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NU grad chases Classic title

Thirty-one riders have been the first to cross the Nevada City Classic’s Mens’ Pro 1-2 race finish line in the event’s previous 43 runnings.

Nary one have been a local boy.

Jonathan Baker’s going to do his darndest to snap that streak when the 44th edition of what some say is the nation’s most brutal Pro/Am event kicks off Sunday.



The 1991 Nevada Union High School grad breezed into town from his Louisville, Colo. home for last year’s race as a relative unknown, but left with an eighth- place finish.

That feat was only the third top-10 finish by someone with local roots in the event’s history, according to race organizer and Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop co-owner Duane Strawser.




Ron Miller’s second-place finish in 1972 is the highest place any local rider to date. Chris McGovern (see “Glaring Omission, Page B1), who has been forced to sit this year’s race out due to illness, was seventh two years ago.

“I didn’t know anything about him. The entry form doesn’t list where riders are from, just their address,” Strawser said. “So we were really deflated after last year’s race. A couple of the guys knew of who he was as a kid, but nobody knew he had any connection to cycling”

“We’ve always had Chris (McGovern), and in recent years Jason (Moeschler), but that’s been it (as far as local Pros). We have some juniors that may come up in a few years, but we really didn’t have any other lifeblood locally,” Strawser added. “It just gives me a little hope. Not only on (putting and end) to the whole curse story, but it gives us somebody else we can (promote).”

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Baker, whose currently No. 1 in Colorado’s Best All Around Rider (BAR) rankings and 32nd in the nation among American men in the USCF’s National Race Calendar rankings, earned an invitation to Saturday’s U.S. Olympic Trials in southern California, but turned it down.

“I figured I’d be an outside shot at the Olympic Trials because the cream of the U.S. crop was going to be there,” Baker said. “But I feel really confident about the Classic right now and I thought this was my best opportunity to come to Nevada City and win. This is my Tour de France”

Baker, who blew away the field at the Sara May Memorial in Golden, Colo. June 12 to win by over a minute, is at his peak both physically and mentally.

“The Sara May was similar to the Classic in that they’ve both got a significant hill. The Sara May course itself isn’t quite as tough as Nevada City, but the amount of wind made it (comparable),” Baker said. “I’ve been getting better all year. I have all the physical strength I’ll need already. And if I can’t get focused for this race, I’m in trouble.”

In 2003, Baker was able to stay with the front group throughout, but couldn’t answer two late attacks, the first by eventual winner Eric Wohlberg, and the next from the second and third place finishers.

“The last attack came with two or three laps to go and I was pretty toasted by then,” Baker said. “I was in the group going for fourth, and in the last lap, at the top of the hill, I attacked. But about 500 meters from the finish, the group (reeled me in).”

“This year I’m going to try to keep a low profile for the first half of the race,” he added. “When I see my chance, I’m going to attack and hopefully hold out to the finish. I don’t have the greatest sprint, so I really don’t want to take anyone to the finish line.”

UNDER THE RADAR

Baker, a self-proclaimed nerd during his days at NU, passed on the more traditional sports in favor of a skateboard as a youth.

It wasn’t until close to a decade after high school graduation later when, thanks to nudge from a roommate when the Bay Area software engineer took the plunge,

“He talked me into buying a mountain bike. Just for the weekends,” Baker said.

Baker’s girlfriend at the time and current fiancee, Cyndi Borden, also planted some seeds as a member of the CSU-Chico mountain biking team.

“Whenever I’d go up to Chico to watch her race, occasionally they’d have an Open category where anyone could race. I entered a few just to have fun,” Baker said.

“I used to race mountain bikes with him. I found out he lived just down the street from me my whole life,” said Moeschler, an area pro mountain biker and perennial ‘Classic competitor. “I’d see him at the races, but I never knew he was from the area.”

What started out as a lark morphed into a new passion.

Baker first became a regular on northern California’s mountain biking circuit, then quickly moved on to road.

“In the fall of 2001 I bought a 1980 Peugot for about $120 just to train for mountain biking with,” Baker said. “It was a piece of junk, but I polished it up and tried to make it look good.”

The better he got, the deeper into the sport he got.

“I remember the first road race I entered had a sprint finish. I had my hands in the wrong place, but I still won. That got me hooked,” he said.

A little over two years later and countless hours spent in the saddle and Baker is primed to make ‘Classic history.

“I never figured I’d ever come back to be in the Nevada City Classic and be a competitive factor,” he said. “It’s the dream of every local cyclist to win that race.”


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