SOMERVILLE, NJ — A short ceremony and moment of silence will be observed prior to the start of the Tour of Somerville Pro Women’s Race today, May 29, to honor the memory of 2016 winner Ellen Watters, a Canadian cyclist who died two days after Christmas following a collision with a car in the province of New Brunswick where she grew up.
Watters, 28, had returned to her hometown from her residence in Ottawa to be with family for the Christmas holiday. She was cycling on a rural roadway when the Dec. 23 collision occurred, according to the Royal Mounted Canadian Police.
Watters died in a local hospital four days later.
A competitive cyclist for only three years, Watters had amassed an impressive record, with 24 victories, including the Somerville race. She bested 41 other female cyclists to win the 25-mile race in a time of 1:01.44, winning a purse of $10,000, marking the first time race sponsors awarded the winner of the women’s race the identical amount as the winner of the men’s 50-mile race.
One month later, she was the winner of the Bronze medal in the criterium at the Canadian Road Championship.
She had also won the 26-mile Tour of Battenkill in Greenwich, N.Y., just a few days prior to the Tour of Somerville.
“Her future held enormous potential, to race in Europe and eventually the Olympics,” said Ron Czajkowski, a Somerville resident and Tour of Somerville historian.
“It’s a tragic loss to the sport, her family and friends and the people who saw her win here in Somerville last year,” Czajkowski added.
"I spoke with her before she went up on the podium to receive her award," Czajkowski said. "She was so appreciative of the crowd, and to be a part of a grand tradition and winner of this historic race."
Czajkowski and Tour of Somerville race announcer Joe Saling say Watters became an instant crowd favorite.
Saling, a former competitive racer who has been the “Voice” of the Tour of Somerville for 35 years, described her as “bubbly.”
“Of course, you would be after winning an important race like the Tour of Somerville,” Saling said. “What really impressed me is that prior to winning the race she would not have been on my list of potential winners; she was not one of the favorites, at least not in my mind; maybe in the minds of her competitors, seeing her every week in the big races,” he added.
“Anyone who breaks away from the pack of riders for a number of laps and holds on to win by a few hundred feet becomes a crowd favorite,” Czajkowski said. “Those people along Main Street were really getting behind her those last 8 or 12 laps.
“Anyone who was here last year and shared in the excitement of seeing this woman win in such dramatic fashion will want to be here to honor her memory and her teammates from Canada,” Czajkowski said.
Prior to the start of the women’s race, the four riders from the Canadian Women’s National Team will be invited up on the podium at the start/finish line to be introduced. Team member and manager Emily Flynn, will talk about Watters who had been a close friend; Czajkowski will also make some remarks. A Moment of Silence will follow.
Canadian cyclists have won the women’s race nine times, according to Czajkowski.
The race will begin soon after the short ceremony is completed.
Monday, May 29 is the Tour of Somerville, with a variety of races for men, women and juniors leading up to the pro women’s race and the pro men’s race, the Kugler-Anderson Memorial, which honors the first two winners from 1940 and 1941, Furman Kugler and Carl Anderson, both of whom were killed in World War II.
The iconic Tour of Somerville Kugler-Anderson 50-mile race, long described as the “Kentucky Derby of Bicycle Racing,” is the oldest competitive bicycle race in the USA.
The Tour of Somerville Cycling Series is a community event: a series of bike races, a festival and a giant family reunion rolled into one, honoring American heroes on Memorial Day.
Tens of thousands of people from all over the nation and the world converge on the tree-lined streets of Somerville on Memorial Day to cheer the cyclists as they speed up to 40 mph past Victorian-era homes and Main Street storefronts.
There will be live entertainment on Division Street with an interactive bicycle sculpture, an exhibition area in front of the Somerville Court house, and the Unity Bank kids’ zone on Mountain Avenue with entertainment, games, face painting and other activities.
“This is a fantastic countywide celebration with these three neighboring communities coming together to honor Memorial Day,” said Mayor Brian Gallagher of Somerville.
Organizers opted to make several changes this year to make the preliminary races and the signature race more exciting and to take advantage of the downtown Somerville shopping district, according to Rick St. Pierre, president of Arts on Division, the non-profit organization and promoter of the race.
