The fact that Chad Gerlach will place his front tire at the start/finish line of the 49th annual Nevada City Classic Sunday will serve as a victory in itself for the 1996 race champion.
Sixteen months ago it was Gerlach's life that was on the line.
Less than 10 years after he had climbed to top spot of the podium at the Classic, the former champion found himself on the streets of Sacramento, homeless and strung out on crack cocaine and addicted to alcohol.
Gerlach's family finally helped him fight to get his life back on track, which was documented in an episode of A&E's Intervention TV program. After making the decision to accept treatment the program offered, Gerlach emerged with a new lease on life.
And he hasn't wasted his second chance at cycling.
Earlier this year Gerlach joined the Amore & Vita Cycling Team and apparently there is plenty of life left in the legs of the 35-year-old veteran who had not raced in more than five years. He will race for Lifetime Fitness/VeloVie Sunday.
He'll make his return to Nevada City on the heels of a strong start to his 2009 season, highlighted most recently by winning the opening stage of the Tour de Nez Thursday. He also won the Joseph Mendes Criterium and finished second in a stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix in Minnesota earlier this month.
"Things have gone really well this year," Gerlach said by phone earlier this week. "I'm super happy to be racing on my bike again.
"I'm coming off some really good finishes over the last four weeks."
Gerlach hopes to make a strong showing at the Classic Sunday. And though he'd like to win for a second time, he's not setting the bar quite that far.
"It would be nice to be in the top three, but I don't know how I'm going to do," he said. "This year I'm just telling people I just want to do well. With a race like Nevada City, just finishing is positive.
"I'm obviously stressed about it, too, because it's my favorite race. But it's going to be awesome, I think."
Gerlach will be racing against a very famous former teammate this Sunday. Both he and Lance Armstrong were members of the U.S. Postal team in the late '90s. But an apparent altercation led to the two cyclists going in opposite directions. Gerlach's father, Peter Gerlach said his son and Armstrong "got into a beef" at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. After that, Chad was relegated to riding solo at most American events, while the team competed in Europe.
"That was such a long time ago," Chad Gerlach said. "For me, (Sunday) is just a photo-op. I just want to shake his hand.
"I'm happy and super excited to race this weekend. But I'm kind of trying to downplay it. All I can say is that I hope I feel really good Sunday."
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