Red Hook Crit Milano

Life on Two Wheels

By: Cal Weisman, Living Sport Milan 2018 Participant & Student at Bradley University

“Move, Move, Move. Get out of the way,” I hear Kacey hollering at the top of her lungs to the cyclists looking for their starting grid positions. Subconsciously I immediately follow her lead, not sure what’s going on. Soon, I see. The race had just started and like dominos, a mass of cyclists in the middle of the pack crashed to the ground, tumbling on top of one another. The crowd is gasping. We are sprinting onto the course only to turn our heads and see in the distance behind us, the front group of riders, zooming around the corner at more than 35 MPH into the straightaway to end their first lap – right where we are standing. The race had been called for a restart, but the riders rode through the stoppage warnings.

ZIP, ZIP, ZIP. “They are getting closer,” Kacey yells out as we hear the sounds of the approaching bikes. Meanwhile, the majority of the 80 cyclists in this third qualifying heat are lining up to restart in the middle of the start/finish line area. Kacey seems calm like she has seen this exact scenario play out a million times. I am however terrified for the danger of what is about to happen. Nevertheless, the energy is intoxicating. This is a sight to be a part of. With not a second to spare, we move the riders enough out of the way for the front riders to pass through. Safety at last - PHEW! Those are ten seconds that will be forever ingrained in my mind.

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When I heard from a fellow employee that Kacey’s role on race day was to “put out fires wherever necessary,” I wasn’t sure what that entailed. In that ten-second sequence of events, I clearly understood the reason, and saw the respect she commanded among her Red Hook Criterium colleagues. As a more than ten-year professional cyclist who won the inaugural Red Hook Crit in Brooklyn, New York in 2008, today, Kacey serves as the Assistant Race Director of the Red Hook Crit. Needless to say, she knows a thing or two about bike racing. As part of the Living Sport program, I was given a golden opportunity to shadow her throughout the event, serving under her direction in race control. We were tasked with guiding the athletes through the logistics of this high-speed, highly competitive race. 

When starting my role on race day, I recalled event management advice I had been given in the past, that no matter how busy you get behind the scenes, “What the audience will see is a world-class event.” My goal that day was to take in as much as I could from Kacey and other Red Hook Crit staff members about the sport of cycling and event management. Panos Sinopoulos - a business development leader from Athens and the Red Hook Crit Volunteer and Logistics Coordinator - provided pivotal information to us that day, “Ride it out. Enjoy the highs, stay aboard through the lows.” I took this to heart and used it as my mentality when approaching unfamiliar situations in this fast-paced environment. Which were many, considering we were communicating with athletes and spectators who spoke little to no English. 

Working this event flashed my mind back to all of the cycling experiences I’ve had in my life up to this day. I grew up in a family that loves to ride bikes, including competing in triathlons (my Mom!). I learned at a young age that races are about so much more than biking. They are about passion and purpose. I understood this even more during summer 2017 when I interned for Pedal The Cause, a fundraising cycling challenge for cancer research based in Saint Louis, Missouri. At Pedal, I learned about all things bike-related: riding, fixing, distances, terms, etc. I joined in team ride days where we spent 30 miles talking, laughing, bonding and feeling a sense of accomplishment together. Most importantly, I experienced moments that wouldn’t come about in the traditional office environment. Like seeing the support for a 12-year old girl during a bell ringing ceremony who fought to rid herself of cancer. 

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Here I am now, I think. Two years after interning for Pedal. With a front row seat to the action. Inspired by yet another type of passion and purpose for cycling. In front of me are amateur riders, Olympian riders – all with full on kits, aerodynamic helmets. Each athlete seems like superman to me – athletically gifted, disciplined and accomplished. They are putting their bodies on the line. They are fueled by their hearts and their dreams to become the best of themselves, to push their limits physically and mentally. But still these are real people; real challenges; striving; crashing; getting back up and never giving up – it reminded me of the resilience and determination of 12-year old girl at Pedal. I look out into the crowd and see the passion burning in their eyes. I take in the view of the anxious fans standing five-deep alongside the course waiting for the gun to go off for the final race. My teammate Max, who’s kept me going all day with his jokes and positivity, whispers to me, “This one is for all the marbles.” As the rider introductions are starting, 15 hours after we began this morning, I know I am in my element. 

