Jesse Anthony lives in Newbury Park, Calif., these days. But Boston — and specifically, Beverly — will always be home for the 28-year-old professional bike racer.
“I have the same New England pride ingrained in me as anyone else who grew up in the area,” said Anthony. “Boston is my city, and I really miss the sense of pride in community that Bostonians have.
On Sunday, Anthony will be among an international cast of 144 racers at the starting line in Sacramento for the 10th annual Amgen Tour of California.
Anthony, a 10-year pro and a member of the Optum Pro Cycling/Kelly Benefit Strategies team, is riding a special Boston Strong bicycle made by Diamondback, commemorating the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The team will auction off the bike afterward for charity, with proceeds benefiting the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.
“To be able to ride a Boston Strong-themed bike in a race all the way across the country will truly be a privilege,” he said. “I never forget where I came from, and to represent my homeland in an international sporting event is a huge honor.”
Eighteen teams will compete in the eight-day Amgen Tour, and the event provides spectators and TV viewers a primer on team cycling tactics. Each squad starts with eight racers, and most have a specialized role: sprinters, climbers, general-classification riders, and workmanlike domestiques.
“It’s important for a team like ours to be able to adapt to changing conditions,” said the 5-foot-10, 152-pound Anthony, who described himself as “a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none.’’10noanthony - Boston Strong bike that will be raced by Jesse Anthony in the Amgen Tour in California. (Sam Wiebe)Sam Wiebe10noanthony - Boston Strong bike that will be raced by Jesse Anthony in the Amgen Tour in California.
“I sometimes have a hard time fitting in on the North American race scene, because so many of our races are either for sprinters or climbers. . . .
“My strength is that I am helpful to a really good climber or a really good sprinter, because I can do a lot to set them up where they need to be at the right time” to challenge for the win, he added. “I also am good at surviving, so in long, grueling races I can usually make the front group.”
That ability is a trait Anthony has displayed since he was a youngster during group rides throughout the North Shore with Essex County Velo, a local bike club. He competed in his first race at the age of 12, and was racing nearly every weekend by 14.
“I was so enthusiastic and ambitious as a kid, that making the sacrifices to skip out on the typical teenage social life was never a question,” said Anthony, who has six siblings. “I really shaped a lot about myself and my personality in those years, but I never realized it until later in life.’’
He and his brother Josh were members of the national cyclocross team as teens, but by 2010, back injuries forced Anthony to commit completely to road racing. Their sister, 34-year-old Crystal, competed in cyclocross for Optum/Kelly Benefit Strategies last fall. She will teach Spanish and French at Manchester Essex Middle School in the fall.
“It takes a lot of sacrifices to be a full-time athlete,” he said. “That’s something you don’t comprehend as a kid.”
Anthony will need to call on those deep reserves this week. The Amgen Tour is a daunting race, covering 724 miles on some of the most spectacular roadways on the West Coast. The eight stages represent the spectrum of road racing, with daredevil sprint finishes, dizzying criteriums, lung-busting climbs, and time trials.
“It’s a very empowering experience to be a part of a race like the Amgen Tour of California,” said Anthony. “It’s the highest-level race in North America, and includes many of the world’s top teams and riders.”
He has raced in the Amgen Tour three times, finishing once. “The first time I started,’’ he said, “I was forced to withdraw due to illness, and the second time I was competing for the King of the Mountain jersey and had to pull out with a knee injury.
“So, the Tour of California is a bit of a white whale for me,” he said. “I’ve had some brutal battles with the race itself, but it’s my favorite stage race on our calendar. I’m better prepared for this race than ever before.”
Brion O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.