Well I've been trying to win this race since I started racing bikes in 2003. I don't remember how many attempts I've made, but there have been a few. I know the roads well. Fitchburg has the distinction of being the 2nd oldest (still running) race in the country. I have no idea what the first one is. Anyone?
It's always followed the typical format of TT as stage 1, then the dicey circuit race as stage 2 with it's brutal uphill finish climb that we hit 9 times for a 28 mile race that usually last's just over an hour and finishes in a bunch gallop. Stage 3 is usually the equally brutal Road Race that has always finished at the top of Mt. Wachusett. Last year the road was being repaired from the horrible ice storm in December of 2008, so we finished in Princeton center with an extra lap thrown in for good measure. This year the finish would also be in Princeton and maybe for 2011 also as they continue to do a "beautification" project on the road. Stage 4 has always been the downtown crit, and for some reason the most prestigious crit wins you can ever get are those within the stage races like here and in Burlington, VT in the GMSR.
This year they did a shake up, which I believe is good. They put the circuit race 1st, road race 2nd, TT 3rd, and Crit 4th. You need to try to keep things fresh and this was a new twist. Another new twist was the implementation of a "40+ Master's race", rather than 35+. I like this too as I get older, but before I ever did a bike race I understood "masters" to be 40+. Thats how it is in running and also in Triathlon. Last year, Chris Fischer, former Saturn PRO, and 35 year old, showed up on some very good form along with some very strong support riders from CA to open up a can of whoop ass on us. They even handled Roger the Rocket. Maybe that had something to do with the promoter's decision.....I don't know. At any rate, Roger, who is 42 decided to go to the race in Cananda this year that's gaining popularity and #s of entries.
With all the changes in place we had a relatively small field, (for Fitchburg) about 50 guys, ready to go. You can say it was a diminished field, but with lots of New England tough guys lined up it sure as hell wasn't gonna be a gimme. I raced in CT at Housatonic 2 weeks ago which I consider a must do race if you're gonna have a crack at the hills of Fitchburg. I discovered a very fit Max Lippolis there and he was signed up for Fitchburg, so was the current 50-54 Time Trial World Champion, Dzmitry Buben, and his teamate Paul Richard who's also been riding very well this year with lots of wins. Mark "Soups" Suprenant was on board and also some "imports". Sean Coleman from US Military cycling, who was packing a mean sprint, and a few other out of towners. Cyclonauts had 2 strongmen, including Zen. Benidorm had a very strong squad and we (Corner Cycle) had a strong trio as well with myself and Sammy and also Ron Jacobs.
Stage 1- The circuit race. Very painful the first few times up the hill, as we sprinted for points on lap 1 and again on lap 3 I believe. I was ready to sit in all day and take the day off. I even told Sammy that at one point. But......there's always a "but". I started to feel better as the race went on and then I started feeling down right snappy. Every time there were points up for grabs the sprint up the hill did damage to the field, but those that sprinted were so gassed that they sat up soon after and we always regrouped. I had decided that on the last lap I was gonna have a go. As if Sammy read my mind, he kept it hot down the descent into the corner at the bottom of the hill and arched a beautiful line with no brakes around the corner which allowed us to have a nice roll into the beastly climb. He took it halfway up to where there's a slight plateau. From there I attacked up the right side and blew by 2 riders that had tried an ill timed jailbreak. Max jumped on my wheel and at the top we had a solid gap. I snuck a peak as we took the hard right hander and liked what I saw. We had a good gap to a couple of stragglers that appeared to be having some real difficulty with breathjing and pedaling. Max knew that the next 2 minutes were where we'd break it if we were going to and I knew it as well. He pulled through and worked his ass off for a solid 25-30 seconds. Then my turn, then his......all the way to the line. On the final corner I led through and started up the hill I was dreading. Max let me roll onto the plateau and then went through. He didn't even really attack, but I was smoked and I couldn't hold him. 200 meters to go and he did the right thing and went up as hard as he could and won. I hung on for 2nd and for the first time that I'm aware of, a break made it to the line in the master's race. He got a bigger time bonus and the leader's jersey, and I slotted in 2nd on GC.
