Matt Wittler considers it his birthright – or maybe, it’s actually more his obligation.
Either way, you’ll find Wittler sitting on the saddle Sunday in the Ron Miller Junior Grand Prix/Lance Armstrong Series at the 44th Annual Nevada City Classic.
The fact that the 17-year-old Nevada Union High School senior-to-be will be steering a skinny-tired road bike instead of his fat-tired mountain bike shows his dedication to both his hometown and his hereafter.
Wittler, a member of the area’s three-time NorCal High Racing State Championship mountain bike team, will be making his second start in the Classic’s junior event.
“It’s definitely different,” Wittler said. “There’s a ton of things like etiquette and stuff that you don’t have with mountain biking. The riding style is totally different as well, it’s almost like trying to learn a new sport.”
He brought his road bike to the start/finish line a year ago simply because he couldn’t imagine anywhere else he ought to be.
“It’s totally awesome to get involved in this,” Wittler said. “I just love having people out there who we want to watch and cheer for.”
It was a pair of local boys racing in the Classic that initially caught Wittler’s fascination with cycling. He has watched western Nevada County’s own Jason Moeschler – a professional mountain biker and cyclocross rider who trades his knobby tires for those of the thin variety each Father’s Day – and Chris McGovern make some noise in the Men’s Pro 1-2 event the past few years.
“The Moesch Master,” Wittler said. “That guy is so fast. Just to be out there racing with him someday would be sweet. He’d hand it to me every time, but just to be racing with him would great.”
Moeschler, a 23-year-old Nevada City native whose best finish (18th) in the Pro 1-2 race came in 2002, started his own Classic career in the very event in which Wittler will compete Sunday. Moeschler finished fifth in the 1996 junior race and eighth in ’97.
Like with the Men’s Pro 1-2 event, no local cyclist has ever won the Miller Grand Prix – at least not since what used to be raced as two events – older and younger juniors – were joined into one.
The namesake of the race, Miller, was a Junior Road Champion in 1977 and a State Road Champion in 1978. The local cyclist nearly won the Men’s Pro 1-2 event in ’77, but crashed after leading late. Miller died in 1984, at 26, after a battle with cancer.
Wittler wouldn’t mind being the first native junior to cross the finish line first, but his goal for Sunday is simply improving on his 14th place finish in his rookie run a year ago.
“I didn’t even know until (Wednesday) where I placed, because I couldn’t find it on the Nevada City Classic web site,” he said. “But I did a Yahoo search of my name and I found it (Wednesday).
“I definitely want to upgrade and race the big one next year, because this is my last year in the Juniors. I want to be in the lead pack this year, whether that’s the top 10 or top five, depending on what’s out there.”
Leading the pack in 2003’s version of the 40-minute race was Petaluma’s Steven Cozza, who was the captain of the U.S. Junior National team. Cozza claimed the Classic’s Junior crown by keeping second-place Nathan Miller (Fairfield) and Adam Switters (Folsom), who finished third, at bay.
Wittler said having two teammates in town from his Tieni Duro team, a Bay Area cycling bunch he joined two months ago, certainly won’t hurt his chances at attaining his goals this weekend.
But even better news, as far as he’s concerned, would be that efforts in recruiting means he won’t be Nevada County’s solo cyclist in the junior event. He said his NU cross country teammate Sarah Violett and his high school mountain bike teammate Melissa Waters to also be at the start/finish line Sunday.
“I’ve been trying to get people out there,” he said. “I want to get as many people out there representing (Nevada) County as we can.”
43rd Nevada City Classic
June 15, 2003
Ron Miller Junior Grand Prix
1. Steven Cozza
2. Nathan Miller
3. Adam Switters
4. Duke Schimmer
5. Eric Riggs
6. Richard Weir
7. Clint Rogers
8. Brady Harter
9. Blake Anton
10. Max Spirin
11. Michael Margraf
12. Thomas Hill
13. Luke Brechwald
14. Matt Wittler
15. Jake Allen
16. Collin Samaan
17. Thomas Pham
18. Michele Gibson
19. Chris Shuemake
20. Cole Williams
21. Kelly LaFleur
22. Kimberly LaFleur
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