The pressure and expectations for team Specialized/Rocket-Espresso were extremely high at the start of the 2017 season. The team had to cope with the legacy set by the legendary couple Colin Strickland and Aldo Ino Ilesic who won 3 out of 4 Red Hook Crits, the overall RHC individual and team series. However, the man taking these individual victories, Colin Strickland, left the team to start his own squad. Nevertheless, with the team increasing from 2 to 4 riders, Stefan Schafer, Alec Briggs, and Eamon joined the team, on paper they had the strongest team of the field. Another change for the squad was that Specialized/Rocket-Espresso started to compete with a woman, Carla Nafria. In the first Red Hook Crit she represented Aldo’s team Crit-life but in the last RHC’s she was fully part of the Specialized/Rocket-Espresso team. The team started superbly with Stefan Schafer winning Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn No.10 and the big question after the race was who would be able to stop the team. Now we know that the team would ‘only’ take 1 podium spot in the remaining 3 Red Hook Crits and their best man would qualify 9th in the overall series. We talked to Chris Riekert, the team manager of Specialized-Rocket Espresso to find out how the brand rolled into the Red Hook Crit circus, how he looks back on the elevating season for the team, the highlights, disappointments, and the plans for next season.
Text: Brian Megens
With Chris being on the West Coast and me being in the Netherlands we had to do the interview via a Skype call. After some emails back and forth we set a date and time for our Skype call . I call him and within the first 5 minutes of our conversation, I already heard at least 7 notifications of emails being received by Chris.
Chris Riekert is a very enthusiastic cyclist himself who competes on the road bike in local races every now and then. His body shows that he’s in a good shape and probably he wouldn’t get noticed if he would stand on the start grid of Red Hook Crit final in a skinsuit. However, the man is not about racing fixed gear crits but all about making sure that riders from the Specialized/Rocket-Espresso team have everything they need to perform well. This sounds almost like a full-time job but he actually does this ‘on the side’ as most of his time Chris spends working in the Specialized headquarters in California as a Brand Concept manager wherein he is responsible for attracting new U40 cyclists to the brand. However, he does admit that he could use some extra manpower in his daily tasks.
The first year for Specialized in RHC was in 2016 “I got in touch with David Trimble (RHC race director) and together we had to idea to bring Specialized in to also take the race on a higher level artistic wise. We started with 2 riders (Colin Strickland and Aldo Ino Ilesic) and besides the amazing victories they achieved, what I am maybe most proud of is that they basically introduced team tactics to the Red Hook Crit” Chris explains. Regarding the critique that the brand sometimes gets Chris is straightforward, “If people aren’t complaining about what you are doing then you are doing something wrong.”
Overall the team achieved 1 RHC win with Stefan Schafer (BK No.10) and 2 podiums with Aldo Ino Ilesic in the same race and Alec Briggs who got 3rd in RHC L No.3. In comparison with the 2016 season, this might be not the result hoped for. However, Chris is proud of the team. “It might not the be the same calibre of results as the year before but I am really proud of what they did. Each race had a really cool story. Stefan winning in Brooklyn, Alec’s perseverance in London, and then Barcelona with the crashes. In my eyes, the four of them were crowd favourites. I also have to credit Aldo as we probably wouldn’t have continued to the 2017 season if it wasn’t for his efforts. Regarding Carla, I don’t know what to say, I mean she was unbelievable, she raced rock steady it was just such a shame for her that in London she crashed in the last straight.
“In Brooklyn, I was bummed to see Aldo go down, but so stoked to see Stefan take home the win and Carla taking 3rd place. In London, Alec’s 3rd place felt like a win. The low point was sitting with Eamon until 4 am in the hospital. In Barcelona, they were going all for the win, all or nothing, not happy for a 3rd place. Alec going into the last corner risking everything gives him a hero status to me, the mentality of all or nothing. I hope to have Alec on the team forever. In Milan, we had a rough start but we wiped our asses off to chase. Carla (Nafria) came out of the RHC as 4th in the RHC overall standings/ She has been the most rock solid athlete of our team all year.” Says Chris when briefly summing up what happened for the team in the RHC’s this year.
On the question what the biggest disappointment was of the year Chris is clear. “That we didn’t come to an agreement with Aldo. I am very disappointed that he is so angry, I am personally bummed about that.”
Regarding the plans for next year, Chris shows big ambitions, especially regarding the women’s field. “Let’s get some characters and elevate what the whole community is about. I want to add some women on our team, and ideally, introduce them to the sport. My biggest dream is to see 300 women at the start of a Red Hook Crit all competing to make it into the final. Anybody reading this article and want on the team, contact Carla.” Says Chris with a big smile on his face. “For the men’s team we want to stay with 4 riders and with Aldo leaving and Stefan, Alec, and Eamon staying we have a spot open.” Now we know that the team succeeded in getting big characters on board with attracting Raphaele Lemieux and Justin Williams.
1 hour after we started the Skype call, and at least 20 incoming emails for Chris further, the interview is done and we both can both go back to continue our daily tasks and I think I know what Chris will be doing for the next hour.