BRUNSWICK

When we last talked with Hank Pfeifle a few years ago, the legendary distance runner (a 2:16.27 in the Houston Marathon back in 1985, Maine Runner of the Year awards in 1981, 1982 and 1983), was building quite a niche as a competitive bicyclist, notching age-group wins and top places along the Eastern seaboard and west.

In 2012 he won the USA Cycling National masters road race championship in Bend, Ore.

At 63, the Cat 1 rider (top level) hasn’t slowed down much. Or lost his sense of humor.

“The difference between pros and Cat 1 is that the pros get paid and the Cat 1s punch a time clock!”

BRUNSWICK’S Hank Pfeifle in his new blue kit.

BRUNSWICK’S Hank Pfeifle in his new blue kit.

Heck, in late June he took second place in the Masters 55+ division at the 107-mile Hunter-Greene Summer Classic in Sunnyville, N.Y.

After his five-year run with the Portland-based OA Cyclemania cycling team ran its course last year, the Brunswick resident decided change was in the offing.

With that he helped form Downeast Racing (www.downeastracing.com) as a step into a more management role, serving as a mentor to the younger club members. And to help keep his competitive juices flowing.

DOWNEAST RACING members, from left, Fred Thomas, Troy Barry, Hank Pfeifle, Dan Vaillancourt, Eliot Pitney and Matt Moon.

DOWNEAST RACING members, from left, Fred Thomas, Troy Barry, Hank Pfeifle, Dan Vaillancourt, Eliot Pitney and Matt Moon.

On to Yarmouth!

Downeast Racing is scheduled to compete Sunday morning (9 a.m.) at the Yarmouth Clam Festival, with a start right on Main Street, a 3.6-mile circuit. There will be 120 riders, from all over New England.

“I figured if I was going to start a new team I should start young so you could grow into it. I also thought it was important to have a strong commitment and talent in Maine.

“There were a lot of guys I had ridden with and I knew where the talent was. Who was available, who were the personalities. And their styles. Who were the sprinters, the climbers, guys who can go forever … you want to have a nice blend of different talents. Also, will they sacrifice for each other? Will they organize for each other? Support each other and have a fun time with each other?”

It seems the club and the 12 members (who range in age from 20 to 63) are hitting on all cylinders for the blue-clad bicyclists.

Oh, those stand-out-in-a-crowd blue kits.

“I wanted to be different (with team colors). It helps the spectators and helps with our sponsors. And, in the race being able to pick out our guys, make us more visible. When you see a group of 100 guys go by people say, ‘oh, I couldn’t tell who you are.’ So now we have red helmets from Giro and the solid blue uniforms and it works. They call us the Blue Train.

“And, there is even more to write about now. Eliot Pitney, Brunswickian and Downeast racer team member, has won four important races this year sporting the ‘blue train’ blue of the Downeast Racing team.

“One of the goals of the team is to support talented riders and give them the support and guidance to reach their potential and succeed in this difficult pursuit. Eliot has made full use of the support of his teammates, the use of superior equipment provided by the team, and his internal desire to forge a very successful 2014 campaign.

“His wins as a Category 3 rider at the Tour of the Battenkill, a stage of the Killington Stage Race and the Purgatory Road Race qualified him to upgrade to a Category 2 rider — a vastly more difficult field as the level of talent is uniform with the disparity between good and bad being very compact among the group.

“Funny thing though, in Eliot’s first race as a Cat 2 rider — the Hunter-Green Classic — he attacked the field at the three-mile mark of a 107-mile race and, with two breakaway companions, stayed away from the field, dropped his fellow escapees on the last hill and soloed to victory. A very, very impressive show of strength.”

‘Top of the heap’

“I guess my most satisfying achievement has been the creation of this new ‘top of the heap’ cycling team, composed of younger riders eager to race the best competition in the Northeast.”

His role?

“I think it’s important to bring energy, enthusiasm, and to keep everyone together. Sometimes I’ll race with them, but usually I’ll just race the Masters.”

Downeast’s mission statement reads: “2014 marks the inaugural year for the Downeast Racing team. We are a competitive cycling team based in southern Maine with roots that reach from Maine to Boston, Colorado and California.

“We are a group of dedicated athletes with varying backgrounds, experience and areas of cycling expertise, but we are bound by the power of the competitive spirit, commitment to the true definition of the word team and the utter enjoyment found while in the saddle.

