By Erin Crowell 8/24/09
For the Hagerty Mens Cycling Masters Team, age is just another number. So is first, second and third. Winning has become a theme this year for both the team as a whole and the individual men who compete in a category of cyclists age 45 and older.
This season, Hagerty has cranked out state-wide wins at the West Branch Classic, Tour of Frankenmuth, Tour of Kensington Valley, the Michigan State Time Trial Championship and the Cone Azalia Spring Classic, along with several single-digit finishes at the Willow Time Trial, Tour de Mount Pleasant, Superior Bike Fest and the Maillot Jaune Road Race.
They will look for another win when they compete on home pavement this weekend at the second annual Cherry Roubaix. The race features a criterium in the Old Town district of Traverse City on Saturday; then a road race through Leelanau Peninsula on Sunday.
Hagerty member Clifford Onthank is confident for Sundays race. I hope to win (the 55 and older category), he says.
However, Onthank shares the same sentiments as the rest of the Masters Team, saying regardless of the winner, it will be a Hagerty bike crossing the finish line first.
We do a lot more hill climbing than the flatlanders -- Thats what we call the people from downstate. (The Cherry Roubaix) is a very difficult climbing course as far as hills go, Onthank says.
MASTERS OF THEIR CRAFT
Leaving their tread marks on the competition is just a part time job for these elite cyclists. All the Hagerty Masters have full-time occupations, including Dr. Onthank, chiropractor; Don Fedrigon, Jr., real estate broker; Dan Hofstra, CPA; and Dr. Norm Licht, M.D., orthopedic surgeon.
Some people might believe holding a steady career while pulling out wins as a competitive athlete would seem impossible. But for these seasoned cyclists, its easy.
Since swimming in college, Ive learned to time manage, says Licht. You just schedule time to do it. Maybe that means an hour ride at lunch or doing it after the kids go to sleep.
However, training for a bike race pales in comparison to the event Licht was training for seven years ago.
In 2002, he qualified for the ultimate in endurance sport races: The Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, comprised of a 2.4-swim in the ocean, a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon (26.2-mile run).
Licht was 45-years-old when he qualified, finishing in the required top 10 percent of his field. However, with his first child due on the day of the race, Licht happily settled for qualifying (having completed the same distance in Lake Placid, New York) and opted out of the race.
Eventually, Licht retired from triathlon racing, but he doesnt attribute children for the reason he stopped.
Im old and decrepit. Theres not much else I can do, he says.
Aches, pains and a hip problem forced Licht to throw in his running shoes and stay in the clips. He swapped triathlons for cycling.
Former pro cyclist Hal Bezier says he, too, is feeling the effects of age. I snap and crack nowadays, he laughs. Bezier, closing in on 48, started racing in the pro circuit when he was 22. Competing in races all over the country, the Oklahoma native spent a couple years at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado.
I raced with some big names Phinney, Kiefel, Ekimov, the McCormack brothers a lot of guys you wouldnt know nowadays, he says.
Reaching his 30s, Bezier says he began losing speed. By the time he moved to Traverse City, he retired from pro cycling.
Now, Bezier has taken the road his teammate got off years ago, by training for Ironman races, including the upcoming Panama City Ironman in November.
Aside from switching up sports, getting older has its advantages. Like a fine wine, cyclists get better with age, or at least, smarter. Ive learned to ride with the competition, says Onthank. Im also using a more systematic training method, growing with experience.
Learning to train better means training smarter, not pushing it too hard, getting the easy training to pay off, adds Masters teammate Lars Welton.
You lose your fast-twitch (muscle) ability so youre never as good a sprinter as you were before, says Onthank, Now, I feel like a have more endurance. The longer the race goes, the better I feel.
NO PACK FODDERS HERE
Although the Masters category in cycling is for ages 35 and older, make no mistake -- these arent just a bunch of old farts, as some team members put it. In the world of cycling, there are five categories, or levels, of racing: level five being the most recreational cyclist, all the way down to level one, or those of professional caliber. A person has to be at a level two in order to compete on the Masters level.
As a Masters, you could race in the pro group but you probably wont win, says Licht. But if you race your age group you can compete.
We go 30 mph around corners. Its about competing, rather than just showing up. Its not about riding in the pelaton and just being a pack fodder, he says.
Pelaton is the cycling term for a group of riders and pack fodder is someone who just sits in the group and never wins the race, Licht explains.
In others words, the Hagerty Masters Team gets the job done.
We actually really do race and we have changed the way Masters Racers race in the state of Michigan, he says. Before, you would just sit in the pack and ride around in circles and have a sprint at the end.
They may be getting older, but it seems the Hagerty Masters will continue taking it to the asphalt and feeling the burn.
We show up at a race and attack, Licht says. Its actually very painful to be in a Masters Race now.
The Hagerty Cycling Masters Team will set the pace when they compete at the Second Annual Cherry Roubaix, Aug. 29 & Aug. 30. The criterium, or timed race course, will happen in the Old Town district of Traverse City on Saturday; followed by the road race, a multiple-lap course of up to 72 miles, along the roads of Leelanau Peninsula on Sunday. For more information, go to www.cherryroubaix.com. For more information on the Hagerty Masters Team, visit www.racehagerty.com.