A classic finish | TheUnion.com

A classic finish

It became pretty clear with less than 10 laps to go that the 48th winner of the Nevada City Bicycle Classic was likely going to be one of the two riders who had built a 30-second gap from the pack.

Either BMC’s Scott Nydam, the King of the Mountains in this year’s California Tour, was going to score one of the biggest wins of his cycling career or Justin England, Nevada City’s 2004 champ, was about to become a two-timer in a race he considers to be simply the best in the cycling world.

“We rode together until there were three laps to go,” said Nydam. “But on the second left-hander (coming off Union Street), he had a little bit of a gap coming out of the corner.

“He looked back and stepped on it. And I just couldn’t respond.”

England attacked at what turned out to be just the right moment, climbing to the top of town to eventually earn the top spot at the podium for his second victory in Nevada City.

England’s emotions were running high after being handed the first-place hardware, proclaiming his love for the race and the city that serves as its host.

“This is, by far, the coolest race in the U.S.,” said England, who rode solo in the saddle Sunday for Toyota United, which had sent a large number of riders to this week’s Nature Valley Grand Prix in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

“The crowd here is amazing, the turnout is incredible, the course is unbelievably hard and, of course, there’s always the death march at the end.”

With the sun scorching the faces of fans peering up Broad Street as the final laps dwindled, the top two finishers found themselves all alone ahead of a group of cyclists feeling both the heat and the pressure of reeling the two riders back to the pack.

But it couldn’t be done.

Nydam broke first and built what seemed to be a substantial lead midway through the race, yet England slowly narrowed the margin to join the race for first place.

Meanwhile, a pack containing two other past masters of Nevada City – and one of the top up-and-comers in the country – began to fight for the third and final spot on Sunday’s podium.

Team Bissell’s Burke Swindlehurst, who won the 2005 Nevada City Classic, led that pack early on. But a mechanical problem pulled the past champ out of contention and out of the race.

That left Eric Wohlberg, who shocked the crowd at Nevada City by coming back from mechanical trouble to win the 2003 Classic, Steven Cozza, a former winner of the Junior race who placed fourth in 2005, and Matt Cooke, a 2006 Road Race National Champion, as the three remaining favorites for third place.

Yet, seemingly out of nowhere, Graham Howard of Team Bissell won a full-speed sprint down Broad Street to take the stage alongside England and Nydam.

“We have a race a lot like this in Michigan,” said Howard, who hails from Grand Rapids and made his first start in the Classic. “Although, it’s a lot more mellow (than Nevada City).

“I really liked this race. I liked the heat. I liked the little city streets. And the crowd, the whole atmosphere was fantastic.”

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

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