SOMERVILLE, NJ — The 74th annual Tour of Somerville Cycling Classic has come full circle, returning to a shorter race course used in past years that will enhance the spectators’ experience, increase business for restaurants and retailers in the downtown shopping district and force racers to rethink strategy as they jockey for position during the last two to three laps and set up for the sprint to the relocated finish line.
This year’s Tour of Somerville Cycling Classic presented by Unity Bank has expanded to include three days of racing - the Bound Brook Criterium on Saturday, May 27 and the Raritan Criterium on Sunday, May 28.
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.
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. The womens’ and mens’ 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.
A key constituency helping to convince the promoters to alter the race course included the restaurants and retail stores on West Main Street in the vicinity of the start/finish line between Davenport Street, Alfonso’s Restaurant and Wolfgang’s Steakhouse.
“The growth of the Jack Morris property” – (The Edge luxury five-story apartment building) “and the wider sidewalks afford greater density for visitors and not as much sprawl the last course presented,” St. Pierre said. “A lot of the retail district felt they’ve lost out the past few years because of how stretched out the course was,” he added.
Instead, spectators will be packed into a more condensed viewing area on West Main Street.
“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.
Simes will be one of many former competitive cyclists that will return to Somerville to watch the races. He expects to visit with Joe Saling, a former top competitor in the Tour of Somerville himself and “Voice” of the Tour of Somerville. Saling has broadcast the race for the past 35 years.
Saling, who has spent more than 50 years involved at some level in competitive cycling, is one of the most decorated cyclists in the U.S. with more than 20 national titles. His wife Dottie also competed, won state and national titles; including serving as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Saling’s two daughters also competed in bike racing, including his son-in-law and other grandsons.
Saling purchased Kugler’s Somerville bike shop and ran it for several years.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 & West End Avenue:
Noon-4 p.m. - Children’s Arts & Crafts, Coloring & Sidewalk Chalk, Face Painting, Balloon Twisting Art, Magic & 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.