If it’s Father’s Day in Nevada County, it means that hundreds of cyclists and fans thereof have descended on Nevada City for one of the oldest and most intimidating criterium races in the U.S. — the Nevada City Classic.
In its 53rd year, the oldest criterium race on the West Coast will feature some of the nation’s elite racers, including California State Road Race champion Shawn Rosenthal.
“I’m really excited about coming up there,” Rosenthal said, who hasn’t raced the Nevada City Classic since 2008. “But there is a reason I haven’t been back — it’s a scary race.”
The Nevada City Classic is widely known as one of the toughest and most grueling criterium races with its 1.1 mile loop containing a 110-foot climb and a downhill sprint that regularly has riders reach speeds of up to 50 mph.
“In racing, everything has to go right,” he said. “Not just on the bike but in life. Where I am now, I’m just out there enjoying myself. The fitness is there and the mind is there, so instead of being anxious or nervous about how much it’s going to hurt, it’ll just be fun.”
Rosenthal, a member of the Mike’s Bikes racing team presented by Incase, said when he was first was getting into racing 11 years ago, the Nevada City Classic was a race he looked at as a bench mark for elite racers.
“Anyone who lines up has aspirations to win,” he said. “This was a race I looked at 11 years ago, and it’s cool to be in a position where now it’s a possibility to win.”
But winning will be no easy task as young and ambitious pros from all over the U.S. now see the race a stepping stone for their careers, said event coordinator Duane Strawser.
“We’re now a launching pad or a stepping stone, and that’s fine, and it’s good for the sport,” Strawser said. “Any time you see a World Cup- or Olympic-level cyclist, all you can think of in your mind is beating them because it’s a huge resume piece. It’s how you sell yourself.”
The reason the Classic is so appealing to young racers is not only because of the respect that comes with winning it but the sheer ability it takes to claim the title.
“There are no breaks,” Rosenthal said. “The only break you get is that downhill, and that’s not even a break because it takes extreme focus. There is no time to let your mind wander. It’s far beyond what we do at any other race all year.”
In addition to its unrelenting course, the Classic also boasts one of the best racing crowds, Rosenthal said.
“(The crowd) elevates the level of energy,” he said. “As much as the race is going to be challenging physically, the crowd mutes it by cheering. That kind of electricity is hard to pass by.”
Last year’s winner in the Pro Men’s category, Stephen Leece, a member of the California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized team, has not yet confirmed he will defend his title this year, possibly leaving the door open for a new title holder.
The 2010, 2011 and 2012 women’s champion, Katerina Nash, has confirmed that she will not be defending her crown this year as she is currently in Europe competing, said Strawser.
Nash, who also finished third in 2009, won last year’s women’s race by half a wheel over Flavia Oliveira.
On the financial side, the Classic has seen a boost in sponsorship this year, aiding the amount of prize money available as well as the ability to run the event professionally, said Strawser, who believes the elevated purse will bring in higher profile racers.
“It means we’re much more comfortable,” Strawser said of the boost in sponsorship. “We can really put it on professionally in the way its accustomed to instead of scrambling. Nationally, we’re bucking the trend.”
The major sponsors this year are Waste Management, the UPS Store and Subaru.
Some sad news that will be addressed at the Classic will be the passing of two-time Classic winner Bob Tetzlaff. The U.S. Bicycling Hall-of-Famer won the first two Nevada City Classics and will be honored at the race along with longtime rider and race supporter Beth Donnelly, who also passed this year, said Strawser.
The first race in this year’s Classic is the juniors race, which gets started at 1 p.m. in downtown Nevada City. The Master Men’s race is next, starting at 2 p.m., the women’s race follows at 3 p.m., the Men’s Elite Category has a 4 p.m. start, and the Pro race concludes the day with a start at 5 p.m.
Strawser said he expects a bigger spectator turnout than in recent years due to the expected cool temperatures.
“First and foremost, typically the bigger names draw the bigger crowds,” he said. “But a close second has been the heat. The heat kills everything.”
Sunday is expected to be sunny with highs in the low 80s.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.