple and spectacular. The fastest time will start the final in first and so on. There will be prize money and 3 championship points awarded to the fastest qualifier.

The men’s Super Pole session will take place right before the women’s final. The women’s Super Pole session will be held directly after the Last Chance Race.

Will the Super Pole session be a disadvantage? Athletes will have another hard effort in their legs before the final whereas riders who make it directly into the final will have a longer rest.
We believe that the more time spent on track is an advantage. The top athletes will get to experience the circuit at roughly the same lighting as the final, and will be able to make final tweaks to tire pressure and gear ratios. The additional exposure for teams and sponsors will be important and the glory of setting the fastest time is invaluable.

According to the rules a rider will not have to participate in the “Super Pole” session if they would prefer to save their legs for the final. If they choose to sit out the Super Pole session they will be lined up starting from 15th.

The same technical rules apply for the Super Pole, so special TT equipment will not be allowed.

How will athletes finishing 4th – 18th in the heat races be placed on the starting grid for the final?
Anyone who finishes his heat in 4th – 18th will advance directly to the final. All 4th place finisher will start on the same row, all 5th place finishers on the next row and so on.

Any changes to the Last Chance Race?
The 19th – 30th place finishers in the heat races will transfer to the LCR. As established the top 10 finishers will advance to the final. The biggest change is that the winner of the LCR will be awarded a starting spot alongside the 15th place qualifier near the front of the grid. The LCR winner will start on the same row as the 14th and 15th. It will now be easier to get back into contention in the Final through the LCR.

What if a top championship contender suffers a mechanical or crash in their heat race? It would be a shame for the championship to be decided in this manner.
One of the advantages of the new format is that all riders now have a more equal chance to make it into the final. This increased equality means that established race favorites will have to work harder. With the previous format, the groups with the race favorites were so dialed that after a single hot lap everyone had qualified for the final.

We have anticipated the scenario where a championship contender suffers a DNF due to a mechanical or crash in their heat race. We do not want these riders to drop out of championship contention, so we will allow anyone with points who suffers a ‘bad luck’ DNF to start the LCR at the back of the grid. This rule only applies to crashes and mechanical incidents and does not cover those who simply finish outside the top 30. We will have checks in place to ensure the legitimacy of the ‘bad luck’ a rider has suffered.

In Brooklyn, those with championship points in 2016 will be eligible to activate this rule and advance into the LCR. After the first round eligibility will be based on current 2017 points.

The women’s field is still smaller than the men’s. How will this format be adjusted for the women?
We are optimistic that around 100 women will register Brooklyn this year. Our initial plan is to divide the women into 2 equal heat races, but this can change with even more entries. If we have more than 120 entries we will divide the field into 3 heats. Based on 2 heats the top 8 finishers will advance to the Super Pole session. The rest of the heat finishers will advance directly to the final. In the case that we have more than 100 athletes those that finish outside the top 50 in their heat will be eliminated.

Is this qualifying format set for the entire year?
We will introduce the new format in Brooklyn and make tweaks as needed based on our post-race analysis and athlete feedback. It is a big change, and there may be dynamics that we don’t understand yet.

Summary RHC New Qualification System

Heats  – Men

          • 300 men total
          • 5 heats / 60 riders per heat
          • Top 3 advance to Super Pole
          • Finished positions 4-18 advance directly to final
          • Finishing positions 19–30 advance to Last Chance Race
          • Finishing positions 31–60 eliminated
          • Winner of each heat scores 3 championship points
          • Athletes placed randomly in their heat
          • Heat starting grid based on previous RHC results and organizers discretion
          • To be a set amount of laps to roughly equal 20 min
          • All general race rules from the finals apply

Heats – Women

          • 100-120 women predicted field size (no limit)
          • 2 heats / 30–60 per heat
          • Top 8 advance to Super Pole (based on 2 heats)
          • Positions 6–50 advance to final
          • Positions 51-60 eliminated
          • Winner of each heat scores 3 championship points
          • Athletes placed randomly in their heat
          • Heat starting grid based on previous RHC results and organizers discretion
          • To be a set amount of laps to roughly equal 20 min
          • All general race rules from the finals apply

Last Chance Race

          • 60 total based on heat finishers 19-30
          • Top 10 advance to final
          • Winner to start final in the top 20
          • To be a set amount of laps to equal roughly 20 minutes
          • Only applies to the men’s race

Super Pole

          • 15 starters based on heat finishers 1-3
          • Athletes to be started 3-5 seconds apart
          • Time take from a single flying lap
          • Athletes can elect not to start the Super Pole
          • Fastest time starts the final in 1st
          • The fastest qualifier scores 3 championship points
          • All the same technical equipment rules apply


          •  100 men start final
          • 100 women start final
          • Races to be a set amount of laps to equal roughly 45 minutes