Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nevada City Classic...

If there is any one race that I regret never having raced (yet) it would have to be the Nevada City Classic, traditionally held on Father's Day each year. First run in 1961, the Classic is one of the oldest continuously run one-day races in North America, its longevity only eclipsed by the 70+ year old Tour of Somerville. Over the course of its fifty years the race has been won by such cycling greats at Greg Lemond, who won three times (1979, 80, 81), Scott Moninger, a four-time victor (1994, 97, 99, 2006), Alexi Grewal (1993), Levi Leipheimer (1998), and Lance Armstrong (2009). Other victors have included John Howard, Todd Gogulski, and Michael Engleman. And then there is lesser-known, but five-time champion Bob Parsons, who won consecutive years between 1963 and 1967.

Short clip from the first Nevada City Race, held in 1961. Classic bikes, classic jerseys (look for the red Montrose Cycling Club with white and black stripes at the 2:30 mark), classic racing action

LeMond with an unidentified fan at the 2000 race

I have been in Nevada City for a few editions of the race including the year 2000 when Greg LeMond led a group ride the day before the race. Of course it was cool to ride with him, but I shouldn't have let the term "former-professional" fool me, the pace was faster than expected. A big group had come out to ride with the Tour and World champion, and the front of the ride was down the hill and around the corner before my left foot was even off the ground. I had to thread my way through the group over a series of hills and vales in order to make it up to the front for a brief visit before dropping back. From then on I was just content to keep riders around me who knew the way back, since there was no route slip. I notice that the Nevada Chamber of Commerce has a cool little "Five Favorite Rides" brochure pdf accessible from their website, and put together by the Sierra Express Bicycle Club; ride no. 2 on this is the LeMond Loop, named as such since 2000.

This is a fantastic spectating race, held entirely in the historic downtown area of Nevada City, California. The course basically consists of one painful uphill, followed by a screaming fast descent with a tight 90º turn at the bottom for thrills. Actually, it is a little more involved as the uphill side does weave around the back streets a bit, but ever-upward. Restaurants, pubs, shops line the streets that you can quickly duck into for a bit of food or drink between races. So many smaller local races lack the kind of "atmosphere" or "show" that you come to expect after watching too many European races. The Nevada City Classic is not one of those; the town really gets behind it. By the time the pros make their way onto the circuit the sidewalks, especially along the downhill side and around the bottom turns are normally packed, and balconies are prime viewing spots. LeMond noted of the race: “It had a European kind of feeling to it. It was definitely one of the highlights of the summer. It was, and still is, a great way to see European-style racing.” Atmosphere is half of what makes this race what it is, and is at least part of the key to its longevity. This years edition (June 19) kicks off the races' second half-century, and makes for an excellent long weekend escape. Mark your calendars now, it happens only a few weeks after the Tour of California.

Bob Wycoff photo of Bob Parsons

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