"Ride hard, but ride smart."
New England bike racers of a certain age remember hearing that mantra from the region's top racing official, Grace S. Jones of Lunenburg, in the early 1980s. It's sound advice that undoubtedly will be ringing in the ears of women on the starting line of the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic criterium next Sunday, when the women's race will be dedicated in memory of Jones.
Jones died Sept. 14 at age 68, after struggling 10 years against early-onset Alzheimer's disease, which ultimately robbed her of her memory.
Jones, who had been a nurse and an interior decorator, joined the racing world in the 1970s, not as a racer but to avoid becoming a "bicycling widow," since her husband and children were active racers. She quickly fell in love with the sport and soon was applying her organizational skills and enthusiasm to cycling as a marshal and racing official.
She served as a referee at the Junior World Championships in 1978, the year that four U.S. riders, led by Greg LeMond, became the first Americans to win medals in international men's competition. She and her husband, Lester, also operated Jones Cycle Wear, maker of custom cycling apparel, and outfitted many local and national teams.
Jones was instrumental in helping the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic evolve from a single race to a national-caliber four-stage race in 1991 under the direction of Mark Riordan. Before Alzheimer's took its heaviest toll, Jones was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 New England Cycling Awards Banquet.
As district representative for the U.S. Cycling Federation, overseeing road racing throughout New England, Jones was a stickler for safety and wasn't afraid to enforce the rules.
"Grace is still the only person I know who shut down a race before it got started," said Tom Vinson of Quincy, current USCF regional coordinator for New England and New York. "She took a look at the course and said, 'I don't like this' -- there was some construction and she felt it wasn't safe -- and everyone got their money back, and the amazing thing was no one complained. It was just, 'Grace said so,' and that was it."
Vinson took the reins from Jones' immediate successor, Charlie Smith, in 1988. "She set some standards that Charlie and I have tried to follow through on," Vinson said. "She was well liked and well respected by all the riders."
Jones' daughter, Debbie Jones of Petersham, former chairman of the Longsjo race, said bike racing in New England in the early 1970s "had a reputation for being slipshod. The officials weren't trained well," and races could get sloppy and even dangerous. Grace Jones changed all that. "The reason cycling in New England is what it is today is because of her," Debbie Jones said.
In addition to the tribute at the Longsjo, Grace Jones will be remembered during the Berkshires to Boston Memory Ride (508-564-5700) a 165-mile bike tour from Pittsfield to Boston on Aug. 26 and 27, with an overnight stop at Camp Putnam in New Braintree.
The ride is a fund-raiser for Alzheimer's research. Riders must raise $750 each, and 100 percent of that goes to the cause. Overhead costs are covered largely by the Jones family and the ride's founding family, the Noonans, who also lost their mother to Alzheimer's.
Both Lester Jones and Debbie Jones will bike the Memory Ride. Debbie's husband, Alan Bachrach, will drive a support vehicle, and Debbie's sister, Lynn Peredina of Ashby, also probably will volunteer on the support crew.
"It just seemed like no better tribute to my mother than to do something with cycling," Debbie Jones said.