SOMERVILLE, NJ - Whether it be the tradition, the speed, the crowds, the prize money or the prestige, there’s something about the Tour of Somerville that has lured prior winners back every Memorial Day since 1940.
So is the case this year with cyclists Laura Van Gilder and Shane Kline.
Winners of the featured 25-mile women’s and 50-mile men’s races last year, Van Gilder and Kline will return on Monday, May 27 and try to repeat their dramatic victories and claim their share of the $10,000 prize money awarded for each event. The women’s race starts at 3 pm, with the men’s iconic 76th Kugler-Anderson Memorial rolling off at 4 pm.
For the 54-year-old Van Gilder, one of the greatest female American cyclists ever, her string of an unprecedented five wins (1999. 2002, 2005, 2017, 20018) on the streets of Somerville will launch her further into cycling’s record books if she can add another.
The winner of more than 300 career races from Cresco, Pa., Van Gilder makes a habit of regularly beating elite riders half her age. She considers Somerville “to be like a second home” on the cycling circuit and has attracted a strong following with supporters partying beneath a “Go Laura” banner on West High Street each year.
On her chance at winning an unrivaled sixth Tour of Somerville, the Mellow Mushroom team member said, “I’ll be returning; wouldn’t miss it. I’ll certainly try to get the victory and, yes, this would be a historic one, but I’m sure many others will be hungry for it too. At this stage of the game after so many years of racing I’m happy to be a competitor and a participant.”
Meanwhile Kline, at the age of 28, has been using wins at short-course, multi-lap, fast-paced criteriums like Somerville to boost his prowess as a track cyclist and a possible spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team. The Bally, Pa. native also has a history at Somerville, having competed four times in the junior race for riders ages 15-18, and winning three of those times.
Kline, who said doing well at Somerville is a matter of “being at the right place at the right time for the last two laps,” recently recalled his win and how he took control of the front of the pack with one lap to go after Alex McLaughlin of Louisville, Ky. tried to “steal the race” with a solo breakaway on the final trip around the1.2-mile circuit.
“I urged the rest of the field to keep chasing, so I moved up to the front and we reset the race tempo hard to catch the break.” The strategy worked as Kline and three others caught McLaughlin at the finish line with Kline winning the sprint by a bike length.
Primarily a track specialist by choice, Kline recently led a US team to multiple wins on an Australian velodrome and sees a “big crossover to competing with the high power output” needed to race on a four corner, multi-lap course like Somerville’s.
Although he races for a team (SmartStop Self Storage), Kline will be riding solo on Memorial Day, something he doesn’t consider a disadvantage. “ I need to be aware of what’s going on around me, and maybe poach another team’s lead out or fight to get on another rider’s wheel, especially if the race comes down to a field sprint.”
Asked on what it will take to win Somerville two years in a row, Kline said tongue-in-cheek, “make sure the body is open and the engine is going.”
In addition to a full slate of other Memorial Day races starting at 10:30 am, event organizers have planned day-long activities that include musicians, food vendors, educational exhibits, and a Kid’s Sports and Entertainment Zone at the County Court House Green sponsored by Atlantic Health System/Atlantic Medical Group. Musical acts will perform on the Division Street pedestrian mall.
With 16 branches throughout New Jersey, Unity Bank again is proud to be the Tour of Somerville’s title sponsor.
For a complete list of Tour of Somerville Memorial Day weekend activities, including bicycle races in Bound Brook on Saturday and straight-line sprint racing down Somerville’s Main Street on Sunday evening, visit www.tourofsomerville.org.