Aki Sato couldn't have known what he was getting into when he was handed a thick manila folder and told to "put on a bike race series." Now, nearly 20 years later, he's still at the helm of the Outdoor Sports Center Bethel Spring Series, a six-race series of short events held at an industrial park that has become a staple of local bike racers from Connecticut and beyond.
"We get two types of riders," said Sato, who has been riding competitively since his days at Wilton High School back in the late '80s. "There are those who use the series as training for the longer races in the summer, and those for whom the series is their main competitive focus."
For six Sundays beginning in March, 250 to 300 bikers show up to compete in one of six events, divided by ability levels from the beginner Category V riders to the most experienced in the Pro-Cat-I-II-III race that culminates the day. They race over a circuit that measures just less than a mile, completing 15 to 41 laps. They race for individual race prizes, or primes, as well as points that are accumulated over the series. This year, Outdoor Sports Center came on board as a sponsor and leveraged its contacts in the bike industry to provide merchandise prizes ranging from an inner tube to a complete frameset.
Over nearly two decades, Sato has sometimes felt not enthusiastic about his role. But he's out there every Sunday, in weather ranging from bone-chilling rain to fulgent sunshine. "I have a sense of duty," he said. "I feel like I owe the riders a race, and the tenants the minimum amount of disruption. Sometimes it's hard to balance those two." But for far longer than he anticipated, Sato has been doing just that, earning the eternal gratitude of riders throughout the area.
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