Stage 2 is the monster road race with tons of exposed climbing and 64 miles long with the heat coming up. It was pretty tame at first and we got caught by some of the junior field and were neutralized. I saw Max hop off his bike for a squirt and I followed suit. Antime you can relieve that pressure it's sooo nice! We got right back in with no hard effort at all. We had another opportunity again later when we went neutral for a 2nd time and I yelled "Pee Break". All 50 of us pulled off for a natural break. Nice! The hill was hard of course, but I was having a pretty easy time riding the front of the group with Max, Dzmitry, Bruce Dhiel, Gary Jasdewski, Sammy and a few others. On the 2nd to last lap Max hit the wall before Princeton center extremely hard. I mean SAVAGE! I had to follow, to protect my standing and also Sammy's who is also a very strong time trialist. Our plan for the day was to be defensive and make sure we don't lose ground before the TT. He gapped me, but I limited the bleeding. Richard Fries was very excited to see the race opening up right at his vantage point and animated it like no one else can over the PA system. Over the top, up by the feed zone I had him in check about 10 meters away. He wasn't gonna get away from me now and we both knew it. Suddenly Bruce and Dzmitry came through and we bacame a 4 man group. The first thing I did was to appologize to everyone for the fact that I wasn't gonna work. I wasn't gonna help strong men put time into Sammy before the TT. They understood and were cool. They tried a couple of jumps, but I covered them and soon a couple more guys got on. The group, led by Sammy was getting closer and I was checking on them often. Just before the big Mountain Rd. descent they got back on and I gave Sammy the fist pump. The rest of the lap was a little punchy with lots of guys taking a shot at a break away. Benidorm forced me to burn a few more matches while they attacked and set up their man for the day, Arlen Wenzel. We came to the last hill and Gary Jazdewski was looking strong and ready to go, as well as a few others. But it was Mad Max that lit it up again and it was just as fierce as the lap before. I hesitated, because I was in the hurt locker already and then I just went because I knew I had to. I fought my way up to the corner 10 meters behind and just then Arlen came by and had a surge to offer. I did not. Sean Coleman went by and then a couple more. I had to fight it to the line and minimize the damage. With 50 or 75 meters to go Sammy came by and he filled up the open space in front of me allowing me to get the same time as the small group. We lost 10 seconds to Max, but he also gained another 10 second bonus with his 2nd straight win. Very impressive!
Sammy finished 6th on the stage and I was 8th. I was in 2nd on gc at 29 seconds and Sammy was 4th at 44 seconds.
The TT is pretty straightforward. Go hard alone.....compare times later. I won in 18:39, Dzmitry was 2nd in 19:03, Sammy 3rd in 19:20. Max lost a solid chunk of time (and the jersey) with a 20:00. I was in the lead with Dzmitry 2nd at 39 seconds, Max at 52 seconds in 3rd and Sammy in 4th at 56 seconds. So we had to get Sammy a time bonus in the crit to leapfrog him over Max and onto the podium.
We had a solid plan for the crit and actually executed it pretty well. After covering attacks throughout the race, with some very timely help from Ronny J, including a pretty hard double hit from the 545 boys on the last 2 laps I led it out from about 700 meters. I took it through the last 2 left handers and onto the finishing stretch and pounded the pedals for another 100 meters before blowing up. That was the plan. David Hilenbrand had jumped my wheel when the 545 attack came on the last lap and he was still there when I pulled off. He went right from there which was probably about 250 meters out. Sammy went too, but Paul and Max were right on him and both snuck by at the line, with David holding it. Sammy was 4th place, and Max got 3rd and another 4 second bonus, so we didn't get it done, but I give Max a lot of credit. He rode brilliantly all week and defended his spot right to the end. We still had a decent result and it's something we can build on.
I rolled over the line torward the back of the bunch with my arms up wearing the leader's jersey at Fitchburg. I hadn't even thought about it all day because I was so focused on our team plan, which was an absolute blast to do. It sunk in a little while later that I had won the race I've been after for a long time.
Fitchburg is as true a staple of New England Bike Racing as there is and I'm pretty stoked to add the feather to my cap.
In a rare race appearance I had Nancy along as a spectator which was perfect because I got flowers on the podium so I got to look like a nice guy when I gave them to her. I had been making the trip back and forth each day to her place in RI, which was just under an hour each way and well worth it compared to paying for lodging. Not to mention the PRO leg rubs I got each night. Thanks Baby!
So thats it. Thats all I got.
Thanks for reading, JB