Sang, Cuffe break the tape at Bridge of Flowers 8K

  • The field takes off through the starting line from the Iron Bridge during Saturday’s 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Eventual winner Amos Sang, left, and runner-up Collin Leibold run neck-and-neck on the course at Saturday’s 40th Bridge of Flowers Classic. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Women’s winner Aisling Cuffe sprints to the finish with a time of 29 minutes at Saturday’s 40th Bridge of Flowers 8K Classic. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners start off down Bridge Street during the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • First and second place finishers Amos Sang, right, and Collin Leibold during the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Sang finished with a time of 25:13 with Leibold nine seconds behind at 25:22. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • First and second place finishers Amos Sang, left, and Collin Leibold during the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Sang finished with a time of 25:13 with Leibold nine seconds behind at 25:22. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Meghan Davis sprints to the finish with a time of 30:55 during the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • The top three finishers with Amos Sang in first, center, Collin Leibold in second, right, and Benjamin Groleau in third place during the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Sang finished with a time of 25:13 with Leibold nine seconds behind at 25:22 and Groleau at 25:37. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Amos Sang sprints to a first place finish with a time of 25:13 during the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Spectators cheer on the runners competing in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Garrett Postema runs with a stroller while competing in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Medals for the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Shelley Roberts, of Shelburne Falls, crosses the finish line of the 3K Run in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Runners compete in the 40th Bridge of Flowers Road Race Classic in Shelburne Falls on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 8/12/2018 9:55:38 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — A week ago, neither Aisling Cuffe nor Collin Leibold knew the Bridge of Flowers 8K Classic existed.

Both being fans of races steeped in tradition, they discovered the 40th edition of the biggest race in Franklin County and signed up just in time.

Cuffe captured the women’s overall title, and Leibold was runner-up on the men’s side, as the engaged couple from Grafton showed their mettle on an overcast but comfortable Saturday.

Cuffe, who was a standout runner and three-time Pac-12 champion at Stanford University, won the women’s race in 29 minutes. She bested last year’s winner, Holly Rees, who was runner-up in 29:22.

“I didn’t look at the course before signing up, but I loved the race so much,” said Cuffe, 24, of the grueling course that successfully dropped from a 10K course. “You can tell the people in the town really get into it and that makes it special for the runners involved.”

Leibold led for a large portion of Saturday’s race. He moved into the lead heading up the daunting 1-kilometer Crittenden Hill, pushed the pace and broke free from a pack of five runners. That’s when Chicopee’s Amos Sang came charging, however. Sang, the 2014 champion, closed the gap on the downhill portion following the summit, and eventually took the lead as he and Leibold turned onto the brief spell of Route 112 just before Mile 4. It was tight down the stretch, with the pair swapping spots twice, before Sang broke free late and crossed with his second Bridge of Flowers title in 25:13. Leibold settled for second place, nine seconds back in 25:22.

“Today was more about conserving speed,” Sang said. “After (Crittenden Hill), it’s a gradual downhill so I was able to pick up momentum and speed. I didn’t want to do anything crazy the first mile and a half. Just keep (Leibold) in sight and try and reel him in later in the race.”

Leibold, who starred at Georgetown and was eventually an All-American at Stanford, said his strategy was to make a move on the uphill portion of the race. Growing up in Virginia, he said Crittenden Hill reminded him of jaunts through the Shenandoah Valley near his grandparents’ house.

“(Crittenden) was longer and steeper though,” he laughed. “I used it as a place to go for the win. I was trying to get away on the hill and keep pressing down the hill. I was able to get some momentum and open up the pack a bit. (Sang) kept the pressure on.”

Sang’s closing speed in the final mile-plus was the difference. The 29-year-old is part of the Western Mass. Distance Project, and he’s fresh off a New England 5-mile championship in June.

“I really made a point of having that closing speed,” Sang said. “I was able to pick it up around Mile 3 and then that fifth mile, it was a sprint.”

Framingham’s Benjamin Groleau finished third overall in 25:37. He was in the lead pack for much of the first half of the race before Sang and Leibold separated themselves. Two-time champion Glarius Rop of Agawam was fourth in 26:03, followed in fifth place by Teague O’Connor of Burlington, Vermont, (26:10). Shelburne Falls’ Dan Smith was the top local runner across the Iron Bridge, finishing ninth in 27:21.

Cuffe and Leibold moved to Massachusetts just two weeks ago, as Leibold began medical school at UMass in Worcester last week. Cuffe said the pair was looking for something to do over the weekend, and discovered the event. Leibold said it was a nice escape from a chaotic first week of school.

“We’re kind of aficionados of old races so when we saw this one, it was a no-brainer,” Cuffe said.

While she mostly competes in shorter races, Cuffe, who was 22nd overall in the field, felt right at home on the 8K course. She said she raced against Rees in a 5K last year, and knew the Bridge of Flowers defending champion was the one to watch when the opening gun went off.

“I figured she knew what she was doing,” Cuffe said of keeping Rees in her sights.

Semehar Tesfaye of West Roxbury, the 2016 champion, finished third in the women’s race in 30:18. Karen Bertasso of Albany, New York. was fourth in 30:31, and Mohawk Trail star and Plainfield resident Meghan Davis was fifth across the tape in 30:55.

The weather cooperated for the 3K Charity Race and 8K Classic, as rain held off and the overcast morning made for comfortable, mid-August temperatures.

Buckland’s Bryan Dole finishing first in the Steve Lewis Subaru Charity 3K in 10:24. Jacob Hughes (Shelburne Falls) was second in 10:32. Amherst’s Cortney Berling was the first woman across and third overall in 10:54. Leyden’s Kate Ashley was fourth and the second woman across in 11:34.

In the 8K Classic, Anthony Popielarczyk, of Florence, was 13th overall in 27:55. Brian Berling, of Amherst, was 17th in 28:32. Northampton residents Ethan Milsark (28:55) and Brian Krusell (28:57) were 21st and 22nd, respectively.

Amherst native Jack Cherewatti was 24th in 29:16.




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