Bridge of Flowers Classic: Talented field expected to compete

  • Runners start off down Bridge Street during last year’s Bridge of Flowers Classic in Shelburne Falls. This year’s 41st edition is Saturday morning, and a deep and talented field is expected. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Women's winner Aisling Cuffe sprints to the finish with a time of 29:00 during the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic on Saturday, August 11, 2018.

  • First and second place finishers Amos Sang, left, and Collin Leibold during the 2018 Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic. File Photo

  • Bridge of Flowers Road Race competitors cross the Iron Bridge in a recent event’s start. File Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 8/8/2019 10:14:48 PM

The 41st Bridge of Flowers Classic and 3K Charity Race kicks off Saturday morning, with one of the more competitive fields the race has ever seen expected to be in attendance. 

With the 8K portion of the race being selected by the USA Track and Field Association as part of its New England Championship Series, running clubs from all over the region are sending athletes to Shelburne ​​​​​​Falls this weekend. 

Amos Sang of Chicopee is competing again, and the defending champion will once again be one of the favorites on the course.

Sang won the first-ever 8K race at the Bridge of Flowers a year ago with a time of 25 minutes, 13 seconds, and he also won the race back in 2014 when it was a 10K (28:00). He runs a 4:01 mile and 1:03 half marathon, making him one of the tougher competitors in the field. 

Challenging Sang will be Ben Groleau of Northampton, who is the UMass record-holder in the mile with a time of 4:01 a few years ago.

Groleau runs for Western Mass. Distance Project, one of the top running clubs in New England. The squad won the team title at the Bridge of Flowers a year ago. Groleau has been clocked at 14:11 for a 5K. With his sprint and distance ability, he will be in contention Saturday. 

Another favorite in the 8K is Lou Serafini from Somerville, who runs for the Tracksmith Club in Boston. Serafini is the club’s top runner, and has broken the four-minute mile mark in addition to a 1:03 half marathon. 

“He’s one of the best guys in New England,” assistant race director Dan Smith said. 

Ruben Sanca of Boston is another runner who will challenge for the top spot Saturday. The Cape Verde native represented his country in the 2012 Olympics, running the 5,000 meters. He has broken 14 minutes on the 5,000 meter run, and currently runs for Whirlaway Racing Team. 

John Busque, the 2017 winner of the 10K Bridge of Flowers Classic, is back and will likely be a top finisher at the 8K distance this year. 

The Manchester, Conn., resident won the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day 10K race in 2018 with a time of 30:37, an impressive time on a very hilly course. 

Those five competitors are expected to be among the lead pack when the runners head toward the latter portion of the race.

“It’s unique because the top guys are similar in that they run fast for a mile and run distance well,” Smith said. “Those are the five to beat. There are several other strong runners to mention but the pedigree of those five, they’re on fire.” 

With the strong group of runners, Smith would not be surprised if record times are posted Saturday. 

“Given the field this year, where there’s so many heavy hitters and the weather is looking good,” Smith said, “if guys break 25 minutes on this course, it would be impressive and I think guys are capable of it.”

Like the men’s side, the women’s group features a talented group of runners. 

A yearly favorite, 2014 champion Karen Bertasso is returning this year.

The Albany, N.Y., resident qualified for the Olympic Trials in Atlanta next spring in the marathon, and will once again be in contention for the top spot on the women’s side of the 8K. 

Two local runners — Jenna Gigliotti of Amherst and Danielle Winslow of South Hadley — should challenge Bertasso. 

Gigliotti, who Smith describes as a “phenomenal runner” is on the Western Mass. Distance Project team, and has been running really well heading into Saturday’s race. 

Winslow is the winner of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day 10K this year and after graduating from Boston College in 2015, went to the Olympic Trials in the 3,000 meters. 

“There are a lot of great women running Saturday, but those three women stick out the most,” Smith said. 

While the top of the 8K field is jam-packed with talented athletes, the field also features strong runners in the 40-plus age group. 

Martha DeGrazia leads that group, as the 67-year-old ran the course in 42:38 a year ago. Joan Lapierre, 68, ran it in 43:32 last year and 63-year-old Sidney Lependre ran it in 40:08. All three are set to return to Shelburne Falls this weekend. 

Nancy E. Cook of Belchertown, who ran a 7:27/mile pace a year ago at 54 years old, is also returning. She is a member of the Western Mass. Distance Project. 

On the men’s side, Tim Van Orden from Bennington, Vt. ran last year’s race in 28:43 at 50 years old. Justin Freeman from Campton, N.H. finished in 26:45 at 41 years of age. 

“What’s impressive about this race is we don’t just have the top 20 to 40 aged runners coming,” Smith said. “We have the top 40 to 70 aged runners, too. There is depth of good running across all ages and genders.” 

Last year, the race created the award for the top Franklin County finisher, with former Mohawk Trail star Meghan Davis, then just 17, winning it on the women’s side with a time of 30:56. 

Davis graduated from Mohawk Trail this spring and will be attending Tufts University in the fall. She’ll be one to watch in defending her title this weekend as the top Franklin County women’s finisher. 

Smith himself is a strong runner, finishing as the top Franklin County runner overall a year ago with a time of 27:20.

Aaron Stone of Greenfield was the second Franklin County runner to cross the finish line with a time of 30:10 last year, followed by John Herron of Shelburne Falls in third (30:33), Jeremiah Jones of Shelburne Falls in fourth (31:01) and Dennis Simmons of Heath in fifth (31:45). Simmons is running again and is just 15 years old. 

Rounding out the top 10 Franklin County finishers in 2018 were Andy Reagan of Shutesbury, Edwin Kaczenski of Northfield, Keith Giroux of Greenfield, Guy Rice-Lesure of Ashfield and Matthew Herron of Shelburne. 

Following Davis at the finish line in 2018 was Marcy Cabanas, who was the second Franklin County women to finish with a time of 33:45. Brienne Paradis of Greenfield took third with a time of 38:38, followed by Molly MacMunn of Deerfield (40:14) and Lisa Bostrom of Greenfield in fifth (40:23). 

Natasha Olanyk of Shelburne Falls, Erica Liebermann of Shelburne Falls, Katy Smith of Deerfield, Molly Cantor of Shelburne Falls and Lapierre closed out the top 10 women finishers last year. 

Eight hundred runners entered before the online registration closed on Wednesday, and the race typically gathers an additional 100-150 runners on race day. 

Smith feels if the majority of running clubs in New England show up on race day, they will break their goal of 1,000 runners. He encourages all to come out and experience the 8K version of the course if they didn’t try it out a year ago during its debut.

Athletes are welcome to register tonight or on Saturday morning between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. at the Buckland Shelburne Elementary School. The school is also where runners will pick up their race day packet and will provide the main parking for the event.

The 8K race begins at 9 a.m. and the 3K charity run starts at 8 a.m., 15 minutes earlier than last year. 

After the race, free pizza and beer will be provided at the Blue Rock Restaurant, where awards will also be handed out.

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