With the dust somewhat settled since the final rider crossed the line, trophies awarded, accolades heaped and the penalty report filed, it was time for PeloBros to reflect on the carnival that was the Milano No7 RHC.

A crowd numbering in the thousands had collected even before the qualifiers were underway, the smell of Italian coffee (strong enough to stand a spoon up by itself) and grilled octopus panini drifting across the concourse of an industrial district of Milan, chatter drowned out the senses. Castelli and the RHC organisers had flamboyant stands selling the sponsored kit and souvenirs, athletes on turbo trainers lined the streets in the team areas.

The qualifiers were the most agressive element of the day, with qualification dependant on results from the best lap, the technique is to ride hard for a lap followed by a couple of recovery laps over a 15 minute period. During the hot lap a no holds barred approach is standard, with other riders and corners taken with enthusiastic competitiveness, during this phase were some spectacular crashes and several athletes whizzed off in ambulances. Thankfully no lasting injuries were reported but sadly a few beautiful bikes are in need of burial at sea (see penalties).

66 women qualified for the women’s race, and from a pool of 315 entrants 96 men were on the start line for the cool evening of the races, and with a hammering of cowbells distributed by RHC organisers, whistling and the roar of appreciation the race started. The women’s race was first, and although the pack started as one and initially intent matched energy, after about 15 laps a lead of almost 12 seconds had developed by a trio of professionals led by Rachele Barbeiri (IT -Cylance Pro Cycling / Ird Carrera Squadra Corse). Purely as a spectator this made the race feel slightly flat as for the remaining five laps the gap only widened and it felt some of the pack’s momentum drained. However full credit to the final podium winners who in addition to Barbeiri in 38.13.760 included second place Ilaria Sanguineti (IT – BePink) and third place Gretchen Stumhofer (USA – Sventon Factory Team) who came in a shade under a third and half a second later, for their incredible riding, stamina and grace. Sanguineti won the Rockstar Games Top Antagonist Award for her competitiveness and stamina in her first appearance at the Red Hook Crit.

The mens race made off to a similar start, a din to raise the dead and a rising sense of excitement of the spectacle about to unfold. Large groups of spectators collected at every corner, cow bells ringing incessantly and the Specialized support team hammering the hoarding as a synchronised response to every time the seemingly unstoppable Colin Strickland tore through the final straight (his dominance even spawning the tongue in cheek hashtag #stopcolinatx). But it wasn’t to be, as if by agreement the entire peloton aggressively pursued Strickland, counterattacking every move and rotating pressure. He eventually lost the lead and struggled to regain it despite some valiant attempts. The race continued its blistering pace and by lap 20/26 Stefan Schafer (Maloja Pushbikers, GER) who qualified in 82nd place had secured a lead achieved in a breakaway two laps before. A perfectly timed move from the pro, who in digging deep and keeping composure never looked likely to lose his spot, despite some heroic stabs from Emanuele Poli (Supernova Factory Team, ITA) who finished second. Strickland’s teammate Ino Ilesic (Allez-Allez Specialized, SLE) ran in behind which at least gave the the Specialized tub thumpers something to celebrate.

An exhilarating and unexpected finish to a magnificently executed event, congratulations to the incredible competitors, sponsors and teams, but particularly to David Trimble and the RHC organisers, this one is marked for big things.

 

 

text by PeloBros/cover image Stefan Schäfer by @olafpix blackblk.com