My first bicycle race of 2014 was the 50-mile pro-am Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic. It was a last minute decision to enter, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it past half-way. Especially with the afternoon start and the heat climbing steadily throughout the day. I guess could have done the 40+ masters race…
Fitchburg-Longsjo was the first pro-am race I ever did in 1990. I was a first-year senior, racing for Richard Sachs. I had pinned my number on upside down, causing the announcer, Dick Ring, to comment, “what a good Polish boy,” when I won a prime. It was a hot day and I was suffering until the skies opened up and the rain cooled things down.
This year, there would be no rain.
The first 10 laps were brutal as a large break went clear. At first, my legs weren’t used to the speed, but then they adapted. My goal was to get to half-way: 25-laps. With 30 laps to go, they opened the course to feeding — but I had nobody to hand me up bottles. Instead, I watched all the wives and girlfriends and soigneurs handing up cold bottles dripping with condensation. The women looked younger than I remembered…but I remembered because there was alway one or two that would catch my eye during a criterium, lap after lap, and then disappear into anonymity.
I remembered every nook and cranny of this course. I had raced it every year from 1990 to 1996, through its various iterations as a stage race, 50 miles each time, more than 350 laps in all those years. The horseshoe at the top of the course. The dog leg. The high-speed brakes burning left hander where I crashed in 1992 in the rain. (I was going for a prime and I was so far in front of the field that I was able to get back up, sort out my bike and jump back into the race before they passed me.) The left-hander onto the finishing straight, then the long long drag up to the finish. I swear that they didn’t fix a single pothole or manhole cover since that last time I did this race in 1996!
At half-way — 25 laps to go — I started to believe I could finish. If I could make to 20 to go. And if I could make it 20 to go, I could probably make it 10 to go… The pace peaked for several laps while we pulled the breakaway back. I was only in difficult once or twice when the chase stretched the peloton out along the finishing stretch and fissures started to open up. But it always came back together. And when it did, it bunched up and riders bumped and jostled for position.
The first year I did this race, going through the horseshoe turn at the top of the course, I tapped Coors Light rider, Roberto Gaggioli, on the hip to let him know I was there. He turned around and smacked me right in the face. Then he rode up to Davis Phinney and said, “I justa slapp-ed som-ah little-ah boy!” I called him ‘Gag-my-ravioli’ from that point on.
With 1o laps to go, I was pretty confident of finishing.
I was dousing myself with water. I had been nursing my drinks so I was still fluid. And I had kept my stomach from getting over-full and bloated. My left buttock was tightening up. The left hand was going numb.
Then there were just 5 laps to.
I told myself I could make it to the last lap…and if I could make it to the last lap, I might just be able to sprint into the finish.
I had terrible position going into the finish…maybe 40 riders back. I stood up to sprint…and felt like I just went backwards. But I was gaining ground and going over the riders around me. The finish line couldn’t come soon enough and when it did, I was in 30th position.
But I was happy with it.
I race for nostalgia as much as anything else at this point, and it was a joy to be back at Fitchburg.