Darling day for Chris: Local rider wins Tour de Lovell

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

LOVELL — Early on, Chris Darling had a feeling that the 2011 Tour de Lovell was going to be a tight, competitive race.

“In the past, the tempo at the start of the race is relaxed with racers talking and joking with each other as we make our way to the turnaround point. This year, it seemed the racing started right from the beginning,” said Darling, a resident of Lovell. “There were attacks and counterattacks early and everyone was riding in pace line on Route 5, which is usually an indication that the peloton is going really fast.”

Really fast is a good way to describe Darling and Michael Allen of Silver Lake, N.H. The two shifted into high gear up the final hill toward the New Suncook School finish line Saturday as Darling won the photo finish in 52 minutes, 40.2 seconds. Allen was the runner-up at the sixth annual cycling race, sponsored by the Lovell Rec Department, in 52:40.4.

Darling finally found the winner’s circle in his third try at Lovell, ahead of the race’s largest field to date.

“Every year, it is a wonderful experience. (Race Director) Mike Mendonca and his group of volunteers have done a wonderful job every year making this a fun and safe event,” he said. “The Tour de Lovell is extremely well organized; the racer instructions were very detailed; and the course was in great shape, even after DOT put down new pavement the day before the event!”

There was some initial discussion amongst the race committee to relocate the finish line near the Wicked Good Store on Route 5 following last year’s bicycle-vehicle collision in the Village near the post office that left a rider with over 20 stitches. However, race officials ultimately decided to keep the course as is, but did “beef up” safety personnel in that area, as well as moving the race up an hour to avoid “the busy part of the morning in the Village,” Mendonca said.

“The competition is getting better and better every year. We had 29 riders under the one hour mark, which was more than last year,” Mendonca said. “This was a very good race to watch.”

Darling’s strategy heading into the race was to stay in the front and wait to see if any early breaks would materialize.

“If something happened early in the race, I wanted to be ready and able to make a move,” he said. “The break, as it usually does, happened at the large hill after the turnaround point on Route 5. Last year, I was surprised by the break and was not able to join in with the other three riders. This year, I made sure I was in good position at the front of the peloton and was careful to monitor other riders.”

Allen made the initial jump and Darling followed.

“We worked together in the break for the rest of the race. There were two chase groups that formed each with a couple of riders, but they were not able to bridge up to us,” Darling said. “ (Down the stretch) Route 5 takes a slight bend and the last 50 meters are slightly uphill. I was able to draft for 20 or 30 meters and then take the final sprint.”

Racing has been a passion for Darling since his high school days.

“I have been racing bikes since I was in high school. There were only a few other students at my school that raced and we would often go to races as the only representatives from our area. I continued to race road and mountain bikes through college. I now race road bikes as a Category 3 racer for Portland Velo Club/Cyclemania,” he said. “I have recently enjoyed a few years of cyclocross racing each fall, which is very fun.”

Darling trains 8 to 10 hours per week, covering 150 to 175 miles.

“It has been a challenge to find time to train with a family and work schedule, but I have managed to find a few hours during the weekday and weekends to ride,” he said. “My family is very supportive of racing and will often accompany me to the races, which occur all over New England.”

When he is not riding, Darling is coaching the sport. He is a teacher at nearby Kennett High School, and is the coach of the KHS Mountain Bike Team.

“We have the only public high school cycling team in the State of New Hampshire. The Mount Washington Valley has been very supportive of the cycling team with many of the bike shops and cycling clubs offering support for the high school students. Coaching cycling has been a very rewarding experience,” he said.

Comments from the Pack

Mike Hanes of Limerick aimed at a Top 10 finish in his first Tour de Lovell, and exceeded that target by placing third overall in 53:10.7.

“My goal was to stay with the lead few and I hoped for a Top 10 finish. It was amazing. I finished third, which I was ecstatic about! The other riders were great and everyone I rode with worked together very well,” he said. “The first hill on the return is a doozey and the lead two riders put in an amazing attack to stay away that I just couldn’t match.”

Hanes has been a competitive rider for two years, but the Tour de Lovell was the first road “race” he has tackled.

“All of my other competitive rides have been 200-mile plus events that have much different dynamics,” he said. “I loved the rider camaraderie even though it was a ‘race.’ The post race food and gathering was an amazing way to connect with everyone and get to know more riders in the area. I recommend this ride to any serious or recreational cyclist in the area. There are divisions for both racers and tourers, which allows everyone to be included regardless of ability.”

Sterling Brasher, 22, of Gorham, N.H. finished ninth overall in 54:06.8 in his first Tour de Lovell appearance.

“This was my first time doing the Tour de Lovell and I really enjoyed the community atmosphere. I was pleasantly surprised to see a good turnout of some of the competitive riders like Chris Darling, who is a Cat 3 racer now and won the final sprint in a breakaway,” he said.