The professional race, which attracts more than 150 competitive cyclists from around the world, is preceded by several exhibition and junior class races, beginning at 10:30 a.m. The women’s and men’s professional races each carry a purse of $15,000.
The promoters decided this year to shorten the course and shift crowds away from East Main Street and the lawn surrounding the Somerset County Courthouse; the past several years, the straightaway extended to East Main Street before turning on to Grove Street; this year, instead of racing on to East Main Street, the racers will turn on to North Bridge Street.
The shorter course means spectators will be packed into a more condensed viewing area on West Main Street.
The start/finish line has been relocated to the area of Davenport Street, Alfonso’s Restaurant and Wolfgang’s Steakhouse.
“The restaurants really like this idea of bringing the crowd down to the central Main Street area,” explained Mike Malekoff, race director and native of Somerville.
A former competitive cyclist and 1971 graduate of Somerville High School, he is the son of Al Malekoff, the former legendary football coach and athletic director at Somerville High School.
“It should increase their business and we should be helping them,” he added.
Jack Simes, former USA Cycling Olympics coach and winner of five Memorial Day bicycle races in Somerville, is enthused about the tighter course.
“It makes racing a little more technical from the riders’ perspective, which is good,” Simes said. “It’s a harder turn to make on to Bridge Street, I remember being smack up against the curb because it funnels down in there; it’s a great place to watch the race, on the courthouse side, right down along the curb. That’s a nice addition to the race,” Simes added.
Simes won five times racing in different age groups; the first time was as a Junior 9-11 in 1954; the following year, as a Junior in the 12-13-year-old category and again as a Junior in 1959 in the 14-16-year-old category.
He won the 50-miles Kugler-Anderson Tour of Somerville race as a professional in 1967 and again in 1969.
The 46-lap Memorial Day race classic will be broadcast for the first time this year. Footage from the previous two days of racing in Bound Brook and Raritan events will be included in the Memorial Day broadcast and will be seen around the world in real time on several platforms, including YouTube and Twitch.
Additional race day coverage, including interviews with competitors, spectators and race organizers and features on the front-yard and curbside parties along the race route will be included in the stream.
The broadcast will also feature footage from the Somerville Memorial Day Parade, which precedes the race activities, ending with ceremonies at the historic “New Cemetery” on South Bridge Street, which is commemorating 150 years of compassionate service in 2017. More than 2,000 veterans from as far back as the Civil War are buried at the New Cemetery.
The Schedule for Memorial Day:
- 9 a.m. – Memorial Day Parade
- 9:45 a.m. – Family Fun Ride sponsored by Somerville Recreation
- 10:20 a.m. – National Anthem
- 10:30 a.m. – Races begin
- 10:30 a.m. – Women 4/5/JR
- 10:55 a.m. – Men 4/5
- 11:30 a.m.– Harry Naismith Juniors Race
- 12:20 p.m. – Masters Race Sponsored by RWJ University Hospital Somerset
- 1:10 p.m. – Bell/Chiselko Men Cat 2/3 Race Sponsored by FERASCO
- 2:15 p.m. – Mildred Kugler 50-mile Women Pro Sponsored by Unity Bank
- 3:20 p.m.– Kugler-Anderson Memorial 50-mile Men Pro Sponsored by Unity Bank
Division Street Entertainment Schedule:
- 12:30 p.m. – Live music by Peter Prasa
- 1 p.m. – Somerville Martial Arts Team
- 1:15 p.m. – Somerset Valley YMCA Gymnastics Team
- 1:45 p.m.– Elite Dance Academy of Somerville
- 2 p.m. – Live music by Andy Prase
- 3 p.m. – Live music by the Bryan Hansen Band
- Unity Bank Children’s Activities, corner of Mountain Avenue and West End Avenue
- Noon-4 p.m. – Children’s Arts and Crafts, Coloring and Sidewalk Chalk, Face Painting, Balloon Twisting Art, Magic and Illusion Extravaganza Show
All events are free and made possible through the support of individuals and companies.
For more race weekend details, visit www.tourofsomerville.org.