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The day following this incredible event experience, I found myself sitting next to Panos Sinopoulos. Thinking of my goal to take in all the knowledge I could through others, I began asking Panos about his career path. He shared with me his love for the sport of cycling, the discipline, and this specific Red Hook Crit event. Even mentioning to me that his excitement wouldn’t be the same working for an event like Tour de France. With each response, his genuine enthusiasm for what he is doing allowed me to connect with him deeper. Moving me to think, working for what you’re passionate about is a special opportunity.

My other crew manager who I spent a lot of time with was Alex from Barcelona, Spain. Alex I learned had gone to undergrad at University of Missouri – Kansas City, a college four hours from my hometown, on a soccer scholarship. He started with Red Hook Crit four years prior as a volunteer because he is a former racer and bike enthusiast. He was a hard worker and a quick learner. The organization invited him back for the past two years in a consultant role and key crew leader. I was inspired by his mentality, positivity and drive, and his genuine love for the environment and people associated with the event. Again, finding that passion was the fuel to growing his position.

I mentioned to Alex I had a few extra travel days following the Living Sport program. He invited me to stay with him and his wife, Madeira in Barcelona. Excitedly, I took him up on his generous offer. He was a gracious host and tour guide. Spending three full days showing me the city sights like Park Güell, La Sagrada Familia and Bunkers Carmel, and sharing the history of Spain and his ownlife. Alex and Madeira even cooked traditional Spanish cuisine for me - Tortilla de Patatas and Pa Amb Tomaquet. And taught me how to navigate Barcelona by foot, car, moped and bike. I could not believe my good fortune. Building a relationship with Alex during the Red Hook Crit, translated into me being given an opportunity to come to his home for a true local Barcelona experience. Through all of this, Alex quickly became a role model in my life.

After ten days of working a large-scale international sporting event, meeting people from all over the world, furthering my career goals -- I was inspired. I had watched the peloton (cycling term for the main group of riders) whiz by again and again in perfect formations, with their speed creating a wind that blew me away - literally. I could not help but ask myself then and now: What is possible for me? How can I challenge myself to improve? To Grow? To Seek? To Dream? 

I realized one of the most important aspects of growing is the connections you make and the knowledge and experience that come from these relationships. When you have an opportunity to meet people, take it. Putting myself out there isn’t always easy, but through the Living Sport program, I made it my goal to strike up conversations with everyone around me. And especially to pick the brains of the sport industry professionals. The program and these relationships I built have given me a widely expanded personal and professional network around the globe. It’s given me new mentors to help further my career wherever that takes me. And through it all, it’s given me a unique story to tell. I can’t wait to see what new cycling experience and local excursion I find myself in next.

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Social Media: Today's International Language

By: Karina Vicente, Living Sport Milan 2018 Participant & University of California Santa Barbara Graduate

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I imagine that when people hear the words “social media,” - especially in generations preceding mine - a certain stigma arises about what exactly that means, and what it’s being used for. Most probably assume my use of social media is just that, social. Previously…. it was.

It wasn’t until my trip to Milan, Italy with Living Sport that I got to see social media being utilized in an entirely different capacity. Having no prior knowledge of the Red Hook Criterium - the international cycling race series we’d be working for - I took to the internet like any good millennial would do and found an abundant amount of content and information about the race. I began to learn names of riders, different cities, types of bikes, etc. This is when it became clear to me that social media has its own language that transcends generations and even continents, making it easy to share content across the world and connect with others on a professional level.

Leading up to the Red Hook Crit, I knew I would have the opportunity to choose between various roles that interested me and would provide me with a real-world sport business experience. Although I didn’t pick social media as my top choice, I was ecstatic to find out that I was chosen to work on the media side of the event, putting me directly in the center of the action.

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The day before the actual race, another Living Sport teammate and I met with Red Hook Crit Milano’s social media coordinator, Brian, who was just as enthusiastic as we were about the opportunity to produce Red Hook Crit’s first-ever live Twitter feed. Not taking this honor lightly, I jumped right into asking questions about the race as well as taking time to get to know Brian personally, seeing as we would be working closely over the next two days. We journeyed together via metro to the Velodromo Vigorelli (an adventure in itself), which was located a few miles from the race course. I had never seen or heard of a velodrome before, so when we arrived, I was in awe of the steeply banked track that riders from all over the world were bolting around at high speeds. In this moment, I immediately saw how global the sport of fixed gear cycling truly is. I instantly became hooked on intently watching the athletes and even more curious about the inner workings of a sport I was still learning so much about. 