Brasher’s goal was to get comfortable riding in a pack and trying to start learning the basic tactics and ideas behind road racing.

“I think I did above and beyond that and was pretty content with ninth place, but wished I would’ve kept myself further up in the group so that I would’ve been in initial contact of the five-six man (whatever it was) breakaway group that went out on the last climb about four miles from the finish,” he said.

Brasher started racing barely a year ago, but has been working on being in competitive physical shape for a little more than two years.

“I’ve been doing lots of base miles and adapting myself physically to bicycling. Before cycling, I never really took a serious interest in athletic sports outside of being a spectator or a Monday morning quarterback, so to speak. So, getting my body equipped for the demands of trying to be a serious racer has been a learning curve,” he said. “My humble goal over the next three years is to be a Category 2 cyclist. If I can make that marker, I’ll be stoked. For now, we’ll see where this journey takes me.”

Brooks More of Portland used his first visit to Lovell as a training run for an upcoming Green Mountain Road Race in Vermont over Labor Day Weekend. He finished 12th overall in 55:16.4.

“I thought that the course was excellent and the volunteers gave the race a wonderful community feel. Particularly enjoyable were the pre-race comments from the director and the post-race celebrations,” he said. “I hoped to place in the top 10 overall and the top three in my age category. I did not achieve the first goal, but did achieve the second.”

More felt the most difficult part of the race was the first big hill after the turnaround.

“The way in which the top two riders sprinted up this hill was very impressive — showed me how much more I need to work on going up hills,” he said.

This is More’s first season of competitive riding. He heard about the Tour de Lovell from a Lovell resident back in June. More was riding through the village and was taking a break across from the library to fix his bike when a “very nice man told me about the race and I kept it in the back of my mind,” he said.

“This is a great race with a really friendly and supportive group of community volunteers,” More said. “There are few races during the summer in Maine. I made the trip from Portland and would encourage others to do so as well.”

Augustine Filomena of New Haven, Conn. usually spends his time riding with groups back in his hometown. He decided to enter his second Tour de Lovell because of a friend’s suggestion.

“This is the second year I’ve come up to visit my friends, Bill and Katie Buick, who live in Chatham, N.H. Bill thought it would be a fun ride for us to do while I was visiting, and it has been. The people are very nice and we always enjoy ourselves,” he said. “The course is challenging with a nice mix of hills and flats. Everyone is very friendly, and it’s a fun ride.”

Filomena was able to stay with the lead pack for most of the ride and ended up with the first place medal for his age division.

“Near the end of the race, I got caught between the first and second group for awhile; that makes it tough not having anyone to work with while you’re fighting the wind,” he said.

Walter Grzyb of Lovell has been somewhat of a regular at the Tour de Lovell, competing in the event three or four times. This year, he placed 29th overall, finishing in 59:30.9.

“I like the race because it’s local and supports local organizations (the library and Lovell Rec) that my family and I regularly use,” he said. “The course is tough with all of the hills, but I like the distance. It’s a great ride to train for with a busy schedule.”

Grzyb’s goal, as it is every year, was to break the one-hour mark. This year, he did it for the first time so he was very pleased.

“I fell in with a great bunch of guys early on and we rode together for three-fourths of the race. Toward the end, a few pulled away and a few fell back, but riding together for much of the race surely helped and motivated me,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Although Grzyb does not consider himself a “competitive” rider, he does enjoy cycling.

“I ride a road bike to train, but I really enjoy mountain biking much more. Myself, Bob Mallon and Adam Fillebrown will do the Great Adventure triathlon race (in Bridgton) this coming weekend. I do the bike leg and doing the Tour de Lovell is a great ride to get ready for that,” he said.

Duncan Wood, 17, of Hightstown, N.J. placed 46th in 1:06:41.2 in his first Lovell race.

“I thought the race was a good length and the hills on the course were very good,” he said. “My goal heading into the race was simply to enjoy myself, which I succeeded in. I did far better on the hills than I had expected to, although the first couple of miles coming back were tough. I bike a great deal at home with friends and classmates. I’ve always wanted to see how well I would do in a competitive race.”

Ann Bell of Waterford thoroughly enjoyed her first cycling race, so much so she plans to make a return to the Tour. She was 62nd in 1:22:15.3.

“I enjoyed the race even though I am not a racer! I ride for exercise and fun. This race includes both. The race is very well managed and has both the competitive and the let’s just ride because we love biking venue,” she said.

Bell’s goal was to meet new people and ride within a certain time. She did both and won her age group, which added to the enjoyment.

“The volunteers are so helpful and friendly. My helmet goes off to Lovell Rec for a great time!” she said.

Mendonca echoed those comments, thanking all the volunteers, Lovell Fire Department members, Fryeburg and Stoneham Rescue personnel and John Weston of FAST Timing for their efforts.

“Without them, we couldn’t put on such a great race — a race that is growing each year,” he said.

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