Fixed Gear Crit

The 2017 Red Hook Criterium season of the Aventon Factory Team “a RHC win is what we really want”

The 2017 fixed gear crit season is done and dusted. Now it’s time to look back and evaluate the good and the bad of the season. As the Red Hook Criterium series are by far the most prestigious series in our sport, every top team has their season tuned on good results in it. Basically, the results achieved in the RHC season makes or breaks the season for the top teams. The first evaluation is on the Aventon Factory Team. With Eleonore Saraiva they won the overal RHC 2017 series in the women’s field. On top of that, the team won the Team Classification in both the men’s and women’s field. However, a single Red Hook Criterium wasn’t won. We talked with team manager Sean Burke to see how he judges the performances of his team in 2017 and what his plans are for the 2018 team. 
Text: Brian Megens

Highlight of the 2017 season:
“Dominating the podium in Milan. We spent a lot of time up there that night. That also made me realize that we can have a successful RHC season without winning a race. I honestly didn’t think I could be happy about a RHC  season without a win. An honorable mention goes to David Santos winning the Red Bull Last  Stand race in San Antonio, Texas. There is nothing like winning a race. Between those two nights, we finished off the season on a high note.”

Disappointment of the 2017 season:
“Not winning a RHC. Taking the women’s individual, as well as the men’s and women’s team competition helps with that though.”

How did you select the riders for the 2017 season?
The 2017 team mostly consisted out of the 2016 riders, with 2 additions. Isaac Howe for the men, and Eleonore Saraiva for the women. I actually met Isaac at a Christmas party at David Santos‘ house, in December 2016 and we spoke about the RHC series.    He had retired from pro racing 2 years earlier, and was  interested in some new athletic challenges. RHC has given Isaac a  renewed vigor for cycling competition, and he’ll be even more motivated for next year. With Eleonore, it was a bit different. The morning of the 2016 Milan race, Olivier Leroy asked if Eleonore could race for the team the following year. I said “ possibly, let’s see how she does today” then Eleonore qualified first and I pretty much decided right then and there that she would be part of the 2017 team.

Sean, who himself comes from the US (geared) crit scene, often gets new riders for the team from that pool. However, it is not as easy as it seems to scout good cyclists for fixed gear crits. “It’s really tough to identify new riders that fill succeed at fixed gear crit racing. You can’t just take a fast road crit rider and drop them in there. Look at riders like Daniel Holloway or Justin Williams. Those guys are some of the best crit racers in the US, but failed to produce anything at RHC. The thing is if you give a rider a chance, there are only 4-5 races to figure out if  they are going to produce. Then the season is over, and you have to start all over again.

On the question what Sean has learned from the 2017 RHC series, “I learned that Aldo is beatable, but really I learned that the level  of competition is going to just keep on growing.  That may be a good thing for the RHC series, but could be bad for individual teams. I mean it’s great that a Pro Tour rider shows up, but if 10 of those guys show up, then the rest of the racers are gonna have a bad time. Racers all want to enter a race that they think they can win, and many of  the men and women that are top fixed gear racers now may lose interest if they are constantly getting destroyed by pro-tour  level riders.

On the performance of the team Sean can only be proud. “Honestly, I think we did almost everything right this year. The only thing I would like to do differently is to have a few more strong women on the team. Eleonore was the only woman  that was able to make it to all the races. If I could get Eleonore, Sammi, Esther and one more strong rider out there, we would be a  huge force in the women’s race. I would love to get Gretchen racing again, but she’s in med school and probably won’t be back for a while. That being said, if any proven women are out there looking for team for next year, feel free to reach out.”

It is obvious that one rider from the team surprised Sean the most. “From my own team, the obvious answer is Eleonore, but to be honest, I wasn’t that surprised. The thing that surprised me the most is that 2 of the  men’s races finished in bunch sprints. At the beginning of the year, I predicted that there may never be a bunch sprint again. That Aldo Ilesic had basically figured out the formula for how to win a technical fixed gear crit, and that the players would change, but that would be how almost all RHC races men’s  would be won.

Red Hook Criterium Brooklyn No. 10
Brooklyn was a bit of a mixed bag. We go to every single race to try and win in it. I was happy that Eleonore found the podium and took the overall points jersey,  but I was really disappointed about the men’s race. We weren’t present in the race, and we didn’t affect the outcome one bit. I wasn’t happy, and let the guys know it. They weren’t happy either. They didn’t fly 3000 miles to be pack fodder, they went there to win. If we go, and everyone gives their best effort and we still lose, then I can accept that, but when we go and don’t give our best effort, well, that doesn’t cut it.

Red Hook Criterium London No.3
Honestly, London was a mess for us. Santos was crashed out in qualifying, after seeing the video, I was expecting more punishment of the rider that caused it, but nothing came of it. Sammi crashed out, Olivier flatted out, and all of the guys except Isaac hit the deck at least once that day. Luckily Eleonore saved the day again with a 2nd place and held on to that leader’s jersey. While the guys actually did worse than they did in Brooklyn, I felt like everyone gave what they had to give, and I was glad no one was seriously injured.

Red Hook Criterium Barcelona No.5
I honestly expected us to win a race in Barcelona, especially after Eleonore and Esther rode so well together in the qualifiers. I think that if Esther did not get a flat, or even if Raphaele Lemieux had not flatted that the raced may have played out very differently. If either one of those women had been there to chase the breakaway, and I think the break’s chance of success would have been much lower. But with Rapha out it was up to Eleonore to do all the work, and the others were either unable or unwilling until it was too late, and they were all racing for third. They guys were all riding great going in, but Olivier crashed on the last lap, Tristan Uhl ran over a crash with 8 laps to go, unclipped, and lost a bunch of places. David Santos managed to get 4th after doing possibly more work than anyone else in the race. David Santos crashed in qualifying, got back on his bike, chased and still qualified 14th. That means he started over halfway back in the final and burned tons of matches to get back up to the front.

Red Hook Criterium Milano No.8
We had a lot to defend going into Milan. Eleonore was almost sure to win the overall, but anything can happen. We also had a good lead in the women’s team competition, and I knew both Eleonore and Esther could get some points. The men’s team competition was another thing though. Bahumer, and I believe Specialized were within a handful of points of us. Of course, the best way to win the men’s team competition is to win the race. But I also told the guys to work hard for every single point they could get. In the end, we easily won that competition as well. Our individual and team wins, plus the primes, the Superpole and the top antagonist award gave us reason to celebrate, and I have no problem telling you that most of us stayed out all night. A few of the riders went straight to the hotel breakfast the next morning.

Overal on the season
Obviously, we would have loved to have won a Red Hook Crit. Olivier and Eleonore won several smaller races, and David won the Red Bull Last stand, but an RHC win is what we really want. We’ve been close on several occasions, but haven’t won one in two years. I think we’ve shown that the team has what it takes to win, and all the key players are returning for 2018. We just have to have a  day where everything goes our way.

Despite 2017 being such a good year, Sean has no time for celebrations and is already looking forward to next season. “Aventon is committed to funding the team and we are working with a few new sponsors to add to the mix. The key riders are all returning, and that leaves us with at least 3 men who are capable of winning,  David Santos, Olivier Leroy, and Tristan Uhl. Isaac Howe is super motivated as well, 2017 was a building year for him and I expect him to do better in 2018. Eleonore will go into 2018 as our women’s team leader and I’d like to make sure she had strong riders to work for her in 2018. Even though we didn’t win an RHC, 2017 will be tough to beat. I think a win or two will be the only way for us to best 2017.”