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After being given access to the Twitter account, another big honor, Brian shared that until it was time for the press conferences, we had creative freedom to capture and post interesting things happening around the velodrome and on the field as riders continued to pour in for registration. While tweeting and taking pictures, I enjoyed being introduced to riders from Brian’s hometown in the Netherlands as well as meeting other important directors and race officials. I found myself almost star struck being among these professional athletes, some even former Olympians, who behaved so casually around the other riders they would be competing against in less than 24 hours. It goes without saying that I was fascinated by the riders’ pre-race preparations as well as the men’s and women’s press conferences which included riders projected to finish at the top come race time.

Early the next morning, race day was upon us. My Living Sport teammates and I were ready! I couldn’t wait to see the athletes pour their hearts out onto the course, following their adrenaline-building day at the velodrome. Shortly before the start of the first heat, I was taken to a blocked off area that resembled an outdoor press box, positioned at the start/finish line of the course.

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This was where all of the media magic happened and I had a front row seat to all of the excitement. It was decided that I would tweet from a laptop, my teammate would use her phone, and Brian would be our race expert, quickly relaying what he saw during the races so that we could translate it into a post for people to follow. Our little team of three was ready to go live! 

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For me, the most interesting part of live tweeting was our ability to be creatively free to write and post what we wanted in order to capture the tone of the race. We were given the race hashtags and constantly sent professional photos that we could utilize in our posts to build excitement for the final races at the end of the night. We even got to share our rapid social media experience with some other Living Sport teammates - they played a major role in providing us with lists of rider names and results as soon as the heats ended to ensure we had the correct statistics and winners. I was completely enthralled by the fast-paced environment and rate at which we were tweeting because it was something I had never experienced before. Even a little rain could not stop the smooth operation we had in motion as I sat with a t-shirt covering my laptop while still posting every few seconds as the sky began to open. 

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With all of the commotion happening in our area, the most fulfilling part of working on this social media platform was taking a second to see the thousands of people actively looking at and interacting with our posts. We could see the number of people being reached rise exponentially throughout the race and we enjoyed the positive feedback on our performance. I got so caught up in the content we were sharing that I became personally invested in the riders who I had previously met and wanted to do well in their heats. I found a new appreciation for the sport of cycling, and for the fans that showed me a new, burning kind of passion.

When I first heard “social media” as my job title for the Red Hook Crit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Little did I know that Twitter as a live platform would be so impactful for those following the race from home, wherever that home was in the world. Social media has become such an international language that it is easy to understand why it has the power to bring a whole community together without being even remotely in the same physical area. Because fixed gear racing and cycling in general fall into such a widely international category, it makes sense that in order to successfully cover the action and create buzz around such a large event, one needs to utilize a platform that can effectively tell the story and is easy to use. I now have a whole new appreciation for the power of social media -- a language I once thought was selfish in nature.

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My 4,000 Mile Sports Journey

By: Kalah Anderson, Living Sport Milan 2017 Participant & Group Ticket Sales Executive at Peoria Rivermen Hockey Club

It took me 4,000 plus miles, 2 suitcases, 16 strangers and 1 leap of faith to realize that the sky is truly the limit in sports. If you would have asked me two years ago if I would have traveled abroad to Milan, Italy to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity to work an international sporting event, the answer would have been no. Fast forward to today, I am ever grateful for that split second choice to go out on a whim and apply for an experience that has forever changed my life.

This past October I met 16 strangers in an airport and ventured half way across the world to work an international bike race. Little did I know how much those 16 strangers and this opportunity would open my eyes to the world of sports. Throughout the trip I got to learn from business professionals in the field as well as from my peers. Although we are all each other’s competition, we worked as a team to encourage and push each other to the next level. It was crazy to see how in just a week, 16 people went from strangers to the lifelong friends.

My week in Milan was anything and everything sports. We had the opportunity to visit three sporting arenas and venues in the Milan area including the Audoromo Nazionale Monza a Formula One Race Track, Casa Milan the offices and museum for AC Milan and Stadio Giuseppe Mezza/San Siro Stadium home to both Inter Milan and AC Milan. What a wonderful opportunity it was fo us to see sports on an international level. The icing on the cake was having the chance to attend the Derby di Milano back at San Siro Stadium between Inter Milan and AC Milan. This was an incredible experience for us to fully immerse ourselves into the culture that was surrounding us and experience an unbelieve match with a hat trick game winner from Mauro Icardi. Definitely something we will never forget.

