FITCHBURG — It’s not uncommon to hear someone say they’ve traveled a bit of distance to race in or just watch the Longsjo Classic.
Folks come from all over in New England and even areas in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to be part of the country’s second-longest running cycling race.
But Jhay Galang has them all beat.
Galang and his family made the trek to Fitchburg all the way from the Philippines to take in a bit of cycling history. And it’s something he’s looked forward to for quite some time.
“I collect bicycles, antique bicycles. I’m very happy to be able to be here today,” Galang said just after the finish of Sunday’s men’s category 3/4 race at the Fitchburg Downtown Criterium. “It’s a historic race, and this city has so much history with cycling.”
Though Galang’s journey took more than a day, he wasn’t alone in making the trip to downtown Fitchburg. Cyclists and spectators from near and far weren’t scared off by the sweltering weather.
“I’ve got friends who race and they’ve talked about this race for years,” said Tim Whitehall of Burlington, Vermont. “It sounds like a lot of people really care about the history of this and aren’t here for just another race.”
Statements like that are music to Donn Ignemie’s ears. The Longsjo Classic’s marketing director has been onboard with the revamping of the race since the Longsjo Foundation took over in 2013 after two years of cancellations, and will be stepping down from his post following the completion of this year’s follow-up evaluations.
“From everything I see and read, I think we’ll have more people attending this year than we’ve had the last four years combined,” Ingemie said. “Our only deterrent might be the heat. We’ve had so many people on social media say they were coming, so many emails that wanted make sure there’d be room here.
“We had 197 kids register for the kids’ race, which was pretty cool. It seems like people are really understanding what this is all about.”
Ingemie pointed out that nationwide, participation in cycling events is down around 12 percent. He proudly added that the Longsjo Classic has seen an increase of around 12 percent over the past two years.
The day featured a half-dozen men’s and women’s races, as well as the aforementioned kids’ race. Following the kids’ turn on the course, Fitchburg Fire Chief Kevin Roy and Fitchburg Police Chief Ernest Martineau grilled up burgers for participants at the Upper Common.
The turnout and community interaction are exactly what Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale hoped for.
“We don’t know if this race will get back to what it used to be or if bike racing has the allure that it once did, and I’m not quite sure why, but this is really a community thing,” DiNatale said prior to getting in some work of his own behind the handlebars for the kids’ race. “That’s what I like about it. It brings people to downtown Fitchburg and gives them a chance to see one of the finer parts of our Main Street.
“We just hope people keep coming back to enjoy it for years to come.”
— NICK MALLARD