While pros grabbed the headlines in last week's Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, the four-day stage race was also a proving ground for local amateurs. One of the most consistent teams, with two stage wins and two finishers in the top 10 overall, was a quartet of Category 4 riders sponsored by O'Neil's Bike Shop in Worcester.
Team members are Michael Bernard, 33, who owns a construction business in Millbury, and three riders who work at O'Neil's: Ben Lane, 20, of Worcester; Bill McCarthy, 31, of Maynard, and Jason Frost, 23, of Worcester, who is a graduate student in biotechnology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. They competed in a field of about 80 riders. Sixty-seven completed all four stages.
Bernard won the 47-mile Wachusett Mountain Road Race in 2 hours, 11 minutes to place second overall after advancing steadily from the opening stage. He finished eighth in the circuit race, seventh in the criterium and fourth in the time trial.
An expert mountain biker with Rhygin Racing Cycles as a sponsor on and off the road, Bernard is the team's climber. Uphill ability from dirt races "carries a lot into the road racing," he said.
McCarthy also ended up in the money, eighth overall, with a 10th-place finish in the time trial, despite coming down with a cold the day before the race.
Lane placed third in the 18-mile circuit race and moved up to first place overall after winning the criterium. But he dropped his chain in the 12-mile time trial and plummeted to 50th overall, 57th by the end of the mountain stage.
Lane, who used to do track racing in the Midwest, is the team's sprinter. In the criterium, "I went off the front just once, not a serious attack," he said. "Mike was kind of policing the whole thing, making sure the previous day's leaders didn't do anything dangerous."
McCarthy helped Lane, too. His job was to lead Lane out for the sprint in the final meters of the last lap, and he strung out the pack to put Lane in position. "He pulled me all the way up to the front," Lane said.
By the fourth day, it was Bernard's turn to get help from his teammates. He was in third place overall, and "we really wanted him to win the whole thing for O'Neil's, so it was completely a team effort," Lane said.
"I took a flyer on the first lap, made people chase me down, just to tire them out, just to worry the leader," Lane said. He slowed down after the descent on Mile Hill Road to let Bernard catch up, and Frost broke away on the next lap on the climb from Princeton Center. "Then Ben and me chased the breaks and slowed it down," Frost said.
The strategy was "what Mike did for me in the crit, made sure no one got away that could win," Lane said.
The alternating breaks "really confused everybody," Bernard said. "Nobody knew what we were doing. What it did was kept it contained. I didn't have to do any work until the hill.'' That's the ascent to the summit of Mount Wachusett, after four 11-mile laps below, a hilly loop itself.
On the climb, Bernard, race leader Mark Podgurski of Chalfont, Pa., and Matt Boobar of Rockport, Maine, took off, with Boobar setting the pace. "Matt surged, and the leader didn't hang on, and I said to myself, 'Time to go,' " Bernard recounted. He finished 8 seconds ahead of Boobar, who's also a rival on the off-road circuit.
"Really it was my teammates. They kept me fresh the whole race," said Bernard, who split his $125 prize for his overall standing with the other three team members.
"All the Cat. 4's noticed how well our team is working," Lane said. But Fitchburg may have been the last chance this year for the foursome to work together. Bernard and Lane now have enough points to advance to Category 3.
Speaking of Cat. 3, 18-year-old Mike Roszko of Westboro, riding for GS Mengoni/Hot Tubes, won the Cat. 3 time trial at an average speed of 26 mph.
For elite riders, Fitchburg is just another weekend in a succession of races all over the country. But for O'Neil's and other shop teams in the region, it's a high point in the season, an opportunity for sponsors to get exposure in their own back yard and a chance for amateur racers to tackle the same courses as national stars.
"It's the same set-up, the same annoucers'' as the pros,
Lane said. "It really motivates everyone."
Thorough day-by-day coverage of the Tour de France is
happening on the Internet. My two favorite sources are Major Taylor's News and
Results Service (request e-mail subscription information from
firstname.lastname@example.org); and Le Tour '95, a Web site that is updated several
times a day with commentary from 1987 winner Stephen Roche
TIP OF THE HELMET -- To ultramarathon cyclist Ed Kross of Framingham, who won the 24-hour race at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., last month with a course record of 433 miles. "I had my heart set on 480," he said, but "a win is a win." Kross twice completed the Race Across America in less than 10 days and hopes to do it again in 1996.
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