The part where it really hit home was working the Red Hook Criterium International Bike Race. As program participants we were placed on the staff of the Red Hook Crit fulfilling various duties which included course branding, merchandise, course marshals and working directly with the athletes at the start/ finish line and in parc ferme. This is where I saw that sports truly is an international language. Working hand in hand with the founder and others at the start/ finish line allowed me to see hands on the work and effort that goes into international cycling. I was able to see the desire and drive that the athletes put into each and every lap. I was able to see the passion and joy that the fans had for these racers as they cheered them along the way. It was in his moment that I saw the true authenticity of sports and I was reminded of why I wanted to get into sports and why I took this chance to travel 4,000 plus miles away from home.

When I left New York City on a rainy Monday morning, I didn’t know what I was going to learn, what I was going to see, who I was going meet, but I came back a changed person. I returned with 16 new friends, endless memories and an experience that has opened so many endless doors. Living Sport has allowed me to become a future leader in the sports industry and I am proud to say I am Living Sport.

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My Something Different

By: Anthony Rizzo, Living Sport Milan 2017 Participant & Ticket Operations Assistant, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” For those unfamiliar with poetry, this statement comes from the great Robert Frost and his poem “The Road Not Taken.” The message of this poem is simple: choose to be different and shy away from what everyone else does.

Taking a chance on a new company, traveling across the world with complete strangers, and committing a large amount of money to the program, all for the purpose of trying to stand out? That sounds different to me.

When I submitted my application to Living Sport and explained the opportunity to my parents, one of the first questions my dad asked me was, “Why do you want to do this?”. At that point, and still to this day, there were two answers I could give him. Answer one was that I really wanted to travel to Italy. In the past two years, I had been to London and Paris. I was on a streak of international trips and I did not want that to end. When the opportunity presented itself to travel to Italy, I was beyond excited because, even though I had enjoyed the previous two trips, Italy was the one place I really wanted to travel to. The main reason was to experience my Italian roots and visit the country my ancestors had come from. I also wanted to visit Italy because I had heard it was beautiful (and I was not disappointed).

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This, however, was not the answer I gave my father, or at least not the response I gave first. I knew the desire to go on a vacation would not convince him to allow it. I knew I needed something better, and luckily I had another reason that meant even more to me; my career.         

The sports industry has always been described to me as being “tight-knit” and “hard to get in to”. The common takeaway from networking sessions and presentations is that getting a job in sports is “all about who you know not what you know”. As I progressed through my undergraduate career and started to apply to more competitive internship programs and entry-level jobs, I saw these rumors become a reality. To compete for these positions, I learned that you need to be different from the other applicants. You need to have a specific experience or a well-known company listed that catches the eye of the hiring manager and gets your resume pulled from the massive pile.

When I received the email notification about the position, I knew the Living Sport experience in Milan, Italy would be my something different.

I saw this program as a set of opportunities. First, it was the opportunity to travel to a new country. Second, it was the opportunity to work and experience a new sport. I had no prior experience around the sport of cycling, and had no prior knowledge of the Red Hook Criterium. Therefore, anything that we did during the event would be new for me and something that I could take back to the U.S. Third, this trip was an opportunity to make memories and connections with a group of complete strangers, all of which were in the same shoes as myself. When I traveled to Paris the year prior, it was with a group of fellow Queens students that I had gotten to know throughout the semester. Unfortunately, we all had different interests and majors, so there was no focus on sports or casual conversation about it. I knew the Living Sport program would be different because, even though we were strangers, we all had one thing in common; a love of sports. Therefore, I wanted to come away from this experience with a new outlook on my career, and new people I could bounce job and internship ideas off of.

I went into this trip expecting these three things, but I left with so much more. I left with new lifelong friends and memories, a new perspective of the world and international sports, a newfound love for the game of soccer, and most importantly, the something different for my resume. While I hope my experience in Milan continues to separate me from the rest of applicants, regardless, it gives me an amazing story to bring up in any interview I go through. It is not every day that you find an applicant willing to travel halfway around the world to gain experience, but I was.

On October 9, 2017, myself and 15 other college students and recent graduates, chose to take the road less traveled when we boarded the plane to Milan, Italy. Only time can tell where that road will continue to take us.

                “Two roads diverged in a wood and WE-WE took the one less traveled by”.