Dick Ring is the voice of bicycle racing in New England.
His radio-smooth but homey commentary booms from the speakers at races all over the region almost every weekend. While terrain, conditions and competition will vary from race to race, the tall, slim announcer wearing a light gray golf cap is a fixture at the microphone.
A champion speedskater and racing cyclist himself, Ring began announcing as an emergency fill-in. He was on the starting line at the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic in 1964 when the announcer failed to show up. Ring had skated and cycled in the 1940s and '50s with Arthur M. Longsjo, the two-sport Olympian from Fitchburg for whom the race is named, and was friendly with Longsjo's widow. She asked him to take over, and he took to it like Raul Alcala takes to hills.
"I had a feel for it," said Ring, 59, a retired union pipefitter who lives in Chelmsford. "I can read a race and almost second-guess what's going to happen, what horsepower is left in the field, what breaks are going. I look over the talent, and most of these riders, I've seen them from day one that they've been in the sport.
"Many times, the complexion of a race might change six or seven times during the race," he continued. "I'm looking for strength in the overall team, their best sprinter, who they're going to work for that day. At any stroke of the pedal, things could change."
Ring's enthusiasm for every racer who crosses the line, whether sprinting to win or finishing off the back of the pack, approaches fatherly pride. With every name he announces, it sounds like "That's my boy!" might be next off his tongue.
When James Nelson of West Brookfield finished the Harvard Classic last Sunday in last place in the 45-and-older category for unlicensed racers, Ring urged, "Don't be afraid to cheer him. He rode hard today."
Ring's goal is to convey "appreciation for the effort that is being put into the show" by teaching spectators about the sport. When he's not describing the action, he'll expound on bike racing equipment, training, tactics and history, and he'll graciously plug the sponsors, the concessions and the local folks for accomodating the race.
At the Harvard race, he had about 10 minutes of "air time" to fill each time the peloton sped away from the common to ride another four-mile lap. Ham radio operators relayed word from the backstretch, where the racers competed for "King of the Mountain" points for being first to crest the grueling hill -- Ring called it "a real cookie crumbler" -- on Pinnacle Road.
"Lord love a duck!" Ring exclaimed the eighth time the men's pack whizzed by. With seven laps to go, Kurt Hackler, a 15-year-old from Bolton who rides on the same team as Ring -- New England Systems/Northeast Bicycle Club -- was hanging right on to the leading Category 1 and 2 riders, the top amateur men. "Ladies and gentlemen, a junior, 15 1/2 years old, is in fifth place!"
"Most people are mesmerized by all the colors and the speed of it, but Dick can pick out faces," said racer Bob Hanold, 48, of Plainville. "He can be babbling along, then comes the pack, and he can sort them out" in seconds without having to look at the roster to match numbers and names.
Ring and Bill Farrell of Lebanon, N.H., developer of the Fit Kit, run the North American School of Bicycle Racing at Waterville Valley. The next class starts Aug. 15, and Ring will be riding hard with the students, about 200 miles in a week. He still races every now and then.
Ring placed fifth in the 1956 U.S. Olympic cycling trials, the year Longsjo made the team. "I could hang on to him. I couldn't beat him in a sprint," Ring recalled. "In skating, we would go head to head. Metric style, he could beat me. When you got on the starting line with Art, you knew it was going to be a war -- but a good, clean, honest war."
When Longsjo died in 1958 in a car accident and a skating cup was established in his memory, Ring "went out with a vengeance" and won it. Last winter, he won the overall masters title at the Eastern Seaboard Speedskating Championships in Albany. As a coach, he traveled to the Netherlands with the U.S. Speedskating Team.
But summertime is for wheels, not blades, and most weekends Ring is out to declare the "true champions of the road."
"Fitchburg is the time to see him shine," said Landry's/Hot Tubes coach Toby Stanton of Leicester. "It's a huge event, and he handles it like a local-yokel bike race. He's so calm. He's not intimidated by all those Euro-riders."
Ring's toughest day announcing was at the Longsjo criterium in 1988, two days after he buried his son, Timothy, at age 23. "It was just something I had made a decision to do," he said. "You can't just sit still."
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