SOMERVILLE, NJ -- For only the second time in a storied history dating back to 1940, the Tour of Somerville bicycle races will not be held this Memorial Day weekend. World War II stopped it first, now an international conflict of a different kind, the Covid-19 pandemic, will put the brakes on America’s oldest competitive cycling event until next year.
Despite the setback, race organizers say that this year’s sponsors have committed to 2021 and plans are already underway to resume competitive racing as well as a first ever Gran Fondo ride; a 40-plus mile recreational ride through Somerset County open to all area residents. Additional weekend races are also being planned for several neighboring communities.
This is good news for the world’s elite cyclists as well as the thousands who pack the borough’s downtown to watch and experience a variety of activities, concerts, outdoor dining, educational exhibits and block-long lawn parties.
“For decades, the Tour of Somerville has been known as a must win for bicycle racers, and we are committed that after this one-year interruption, the event will continue to grow and prosper,” says Mike Malekoff, the Tour’s executive director. “Everyone, from our title sponsor Unity Bank to the cycling community at large and town officials are on board to move forward for 2021.”
For the cyclists, a return of the event will mean not only a chance to sharpen their skills and ride for a chance to win thousands of dollars in prize money, it’s an opportunity to be a part of a legacy event that has such a long-standing reputation.
Emily Flynn, a professional cyclist from Ottawa, Canada who rides for the LA Sweat team says she again plans to compete in the 25-mile women’s race here next year,
“Somerville is already marked on my 2021 calendar. The racing is fast paced and the setting and crowds are awesome. The entire experience has an incredible community vibe to it,” she said.
As for being held on Memorial Day, there’s a fitting irony to why this event is anchored to the holiday that recognizes American heroes. The featured “Kugler-Anderson Memorial” 50-mile men’s race is named in honor of its first two winners, Furman Kugler of Somerville (1940, 1941) and Carl Anderson of Clifton, N.J. (1942). The race was suspended during World War II, where both men lost their lives, and renewed in 1947 and named in their honor.
Since then, literally a “who’s who” in bicycle racing have found their way to Somerville including Olympians (Eric Heiden), Tour de France winners (Greg LeMond) and national champions from just about every state and countries like Australia, Argentina, Italy, New Zealand, Canada, Germany and Russia.
As legendary Tour of Somerville race announcer, and himself a winner of more than 20 national cycling titles, Joe Saling says, “There may be bigger races, ones with larger crowds and more prize money, but there’s only one Somerville because the focus of the race has always been to work with the community to create a venue for a classic event.”
He adds, “In fact, the race is such a fixture in the community that no one calls it the Tour of Somerville in town; it’s just simply known as ‘the bike race.’”
With plans for its renewal now well under way, it looks like Somerville’s “bike race” will be back again next year; bigger and better.
To stay up to date and follow the 2021 Tour of Somerville, visit www.tourofsomerville.org.