Brian Hamilton: Another Classic, indeed
Oh sure, the South African who circled the course so swiftly Sunday certainly caught us all off guard.
Those of us who expected one of the past masters of the Nevada City Classic to step atop the podium were doing a double take each time Darren Lill blasted by.
And our jaws dropped nearly a full minute later on each lap, as four-time winner Scott Moninger and 2002 champ Tony Cruz gave chase.
Who was this guy?
And how could he leave the former champs so far behind?
The truth is we shouldn’t have been so shocked.
In fact, those two very questions have been asked more often than not when the Classic comes to a close each year. In 47 years of this race, the oldest bike race west of the Mississippi River, just six cyclists have climbed to the top spot on that podium on more than one occasion. Those six – Bob Tetzlaff, Bob Parsons, Bill Wild, Greg LeMond, Todd Gogulski and Scott Moninger – own a total of 18 Classic championships.
The other 29 Classics were captured by first-time winners.
Moninger, who won his fourth championship last June and Sunday looked to tie Parsons for the most Nevada City wins with five, told The Union last week that the history was against him repeating as the champion.
He was right.
Moninger, who finished second Sunday, has never won back-to-back Classic titles. Actually, no one has for more than 25 years.
The last repeat champion was LeMond, who won three straight between 1979-81. The only other cyclists to successfully defend their titles in Nevada City were Tetzlaff, who took the first two in 1961-62 and Parsons, who won five in a row between 1963-67.
But what about the way Lill won? He cranked past the competition in such a powerful manner that the only company he was keeping at race’s end was with the driver of the lead motorcycle. Wasn’t that a shocking show of dominance in this race?
Impressive, yes, but not exactly out of the ordinary. In each of the past six Classics, Nevada City has cheered for a champion breaking away down Broad Street.
Moninger (2006), Burke Swindlehurst (2005), Justin England (2004), Eric Wohlberg (2003) and Cruz (2002) all won without a single competitor in even in the picture as they crossed the finish line.
The most incredible feat by one of those five came from Wohlberg. After repairing broken spokes on his rear wheel during the first lap, he not only came back to win, but won by more than a minute.
The last photo finish came in 2001, when Ernie Lechuga eked out a win from a five-wide pack rolling down Broad Street on the final lap.
Though once again we had a winner all by himself in the end, it didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of highlights in the Pro 1-2 race – or the rest of the jam-packed race day.
Watching Moninger, Cruz and Marco Rios play leap frog for second, third and fourth place throughout the race – whether they were climbing Cottage Street, roaring down Broad or speeding single file through the turns at Union and Commerical – was absolutely electric.
Once again seeing the local talent fight for a podium spot was also exciting. The two-race day 17-year-old Bruce Hoffman (See “Classic Roundup”) turned in was inspiring, as was the eighth-place finish by Jon Baker in the Pro 1-2.
Eric Edlund, a Nevada Union grad who made the long trek back from Boston, also looked strong in the saddle in the Cat 3 race. The MIT grad student held his own among the top 10 for the first several laps before being caught by a crash that took him out of contention.
And all three of those homegrown cyclists likely left still dreaming of one day being the first local to claim a Classic title.
So at day’s end, with the crowd circling around its new champion in applause, with a pair of former champs by his side, it was a typical race day in Nevada City.
Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 477-4240.
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