Nevada City bike race shifts gears in response to dwindling participation | TheUnion.com

Nevada City bike race shifts gears in response to dwindling participation

Nevada City Mayor Duane Strawser called the attendance at last year's 57th annual Bicycle Classic "pathetic." In its heyday, the race drew an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 spectators to Nevada City.

For only the second time since its inception in 1961, the annual Nevada City Bicycle Classic won't take place on Father's Day in 2018.

Instead, organizers have moved the race to the following Sunday, June 24, in an effort to revitalize the once-popular event that has faced dwindling interest in recent years.

"We're taking an event that is seriously ill — and has been — and trying to reinvent it," said Mike Byrne, a representative from the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, which will organize the race.

The Chamber hopes moving the Classic to another weekend will help increase participation, despite the long-standing tradition of holding the event on Father's Day.

"In the past, Father's Day weekend was the bike race," said Nevada City Mayor Duane Strawser, who directed the race for more than 15 years. "That was the tradition. People came here for Father's Day to celebrate with their family and the race was the backdrop. This was a really tough decision, but our community has changed."

According to Strawser, the bike race in recent years has had to compete with a handful of other nearby events that take place on Father's Day that didn't exist in the past.

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He attributes the lack of participation, in part, to that competition. Last year's extreme heat on race day was another negative factor, he said.

"Last year, for lack of a better term, it was pathetic," Strawser said. "It was a punch in the gut to see the low crowds and to see how few athletes showed up."

Not what it once was

Race organizers have also changed this year's course back the original race layout — which is slightly shorter and cuts out a difficult turn — in hopes of attracting more beginner and intermediate-level riders.

The night before the race, the Chamber of Commerce will host a "brew fest," featuring local breweries and live music, and other cycling events on Broad Street.

Matthew Coulter, a Grass Valley resident, showed his support for the effort to revitalize the race by any means necessary.

"Don't let the race die," Coulter said. "It's a really integral part of this town, and to let that go, I think other things will start peeling away. So please try to do everything you can to save it."

Jonathan Collier, a member of the Nevada County Arts Council's board of directors, said the race is an important part of Nevada City's history and its designation as a cultural district.

"It helps tell the story of our community," Collier said. "It's something we can look at and say it's a historic feat."

According to Strawser, the race in its heyday drew an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 spectators annually.

Professional athletes, including Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer, have participated in the Bicycle Classic in the past and helped draw an even larger crowd.

In 2009, when Armstrong won the race, an estimated 30,000 spectators showed up in Nevada City, Strawser said.

But professional participation has since declined, Strawser said. He attributes the trend to more cyclists from the U.S. qualifying for and racing in the Tour De France, which also takes place in July. Spectatorship, as a result, has dwindled too.

Last year, less than 1,000 people turned up to watch the race, he said.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email mpera@theunion.com or call 530-477-4231.