Photos: Chiara Redaschi
Intense. That’s the only word for the Red Hook Crits. Races are held on tight city circuits, riding track bikes with fixed gears and no brakes, and it’s flat out all the way. Even if you have the legs there’s little room to pass and crashes are commonplace. No other form of road racing comes close and the front runners are specialists with immense power and astonishing handling skills.
You would imagine, then, that graduating to this level takes years but, if you’re brave enough, anyone can enter and attempt to make it through the heats and such inclusivity is part of the Red Hook charm. Few, however would be so bold as to take it on in their first season, yet that’s exactly what Sami Sauri did last year. Twelve months later, she’s fresh off an 11th place finish in the final of the series-opening Brooklyn round on her newly ENVE’d-out Legor, still giddy with excitement at the result and thoughts of what may be possible in the future.
“The final was very crazy,” Sami tells us. “I started 16th on the grid and did a good first lap – I was up into the top five – but then there was a big crash just behind me and we had to restart with two laps less. I tried attacking but couldn’t hold it and just managed to get back onto the lead group and I finished 11th, my best result yet in Red Hook.”
“When others go around the outside, I go to the inside.”
April’s race in Brooklyn was the event’s tenth running and the anniversary was well celebrated, though Red Hook’s transition from the underground to the mainstream was long since completed. For the past four seasons RHC has held further races in London, Barcelona and Milan, all hot spots of the fixed gear scene, and has attracted big name sponsors. For Sami, though, it was the course that appealed the most: “I love Brooklyn because it has two hairpins which makes it really technical. When others go around the outside, I go to the inside. London and Milan are really fast with no tight turns.”
Fixed gear crit machines are essentially track bikes, with very steep geometry, horizontal rear dropouts and nowhere to mount brakes or gears even if you wanted to. Purpose built frames such as Sami’s bespoke Legor – made for her by good friend Mattia Paganotti with graphics by personal sponsor Brilliant Unicorn – use an even higher bottom bracket to increase cornering clearance.
Sami’s new track bike runs a complete ENVE assembly of stem, seatpost and Compact Road Bar. Because track hubs use 24 spokes front and rear to satisfy the huge loads, Sami’s wheels are built with two rear 4.5 clincher rims to make an incredibly taut, responsive and fast set-up. “It’s all super stiff,” she says. “The bike feels like it’s just one piece, it all works together. I love it!”
After seven years of riding fixed gear bikes on the street, Sami’s first taste of fixed gear crit racing came in 2014 when she was still living in native Barcelona. “A friend leant me their Dosnoventa, their shoes, everything. I did the first few turns in the front and then died. I said never again. But I went to New York with a friend to race Monster Track (a famously tough alley cat street race) early last year and really got the bug again. Straight away I entered the Red Hook races. It pushed me to train harder but I had a problem at almost every race – illness, injury, mechanical… Finally Milano went pretty good and I was about 25th in the final.
“For me this year is about finishing every race well. Barcelona will be special as it’s my home race, then Milano will be the hardest because it’s so fast and it’s the last one so everyone is pushing really hard and has their best level. If at the end of the series I can stay in the top 15 overall it would be really good.”
We wish Sami the very best of luck for the rest of her season. Find out more about the series and check out video highlights at www.redhookcrit.com.