The day started with a slow roll over a mist cloaked Williamsburg bridge and along the waterfront to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. For Hal and Ray this was their third trip to the race, Harry and Fergus their second and for Martin everything about this type of racing in the states was new. It was the culmination of 12 months of training and racing and we had travelled a very long way to ride in this bike race.
Racing started early and on a new layout the pace was very very sharp. There were 4 qualifying heats of 80 riders each racing 12 laps with the first 20 riders going straight through to the final and the next 20 having to race their way through another heat for a last chance to make the final.
Hal, Harry and Fergus raced in the first heat up against a number of the favourites for the overall event. Hal sat in the top 15 most race and crossed the line in 10th to comfortably book a slot in final. Harry and Fergus started further back on the grid and despite getting onto the back of the lead group early, Harry came in at 22nd with Fergus a few wheels back. Both riders would have to race a last chance heat to get through.
Martin raced in heat 2 and teased us the whole way sitting at the back of the lead group of 25. We needn’t have worried as he knew exactly what he was doing and picked off riders in the final few laps to roll over in 19th and go straight through to the final in his first attempt at this event.
Ray was in the 3rd heat and got off to a flyer sitting 5th wheel early on. Like last year, Ray played it cool and did enough work to take out 14th and another slot on the grid for the big one.
Next up, Harry and Fergus line up in a truncated last chance heat. Only 5 riders would qualify for the final with the kicker being first place would line up on the 5th row in the final! That was something worth racing for. Both nailed the start with Harry sitting second wheel from the first of 10 laps. Fergus worked with a couple of other riders to get on to the lead bunch but as the pace ramped up, the headwind on the long back straight quickly hurt anyone off the back and eventually Fergus was picked up by the moto.
Harry played his good position to perfection and with half a lap to go, attacked from second wheel and led all comers across the line to emphatically book his spot in the final.
And that was the day time racing done. We were stoked to have four riders in the final, but no-one was kidding themselves about the challenge ahead. Every year the field is stronger and the interest from riders from upwards of 40 countries means there are strong crit and track riders everywhere but to be here and to be competing as a team on the biggest stage in this form of racing on another beautiful New York day was excellent.
To the final...
As the men's event started a spectacular cloud front rolled over New York City and light rain started to fall. Bike riders are never keen to race in the wet. The Red Hook circuit is a mish mash of different surfaces with painted markings everywhere so to race a crit at speed on a tight course with 95 other riders was a daunting prospect.
Harry had won himself a start on the fifth row with his awesome win in the last chance race, Hal was on the 10th row, Ray on the 14th and Martin further back again. But getting a good clip in at the start (on foot has to be on the ground at the start) and being able to drive those first few pedal strokes can make up that deficit in a matter of metres and as the grid launched into the race, Hal and Ray surged through the field to get a good position.
To say the first lap is crazy does not begin to describe the scene. There's a prime on offer so the top 20 riders are racing flat out, the track surface is greasy, the course is lit by blinding spotlights or nothing and everyone else is desperate not to get dropped and lose their race in the space of one lap. The pace was super-hot but within 2 laps Hal had established himself in the lead bunch, while Harry and Ray had gotten onto the back of this bunch.
This group of 40 odd riders was completely strung out for lap after lap as the front riders kept the pace up, unwilling to let any of the name riders get away and it stayed this way for most of the race.While Hal and Harry sat comfortably in the top group, Ray lost the wheel and along with the back couple every lap,drifted back to the chase group.
On his first day racing RHC, Martin, took a few laps to get into his groove and then started working his way through the field. Unlike the 12-lap qualifier, the final is 32 laps, giving some time for the guys on the back of the grid to improve if they're good enough and Martin was certainly that. By 10 laps in he had picked up Ray and set his sights on the main chase group but with the front of the race motoring through lap after lap it was only a matter of when, and not if, the motorbike would sweep up both riders and their race would be over.
With 10 laps to go the front group was under the control of the large European and American teams and in their battle to dominate the pace ramped up each lap.At this point Hal and Harry were well placed to finish but what had been a light drizzle all race long suddenly turned to solid rain coming in at a 45-degree angle. Wind, a seriously wet track, fatigue in the main field and the battle between the top riders all spelled danger and for the younger riders and it became a matter of survival.
To their great credit, Hal and Harry mastered the conditions and crossed the line to complete a 12-month journey to return to the Red Hook Crit and contest the final.
The day was not without some disappointment. Fergus found himself having to do too much in too few laps to qualify for the final and Ray, having placed himself well in the first lap of the final, didn't have the legs on the day to take advantage. But we couldn't be happier for Martin, who showed he can ride really well at this level. And for Harry, who crashed out of qualifying last year, he took a gamble to attack in his last chance race and it paid off in spades. And for Hal, our team leader in so many ways on and off the track (especially his fashion game) and for whom this result has been 4 years in the making. More importantly, for a small family team of two brothers and 3 friends from Melbourne, it was an amazing day racing bikes in a very big event.
Official Hunter Bros Cycling results for the final - Hal #35, Harry #36, Martin #74, Ray #86 – well done boys.
We stuffed our backpacks full, switched the Knog lights to flash, jumped on our bikes (again) and headed out into the steady rain to find our way through Brooklyn and over the Manhattan Bridge to drop our gear at the apartment grab some food on Allen Street and to let our huge day at Red Hook Crit sink in.
To David Trimble and the army of RHC volunteers, thank you for a unique event.To Engine11 and Knog, thanks for being part of the adventure and to all our friends and families back home, thanks for all the love and good vibes - we miss you.