Milan was our last chance to get a Red Hook Crit win in 2016. There is always a little extra pressure when you know it is your last shot. So while we always have a great time traveling to these European races, the tension that comes with that pressure was definitely there, but this was honestly our best chance all year. Gretchen was coming off a season of pro road racing, and is probably the fittest she has ever been. Sammi also had great legs and after missing Barcelona, Kym was ready to rock. Our men’s team was also the best it’s ever been. David and Olivier were riding great as usual. Tolley was fully recuperated from his broken collarbone, and Tristan was getting better every time he entered a fixed gear race. The trouble started before we even left the US. I got a text from Sammi that she and Tristan were going to miss their international connection due to a mechanical problem and 2-hour delay on their first flight. Just before my flight took off for Milan, I asked them to let me know their flight status and I kept my fingers crossed. In the end, they arrived 12 hours late and without their bags. An extra 12 hours of walking around and sitting in airports is murder on the legs, at it makes the jet lag even worse. The added stress of wondering if your bikes are going to make it isn’t exactly helpful either. This is why we always arrive at least two days before the race. We had some time, but you never know if the airlines are going to get you your bags the next day, or 3 days later. In fact, at the London RHC in 2015, Gretchen’s bike never came and she qualified as well as raced on one of the men’s bikes. Racers typically pack their shoes and helmets in their carry-on bags, that way if a bike doesn’t make it, they can beg, borrow and steal to get a bike to ride for the race. But neither of them had a full set of shoes and pedals so we would just have to hope the bikes came. That wasn’t the only equipment problem, as Kym arrived with a broken spoke, and her front wheel was basically unrideable.
Friday morning we woke up and went to work at putting out our various problems. Tristan and Sammi worked on locating the bags. Santos would check our nearby bike shops and try to get Kym’s wheel fixed, while I would handle some other race prep items. Luckily everything worked out about as painlessly as possible. David got the wheels fixed, I got the last minute prep handled, and T and Sammi took a Taxi to the airport to pick up their bikes. With everything working out smoothly, a few of us rode across town to open up the legs, and have lunch at Bar Luce. The bar was designed by filmmaker Wes Anderson, and definitely has a design ethos to match his movies, and the food was delicious. By the time we returned to the hotel, Olivier had arrived by car and T and Sammi had their bikes built and ready to go. So from here we rode around town and picked up race packets. On the way we stopped to check out the cathedral. It’s also known as the “Duomo” for the large dome in the middle. It’s a spectacular piece of gothic architecture, that was started in 1386, and wasn’t finished until 1965. That isn’t a typo, it took nearly 600 years to build this cathedral, and even now, there is always some sort of construction or repairs going on. Tourist and locals alike hang out in the square in front of the Duomo, and the people watching is almost as spectacular as the building itself. After the Duomo, packet pickup and a short stint at the pre-party, it was time for dinner and bed. As usual, I went to the race venue early to set up our tents in the team area. The team arrived a few hours later to prepare for qualifying. Santos and Tolley were first to qualify in men’s group two. David put in a solid lap time early on, and I gave him a thumbs up so that he knew he could finish up his qualification attempts and save the legs for the final. Tolley’s hot lap was interrupted by a stoppage in qualifying and he hadn’t yet put in a good lap. So we decided that David would “lead out” Tolley on a qualifying lap, allowing Tolley to sit in his draft and then come around near the end to set a fast time. I’m keeping an eye on the timing to see who has qualified where, when I notice that neither Tolley nor Santos has finished a lap, and they should have come by over 30 seconds ago. Then there is another stoppage in qualification. In my mind I see red fleshed, broken bodies and the broken bikes of my riders. Fuck.
