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WORDS: JEREMY DUNN
Charged to deliver an epic New England ride, something quintessential and something hard. There was only one person to call – Dick Ring.
Laugh about it. No really, have yourself a good little chuckle. But then get over it because soon enough the name Dick Ring is going to bring tremors to your legs and a pained smile to your face. Because when weeks, months, even years from now, you tell the story about how you suffered the ‘rollers’ of New England, 100-miles of concrete waves, hundreds of feet high, relentless, cracked and constant, tunneling through dense forests and forgotten villages, it’s Dick Ring’s training ride that you’ll be talking about.
First, some history. Art Longsjo began his cycling career by riding from Fitchburg to Westboro, Massachusetts, an hour and a half ride, to compete in a local race series. He won the 1-mile, 3-mile and 25-mile races, and a legend was born. Art would go on to compete in the both the Winter and Summer Olympics of 1956, in speed skating and cycling respectively. Four years later, in 1960, the Fitchburg Stage Race became, in homage to a hometown hero, the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic.
Every summer since, for the last 48 years, racers from around the country, including some of American cycling’s greats like Armstrong, LeMond and Phinney, have gathered in Fitchburg, MA, to compete in New England’s finest race. They don’t come for the plastic lawn ornaments, the empty barber-shops and closed diners. Nor do they come for the massive, darkly broken mills, artifacts from another time and way of life. They come for the rollers made infamous by Art Longsjo and his friend, Dick Ring.
Dick and Art were fabled training partners, their epic riding style attaining a legendary status in New England. Forty years ago, Art’s wife, Terry, approached Dick at the start line of the Longsjo Classic with a problem: “The announcer hasn’t shown up and the race has to start in a few minutes.” At the time he was a racer like the rest of us, albeit an exceptional one. But that day Dick stepped off his bike and into the announcer’s booth and the rest, as they say, is history.
That brings us to a very recent Thursday afternoon when I called Dick out of the blue. I told him I was a fan, both of his and the Longsjo Classic, and I explained that I thought he was the man to help me design an incredibly hard ride, starting and ending in Fitchburg, perhaps borrowing sections from the race route. A ride with maybe a bit more distance and pain than the Classic, something epic. I heard him, ominously, smile into big inhale – “I can show you some rollers that should do the trick.” I explained what the Rapha Continental project was about and made a plan to meet up with him at the New England Velodrome the following week.
Though he retired from professional announcing a few years ago, Dick can still be found at the New England Velodrome in Londonderry, New Hampshire. He volunteers there, teaching the area’s youth to ride and race. So I took my track bike and notepad and headed north, for a night of racing and entertainment. Dick is known to wax poetic about the virtues of cycling, in tight banked little circles or otherwise.
“Back then, training wasn’t as specific as it is now,” Ring explains. “The best riders, and Longsjo was definitely one of them, just rode and rode. 150-mile jaunts weren’t uncommon for us. We’d get up at the crack of dawn, eat as much food as possible, drink a bunch of coffee and set out for some town pre-determined, or not, town 40, 50, 60-miles away. We’d eat and turn around, it was that simple. The big trick was to try and make it back before dark. And let me tell you, that didn’t always happen.”
On the back of that night’s race results, Dick scrawled out a collection of match-sprints, street names and mile markers, that when put together formed a possible route, or about four routes to be more precise. I wasn’t sure at the time but I got the impression he was trying to take it easy on us. Little did I know.