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40 years later, Parsons still stands on top

Brian Hamilton

As Scott Moninger crossed the finish line in the 46th annual Nevada City Classic, everyone on hand knew that the veteran cyclist had surpassed the famed Greg LeMond in total number of victories in Nevada City.

But even as Moninger’s fourth title pushed him past LeMond’s three wins, longtime fans of the Classic knew full well that neither of the two champions held the top spot.

Forty years ago this weekend, Bob Parsons pedaled his way to a record fifth-consecutive Nevada City Classic championship.

“A string like that is kind of unusual,” Parsons said Friday from his home in Santa Cruz. “I think the reason I was able to do that was because it was a tough course that was particularly suited to what I was best at.

“It’s a great town. It was always my favorite race, even in the first two years when I didn’t do that well. I loved it there. “

Parsons earned the top spot of the podium for the first time in 1963 – the third year of the Classic – as an 18-year-old out of Pasadena. In the previous two races, he raced at the senior level although by age he was listed as junior rider.

Once he came to age, his success wasn’t limited to the streets of Nevada City. He twice was crowned California’s road race champion and also won the national championship on two occasions. He raced on two Pan American teams and also was a member of the 1968 USA Olympic team that raced in Mexico City.

But through all the races he rode, Parsons said he never was as consistently successful anywhere else as he was in Nevada City.

“It was really one of the premiere races in California, and it still is an important race,” said Parsons, who will celebrate his 63rd birthday in November. “When I was racing there weren’t as many competing races across the country taking some of the better riders to the east.

“California was known as having the most top road riders. Nevada City was certainly one of the best-run, best-organized and best prize lists of any we had back when I was racing.”

Because the town has been so supportive of the race, he said he’s not surprised by the longevity of the event. It ranks as the second oldest bike race in the country. The only race with a longer history is the Tour of Somerville, which is raced each May in Somerville, N.J.

“It doesn’t surprise me it’s been successful this long,” he said. “It’s such a good location for a race and it’s always had good support from the city. And it’s a very interesting course for watching a bike race.”

That course has changed a bit since the days he dominated the race. While today’s racers hang a sharp left at the bottom of Broad Street onto Commercial Street, Parsons and company had to make an even sharper one. In those days the course turned left off Broad Street onto Pine Street, at a nearly 90-degree angle, and then headed back uphill about a block away.

The cyclists who could keep their speed through the curve and maintain momentum heading up hill had the best shot to be the first to cross the finish line, Parsons said.

“A certain amount of braking was required,” he said. “One of my better skills was my ability to go downhill and descend faster than most of the other riders. I was also good at getting through a corner quickly and another of my better skills was that I was good at short, steep uphill stretches.”

Those strengths worked so well in Nevada City that Parsons followed his initial win with victories in 1964, ’65, ’66 and ’67 – which came four decades ago Monday.

Parsons said he hasn’t been back to Nevada City since 1998, when Levi Leipheimer won the Classic. Leipheimer is now one of the top threats to win the Tour de France as the top rider with Lance Armstrong’s former Discovery Channel team.

Parsons also is familiar with the man who threatens his status as Classic’s all-time winningest rider. He was also on hand for one of Moninger’s wins in the ’90s.

“I’m aware of Scott,” Parsons said. “He’s been racing quite a long time. He’s been racing longer than most are able. And he’s still winning.”


To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail brianh@theunion.com or call 477-4240.


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