Brian Hamilton

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June 20, 2009
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World-class cyclists comprise field of legends in Men's Pro 1,2

Only eight cyclists have ever conquered the Nevada City Classic on more than one occasion. And Justin England, who first won the race in 2004, achieved the feat just last June.

But with one of the most star-studded fields in the 49 years of the Classic - headlined by Lance Armstrong, the most celebrated cyclist in American history - England isn't exactly confident he can collect his third win this Sunday.

"To win this race more than once, it's great," England said by phone this week. "Nevada City is one of those races - the second-longest running race in the country - that is special. And to be on that list twice, it's really special for me.

"I've had kind of a slow start (to the season), but I've had some decent results lately.

Hopefully my form will be OK for Sunday."

Bob Parsons is the all-time leader in wins at Nevada City with five (1962-67), Scott Moninger owns four victories (1994, '97, '99, '06) and Greg LeMond won three consecutive Classics (1979-81).

England, Mike Engleman (1992, '95), Todd Gogulski (1986, '88), Bob Tetzlaff (1961, '62) and Bill Wild (1969, '75) were each two-time winners.

England, who also finished third in the 2003 race, should have plenty of support on hand for his run at a third title. Six of this California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized teammates are also signed up to race in the Men's Pro 1, 2 division.

But the team that will have everyone's attention Sunday will no doubt be the three-man posse preparing itself for next month's Tour de France. Astana riders Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner are the likely favorites to keep England off the top step of the post-race podium.

Armstrong took second in the 1991 Classic, Leipheimer won the 1998 race and Horner has his own top five finish here.

Another team expected to send a contingent of cyclists is the Ouch Pro Cycling Team, although its top rider, Floyd Landis, has not been a confirmed entry. Landis, who won the 2006 Tour de France only to be stripped of the title after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, returned to cycling in January after a two-year suspension.

Whether or not Landis will land in Nevada City Sunday, his team will be sending some of the top American cyclists to compete. Roman Kilun, a 10-year veteran racing out of Oakland, scored two wins at last year's Tour de Nez and finished seventh in the National Time Trial Championships.

Among his other Ouch teammates expected to be in the mix will be Bobby Lea, who raced for the USA team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

As Nevada City fans have learned in the past, however, bringing teammates along for the ride doesn't always ensure a podium performance.

In fact, several recent Nevada City Classic champions rode solo to the title, including the likes of England (2008), South African Darren Lill (2007) and Canadian Eric Wohlberg (2003). And considering some of the talent headed to town Sunday, teamwork might not necessarily be the deciding factor again this year.

That list begins with 2005 Nevada City champ Burke Swindlehurst, who finished the 45th Classic without another rider even in the picture at the finish line. Swindlehurst, who will race for Team Bissell, last year once again showed his climbing skills are a strong fit for Nevada City's 1.1-mile course. He was among the race leaders until a mechanical problem pulled him out of the race.

Graham Howard, who is Swindlehurst's teammate, showed he also is a strong solo rider at last year's race. Howard, who is registered to race Sunday, came from way back in the pack to take third place in his first run at Nevada City.

Jonathan Baker, who looks to be Nevada City's top homegrown threat to win the race, will race for the Nature's Grocers team. Baker, who now lives in Boulder, Colo., finished eighth in the 2007 race. But even more promising for the 1991 Nevada Union High School grad was his second-place performance in Thursday's Truckee Criterium at the Tour de Nez.

But perhaps the most intriguing individual athlete on the roster of riders is 1996 Nevada City champ Chad Gerlach, who beat Baker in a final sprint for Thursday's win.

Gerlach, who had a strong season for the Amore & Vita McDonald's team earlier this year, earned the King of the Mountains jersey at the Nature Valley Grand Prix earlier this month in Minnesota.

After battling drug addiction and alcoholism, Gerlach, who now rides for Lifetime Fitness/VeloVie, is back on the bike for the first time in five years.

And if Gerlach continues to show the form he's displayed recently, he just might join England and other seven cyclists on the list of riders who have won the Nevada City Classic more than once.

To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail or call 477-4240.

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The Union Updated Jun 20, 2009 02:51AM Published Jun 20, 2009 02:47AM Copyright 2009 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.