Father of the Nevada City Classic
June 15, 2010
Forgotten in the all the present day hoopla and well-deserved accolades for those locals who helped stage the Nevada County segment of Amgen’s Tour of California and many previous Nevada City Classics is the name “Charles Allert,” who is the undisputed “Father of Nevada County Bicycle Racing.”
Because of his dedication to the sport, Nevada City is today known far and wide as California and the west’s premier center of bicycle racing.
Yes, Davis, Calif. boasts a Bicycle Hall of Fame (where Charlie deserves to be enshrined) and the largest number of bicycles per capita, but please remember it all started here in Nevada City on June 11, 1961. And I’m proud to have worked closely with Allert on the inaugural race and in many of the early events.
Here’s how it began:
The first Tour of Nevada City bicycle race was run on Father’s Day 1961, on the streets of Nevada City. It has been repeated each June since, on an up-and-down hill course called by top-notch riders who have competed, the toughest in the United States.
Today, it can be likened to the Indianapolis 500 or the Kentucky Derby or any of a number of premier sporting events. Only the Tour of Somerville, New Jersey race is older, and it’s held on a flat course, while the Tour of Nevada City Classic is far and away the most spectacular one day event of all the bicycle races in the United States.
The race is the brainchild of Allert, a former bicycle racer, longtime bike racing figure and master lithographer.
Allert came to Nevada City from the Bay Area in 1960, and was immediately impressed with the potential for a race on Nevada City’s streets.
Allert rode bikes in his native Germany and continued to ride after arriving in the United States from Dresden with his parents at age 14. He also had a vaudeville act featuring some trick riding.
He did not resort to half measures when he laid out the course, actually getting on his bicycle and spending hours riding the steep, twisting streets to find just the right combination of uphill, flat and downhill stretches.
His years of experience qualified him to judge the merit of what today is basically the same course as laid out in 1961, and considered by experts the toughest one-mile criterium in the United States.
Let’s go back to February 1961, when Nevada City Chamber of Commerce President Dean Thompson asked the city council to allow street closures for a 40-mile bicycle race to be held that year on Father’s Day.
The proposal was not enthusiastically received.
“A bicycle race on the streets of Nevada City?… What in the world? … Who would watch a bunch of guys on bikes going up and down hills? … Why, they would be tired out after one turn and quit!”
These were just a few of the comments heard around town.
The council was concerned about the cost of extra police protection and post-race cleanup. One councilman observed, “If you have to go this much trouble, maybe you should hold it in Grass Valley?”
But, in the end, the council gave its permission.
The Chamber’s job was now to recruit volunteers, gather prizes, send announcements to prospective riders, publicize the event, etc. – and with a scant three months to get everything ready. The volunteers rose to the occasion and in the process, stirred up community pride in an event unfamiliar to practically all concerned.
Race day arrived, along with a meager crowd of a scant 1,500, comprised mainly of riders’ friends, family and followers; locals from the western county and a few score hard-core race fans from all over. The spectators concentrated in the downtown area. Some three hours later not only was the inaugural race over, but it was a local sensation.
Every skeptic had been converted, even the councilman who wanted the race moved to Grass Valley!
And the riders were ecstatic: “Wait ’till next year, I’ll be back,” “It’s a real victory just to finish the race,” “We’re not used to such great hospitality; everyone’s so friendly,” “The course is a real bear!”
Winner of that first race was Los Gatos school teacher Bob Tetzlaff, whose prizes were an outboard motor, a victory plaque and a gold nugget valued at $55.
Tetzlaff repeated as winner of the 1962 race.
The next year, the Tour of Nevada City became the sole property of 18-year-old Bob Parsons, from Pasadena, whose miraculous feat of five consecutive wins stands like Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak as seemingly unattainable.
Greg LeMond, the first American to win the prestigious Tour de France, won Nevada City three consecutive times, 1979-81. His racing skill was recognized by the City Council of Nevada City when they proclaimed August 11, 1986 “Greg LeMond Day.”
From rather humble beginnings the race – Tour of Nevada City or Father’s Day Bicycle Classic – grew in stature and in the number of contestants and spectators.
Since 1961, the event has had myriad sponsors ranging from beer and bicycle manufacturers, to mineral water bottlers and with a good smattering of local entrepreneurs picking up the tab. Competitors have ranged from individual riders, Olympians and Pan American riders, to small racing clubs and association, to national and international racing teams; the Nevada City classic is known worldwide as one of the toughest.
Charlie Allert, who conceived the race and dedicated himself to its success, died in 1997 at age 83.
It was an honor to have worked on many of the early races with such an unselfish person whose expertise has returned so much to his adopted country, city, county and state.
Regognition of his “brainchild” is long overdue and the 50th should rightfully be named in his honor!
In familiar language, a fitting epitaph is: “Way to go, Charlie!”
Bob Wyckoff is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor, publisher and an author of local history. Contact him at email@example.com or P.O. Box 216, Nevada City, CA 95959.