“Downeast Racing aims to compete at the highest level in New England, while strengthening the local cycling community in southern Maine through education, outreach, and advocacy for the local like-minded supporters of our goals.”

Of course, all of this requires sponsorship and fundraising, another aspect of manager Hank.

Think about this: Going into Yarmouth, Downeast has been involved in 18 races this year with stops in Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut. There are about a dozen upcoming events, including the Maine Apple Classic in Vassalboro (Sept. 14) and the TD Bank Mayor’s Cup in Boston (Sept. 21).

Hank says that, fortunately, Downeast has had strong sponsor support from Gorham Bike & Ski, Giant Bicycles, Giro Bell Sport, Moses Dyer Coffee, Base 36 software development, Hammer Nutrition Systems and Cape Chiropractic.

“Which is important because their support cuts through much of the expense and allows us to compete. It takes money … there are uniforms, bikes, travel, entry fees.”

Jacobson lends a hand

Matt Jacobson, recently named as the first executive director of the recently formed Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, has also been an integral part in future fundraising.

“He jumped in with both feet to help us raise money. He did a very good job getting us some sponsors, raising some money. Our budget was about $12,000, which helps! Our goal for next year is $25,000 so we can increase our presence, expand our footprint on the New England circuit.”

Now we get to the commitment part. Obviously, most of these guys have jobs, families, lives.

“I would say a minimum of two hours a day. Fourteen to 21 hours a week. I wouldn’t pick guys who weren’t passionate. They have to love racing.”

They use a Strava Iphone app to keep track of their individual workouts.

And, though he likes his current group, Hank is always on the lookout for new talent.

“I do scouting on the circuit to see who’s coming up … who fits the profile of what we want: the enthusiasm. Keep an eye on those guys. You don’t want to get too many guys because it gets unwieldly. But, you have to expect that something will happen and that you can fill two, three slots. And, we want to trend younger.

“And, I’m enjoying this! We have a website and we do a pretty good job of posting two or three times a week. Trying to keep it current, short, informative. Be consistent in our feedback to the community … we take great pains to keep the website current. We do our part to earn our keep!”

For now, he’s enjoying this mentoring gig.

“I don’t care about myself anymore … everything is just gravy now. I’ve done so much. I work for them and I don’t care if I come in first or 31st. Doesn’t make any difference to me as long as those guys do well.”

These are the team members:

Fred Thomas (45) — Cape Elizabeth, Cat 2, 2013 National TT Champion and won the Lake Sunapee Road Race.

Dan Vaillancourt (30) — Saco, Cat 1, rode four years on the U.S. Pro circuit.

Joe Lynch (45) — Gorham, Cat 3.

Travis Kroot (25) — Cumberland, Cat 2.

Troy Barry (40) — Falmouth, Cat 2.

Eliot Pitney (35) — Brunswick, Cat 2 and winner of three races this year.

Peter Cole (20) — Sugarloaf, Cat 3.

Jeff Yingling ( 39) — Brunswick, Cat 3.

Ta Herrera (45) — Brunswick, Cat 2.

Hank Pfeifle ( 63) — Brunswick, Cat 1 and part of the management team.

Jeff Dixon (50) — Falmouth, Cat 2 and part of the management team.

Matt Moon (34) — Portland, Cat 2.

Matt Jacobson — Falmouth, part of management team.

Initially, the new team got its share of looks as Maine is not exactly looked upon as a bedrock for top bikers.

“Although others from ‘away’ were skeptical that a top-level, regionally competitive team could be composed strictly of Mainers, we were steadfastly confident in our abilities.

“We have immensely enjoyed strong showing in the Pro-1-2 fields at the ECCC Championship race in Rhode Island (third), a win at Tour of the Battenkill in Cambridge, N.Y., a win at the Lake Sunapee Road Race in New Hampshire, and a win at the Hunter-Green Summer Classic Road race — 107 miles! — in Tannersville, N.Y.

“This was accomplished against strong established teams such as Kelly Benefits, Jam Fund, BikeReg.com, California Giant and Dealer.com.

“We have more to accomplish this year as we lay the foundation for a team that plans to continually improve and move up the competitive scale.

“Our goal is to represent Maine well and be a beacon for the other guys around the state, who will hopefully take an interest in us.”

GEORGE ALMASI is the Times Record sports editor. He can be reached at [email protected]timesrecord.com