New England’s crown jewel cycling event is the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic Stage Race, a grueling multi-day event that challenges a rider’s skills across a variety of cycling disciplines. As the largest pro/am cycling event in North America, the race attracts top professional and amateur athletes from all over the United States and beyond. “We have 800 to 900 riders each year,” explained Bill White, Board Member of the Fitchburg Cycling Club which organizes the race. White also expects tens of thousands of spectators to attend over the event’s four days.
Begun in 1960 as the Fitchburg-Longsjo Memorial Race, the one-day event was created as a tribute to Fitchburg, Massachusetts native Art Longsjo, an accomplished speed skater who took up cycling as part of his cross training. Longsjo excelled in both disciplines and eventually became the first person ever to compete in both summer and winter Olympic games in the same year (1956) before his tragic death in an automobile accident in 1958. “This race reflects the tenor of a gifted individual, who made such a huge impression on the community in his short 26 years,” commented White. “Art Longsjo was an incredible athlete. When you look at how quickly he dominated the sport it is nothing short of amazing.”
The current four-day stage race format is designed as a complete test of a rider’s cycling abilities. The professional men racers will compete in a 6.2 mile time trial, a 78 mile circuit race through the hilly Fitchburg State College campus, a 104 mile road race featuring a grueling climb to the summit of Wachusett Mountain, and 50 mile downtown criterium. Professional women and amateur racers will ride shorter versions of the same course.
Helping to attract top riders is over $50,000 in prize money that will be awarded to individual stage and overall winners in each race category. Payouts will also be made for other competitions such as the coveted king/queen of the mountain designation and mid-race sprints designed to keep the race challenging for racers and engaging for spectators. Adding to the race’s allure is the hopes of joining the ranks of such notable past winners as Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton and Davis Phinney.
Spectator highlights include a “Sky Ride” on the Wachusett Mountain chair lift to view the mountain top stage finish and stunt champion rider Mike Steidley’s show during the downtown criterium. This year’s race–the 50th edition–will be held from July 2-5, 2009. All event details can be found at www.longsjo.com.
Tom Catalini is the author of cycling guide book Road Biking Massachusetts (www.RoadBikingMassachusetts.com) Photos courtesy Ed Collier (www.edcollierphotography.com)