Loving the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic

I loved the Fitchburg-Longsjo stage race. I liked the variety of courses with a hilly road race and that really cool circuit race. For me the circuit race was always the hardest stage - the speed across the top, after climbing the hill, made it severe. But I still liked it. And I liked that the criterium was a real crit but not too technical, and that when it was the last stage it got a good crowd watching.

The only course I didn’t really like was the TT. Most of the TT courses seemed to have a lot of potential for someone to have a bad accident with a car. Oh, and I didn’t like the big downhill in the road race. I suspect if I’d done the circuit race in the rain I might have been unhappy, but don’t think that ever happened in the more than ten times I did that race.

I even liked the motel we usually stayed at in Leominster, including meeting racers from all over the place - some people I should have known better from the city, and some from far away. For example, I remember chatting with Chris Horner at the motel in the early 90s when he was a top amateur for California. And while I’m used to hearing Spanish and Eastern European languages in local racing, hearing Dutch in the showers in the fire station from visiting Dutch and Flemish pros was kind of cool.

My wife even liked the race. Early in our marriage I got her to come to some park races in NYC - big mistake. So boring to watch. Then she went to Fitchburg and had a pretty good time. So much so that when I asked her to come to another race in the city she said “Is it big like this? No? Then no way. But I heard people talking about a race called Killington. Is that big? Maybe I’ll go to that.”

One reason she liked it was that she could help with feeding, which made a huge difference for me. She got pretty good at it too - very calm and efficient. She also helped me finish one year when I tried to quit the circuit race. I was off the back and I wheeled into the feedzone. So she just pointed up the road and said “We didn’t come here for you to stop. Go.” So I went.

For me, the first five or six times I did it the racing was all about the experience - just trying to finish the pro-1-2. I learned a lot about being efficient, just hanging on, and accepting continuous pain on the road. Later, in the masters, it was more active racing for places or helping teammates.

I did the Longsjo the first year it was a stage race, in 1991, but didn’t finish. I made a mistake in doing a crit in Middletown, Connecticut the day before, which was a bit much right before my first NRC stage race. That year the road stage was first. The start was delayed over an hour waiting for Davis Phinney and Roberto Gaggioli to drive out from the Boston airport - they’d taken a red-eye in from the west coast. And still crushed us in the race. I was shocked by how fast we climbed each lap through Princeton, but felt pretty good (for me) - the crit the previous day had opened my legs a lot. I made it to the finishing climb in the field.

But the TT was that afternoon and that left me shattered. I flew out the back in the circuit race the next day and didn’t finish. Because the race was on points that year, I could have started the crit, but was so blown and freaked out by the speed, plus rain on the course, that I just watched.

The next year was much better. I think the TT was first and as usual I was one of the slowest guys. No problem. The road race was tough. It was cold and rainy, and I had on a rain jacket for the first couple hours. Later I gave it to Tyler Hamilton, who was leading a regional team and shivering late in the race. I made it to the finishing climb in the field - good for me. The circuit race went OK - I was dropped just inside the last two laps but still rode hard to the end. Not lapped.

The crit was an experience. That was an Olympic year, and the call-ups were unforgettable. It was hot and the crowd was big while we waited for the start. First riders on two local clubs got called up. Cool. Then some visiting Olympians - I think trackies from New Zealand. Then, one-by-one, the guys from IME-Bolla, the New England pro team, with Frank and Mark McCormack. The local crowd started getting loud.

Then guys from Coors Light were called up, one-by-one, finishing with Davis Phinney as “two-time Tour de France stage winner.” Big roar from the crowd.

The music - “Sirius” by Alan Parson Project - was going the whole time and the tension was building. I don’t think anyone who raced a lot in New England in the 90s can hear that music and not feel pumped.

And then it was “Ladies and gentlemen, the United States Olympic team.” Tim Peddie who won a race at the trials. Cheering. Darren Baker who’d won the road race a couple day earlier in the rain. More cheering. Bob Mionske - fourth in the Seoul Olympics. Big cheering.

And then, “Ladies and gentlemen, the leader of the United States Olympic team, Lance Armstrong.”

The crowd went wild.

We headed to the line, got some final instruction and were off.

That is relatively easy crit course, but for me, in that field, hanging on was hard. That’s bike racing. I did get to see what the front of the race was like when Armstrong, one or both MacCormacks and some Coors Light lapped us. And then finished it - first big stage race for me.

Loved that race.

John Forrest Tomlinson, July 2012