Special to the Herald Press
NEW BRITAIN - With 20 minutes left in the race, Ezra Sonderling was already a full lap ahead of all but two of the cyclists. He decided he could do better.
The Newton, Mass. native was part of a three-man breakaway early on in the men’s Pro/1/2/3 race of the Nutmeg State Games’ Cycling Criterium, held in Walnut Hill part on Saturday.
The breakaway was part of Sonderling’s strategy from the beginning; he would stay with the rest of the cyclists, or the “pack,” for about 20 minutes, then break away with whoever wanted to follow him.
Sonderling would then try to get as far ahead of as possible without rejoining the pack, which is called “lapping.” He knew if he lapped with other cyclists, he might not win the race.
“If I finish with (the pack) sprinting, I have maybe 60, 70 percent chance of winning. It’s kind of hectic. It’s pretty easy to make mistakes. If I’m alone or if I’m in a small group, it’s pretty much a 100 percent chance I win,” Sonderling said.
Sonderling successfully broke away from the pack early on in the race as planned, along with cyclists Mark Carpenter and Jason Tinkov. They stayed well ahead of the pack without lapping for the majority of the 32-mile race. But about 20 minutes before the end of the race, Carpenter and Tinkov decided to lap, ignoring Sonderling’s pleas to stay behind the pack.
“I was telling everybody, please guys, let’s not lap. They chose to lap,” Sonderling said.
Sonderling decided to use all his energy to break away from the pack as soon as he could.
“As soon as we lapped, I saw that Mark had one teammate. He brought him to the front and they both looked tired. And I immediately attacked them knowing I had plenty of legs, plenty in reserve. I hadn’t been riding hard throughout the day,” Sonderling said.
Sonderling quickly broke away and stayed well ahead of the pack for the rest of the race. One of his competitors, Beacon Falls native Anthony Alessio, said the pack tried to catch up to Sonderling, but he was too fast.
“It may have been the hardest lap I have ridden,” Alessio said. “As my head was down looking at the wheel in front of me, I thought, ‘we gotta catch him. He’s going to come back.’ But he just never came back.”
Sonderling finished with a time of 1:10:10, a minute and 10 seconds ahead of second- and third-place winners Carpenter and Tinkov.
Alessio, who became the USA Cycling Connecticut State Champion after placing first out of the racers from Connecticut, said Sonderling’s speed was demoralizing but impressive.
“I had to try to get out of my mind that this guy is riding faster than my hardest effort away from all of us,” Alessio said. “So hats off to Ezra. He was just phenomenal today.”
Southington resident Laura Summers came in first in the women’s Pro/1/2/3 race with a time of 51:53. Unlike the men’s race, there were no breakaways for the entire 18-mile race. All the cyclists finished in the pack, and all their end times were within the same second.
Summers finished milliseconds ahead of second- and third-place winners Katherine Rusch and Jennifer Magur.
Summers said she did not try to break away before the end sprint because she did not want to exert more energy than she had to.
“I was trying to conserve my energy as much as I could, since I had been racing all day,” Summers said.
Summers said she was surprised she won. She had participated in other races earlier in the day and was working as the race promoter for the event. She was also one of the oldest competitors in the race at 48 years old.
“I try not to think about that because some of the greatest bike racers in the world right now for women are in their 40s,” Summers said. “Women tend to get stronger as they get older, which is one of the cool parts about racing.”
The full results are available at velocityresults.com.