A member of the race staff is standing nearby and has a radio, so I ask him if any of the fallen riders needed an ambulance. He lets me know that there won’t be an ambulance, so I feel a little better. Next thing I know, Tolley comes around the corner riding Dave’s bike and wearing Dave’s shoes. Tolley had hit the deck at 35MPH and his bike was a mess. Dave remained calm, and since he had already posted a good time, he gave Tolley his bike and shoes. Now Dave comes running around the corner carrying Tolley’s bike. Tolley has a bike, but we have only a few minutes before qualification begins again, and we have switch timing chips. I ran back to the team area to grab scissors and zip ties. I cut the timing chips off both bikes, and put Tolley’s chip on Dave’s bike. Tolley goes out there and puts in a hot lap, good enough to ensure he makes the final, and we are both happy enough to give a full on man hug. Tristan and Olivier qualify without incident, and we wind up with 3 riders in the top 20. Tolley did well qualifying 63rd on a borrowed bike and shoes. The women qualify well, and Gretchen was our top qualifier in 4th place. We had a few hours to get some food and hydration, as well as get Tolley’s bike running again.
The women’s final, as usual, started off fast. The race was dominated by Italians, who comprised over 30% of the field. The Italians really wanted to win on their home soil, and we knew that Barbieri would be tough to beat. She has the fitness and the finishing speed that few riders possess. At about 12 laps to go, Gretchen found herself in a break with Barbieri, and Sanguineti (both Italians). Sammi did an excellent job playing the teammate role by discouraging the chase, and the gap grew quickly. Soon enough, it was clear that everyone else was racing for 4th. Gretchen racer and as fit as ever. She looked comfortable riding in the break with the other two, and I knew we had a solid chance at the win. With a few laps to go, and the front group confident that they wouldn’t be caught, the breakaway slowed a bit as riders began to think about the finish. Gretchen knew she would have to contend with Barbeiri’s finishing sprint, and the other two were speaking to each other in Italian, likely discussing how to give the American a 1-2 punch. With half a lap to go, Gretchen laid it all out on the line with a vicious attack. The hope was that the Italians would look at each other to chase, and Gretchen would get a big enough gap to hold it for 40-60 seconds. It wasn’t to be, as Barbieri clawed her back, and unleashed that finishing sprint to finish 1st, with Sanguineti 2nd, and Gretchen 3rd. As the field came charging out of the last corner, Sammi accelerated past many of the other riders, got 5th place, and the last spot on the podium.
The men’s race started off mind-blowingly fast, and was strung out single file from the start. Olivier charged hard and got a small gap almost immediately. He stayed away for several laps, but at this point in the race there were too many fresh riders, and he couldn’t hold it. About 8 laps into the race, Santos and Colin Strickland opened up a small gap and pushed hard. This was exactly the type of move we wanted, but the hard charging field quickly shut it down. Olivier was now rested up from his early move, and used the momentum of the field to launch a sprint for the mid race prime. From here on out, the men had to try to get some rest, and just look for the right breakaway to insert themselves. With about 10 laps to go, I hear Tolley yell “ Tristan!” as he goes by. I see the pack go by again, and I don’t see Tristan. Shit. There is no race stoppage, so I assume that he has hit the deck, but isn’t injured too badly, and there is nothing I can do at the moment. So I stay and watch the race for now. With 8 laps to go, the duo of Stefan Shafer and Emanuel Poli open up a huge gap. The field was tired and it grew quickly. If something didn’t happen quickly, the two riders would be gone. But the Poli and Shafer had timed their move well, and had been hiding for most of the race. They powered away as the field lacked the speed to catch them. Shafer and Poli finished well clear of the field, with Ilsec winning the field sprint for 3rd, our best finish was 12th, and Tristan was off to the hospital with a broken collarbone. As usual, I was hoping for the win, and I know our riders and equipment are fully capable of producing it. We just have to have a race where things go our way. We had to settle for 3rd and 5th in the women’s race, but we also took 3rd overall in the men’s team series standings, as well as 3rd in the women’s team series standings. We are already working on the plan for 2017, and we still have the Red Bull Last Stand in San Antonio before our year is completely done. We’ll be sending Gretchen, Esther, Sammi, and Kym to that one, along with Joaquin, and Tolley. Tristan won’t be racing as he will be healing from his broken collarbone. Wish us luck!
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