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Son’s Pleas for a Race ‘Close to Home’ Led to Creation of Somerville’s ‘Tour’

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Race winners Furman Kugler of Somerville (1940, 1941), at left and Carl Anderson (Clifton, NJ, 1942) superimposed over a photo of the 1947 start.  Credits: Courtesy Ron Czajkowski
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SOMERVILLE, NJ - During the winter of 1939 Somerville bike shop owner Fred “Pop” Kugler answered a plea from his son. It seems that his boy, Furman, had been winning bicycle races up and down the East Coast and wanted to race closer to home. In an interview before his death in 1990, “Pop” recalled that “Furman wanted to sleep in his own bed for a change the night before a race, so I figured ‘why not, let’s give people something to look at.’ ”

The elder Kugler got the necessary licenses and sanctions from cycling officials but the one thing he didn’t count on was a snag from Trenton. “I wanted to call it a race,” he said some years later, but New Jersey law specified that no contest of any type for wage, purse, or prize could be held on a state highway.

The dilemma was that Somerville’s Main Street was, and still is, state highway Route 28. The state motor vehicle commissioner at the time suggested if the race instead be called a “Tour” he would issue a permit. It was, he did, and it has been ever since.

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For the 73rd year this Memorial Day, Monday, May 30, the spotlight of competitive bicycle racing will focus on the tree-lined streets of the borough for the 50-mile Kugler-Anderson Memorial Tour of Somerville. Known as “the Kentucky Derby of cycling,” the Somerville race is the oldest major bicycle race in the country.

When the starter’s pistol sends off the pack at around 3 p.m., 200 of the best professional and amateur racing cyclists will pedal 43 laps of a 1.14 mile downtown circuit at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Cyclists from as far away as California, Canada, and South America are expected to compete.

The feature event will cap a day of bicycle racing for  USA Cycling licensed competitors of various age and experience levels. Many of the same racers will also compete the day before through the downtown streets of Bound Brook as part of the Tour of Somerville Cycling Series.

The two-day series is promoted by Arts on Division, a Somerset County resource that promotes all aspects of culture and the arts, for the benefit of Jack’s Kids. Jack’s Kids is a Somerville Elks initiative that eases the financial burden to families dealing with a serious childhood illness and/or serious disabilities

Furman Kugler won the first Tour of Somerville in 1940 and then went on to win the national championships in Detroit that year. He repeated his dominance by winning his hometown race again in 1941. Furman sat out the 1942 event and that opened the door for one of his closest friends, Carl Anderson of Clifton, to take top honors.

The race was suspended during World War II, which ironically saw Furman killed in Okinawa and Anderson lose his life in Belgium. Renewed in 1947, the Tour was appropriately renamed “The Kugler-Anderson Memorial” and has been held every Memorial Day since.

Tour organizers remind that with access to a unique mix of participants and spectators. numerous sponsorship opportunities are still available for local corporations, businesses, and non-profit organizations to promote their brands and have a presence at the race.

For further information about the Tour or sponsorship, contact event chairperson Lisa Yates Werner at info@tourofsomerville.org.

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