Corrections or additions?
This article by Ron Czajkowski was prepared for the May 24, 2006 issue
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
The Kentucky Derby of Cycling
During the winter of 1939 Somerville bike shop owner Fred "Pop" Kugler
answered a plea from his son. It seems that his boy, Furman, had been
winning races up and down the East Coast and wanted to strut his stuff
closer to home. In an interview before his death in 1990, "Pop"
recalled that "Furman wanted to sleep in his own bed for a change the
night before a race, so I figured `why not," let’s give people
something to look at."
The elder Kugler got the necessary licenses and sanctions from cycling
officialdom but the one thing he didn’t count on was a snag from
Trenton. "I wanted to call it a race," he said some years later, but
New Jersey law specified that no contest of any type for wage, purse,
or prize could be held on a state highway. The dilemma was that
Somerville’s Main Street was, and still is, state highway Route 28.
The state motor vehicle commissioner at the time suggested if the race
instead be called a "Tour" he would issue a permit. It was, he did,
and it has been ever since.
For the 63rd year this Memorial Day, Monday, May 29, the national
spotlight of competitive bicycle racing will focus on the tree-lined
streets of Somerville’s historic borough for the 50-mile
Kugler-Anderson Memorial Tour of Somerville. Known as "the Kentucky
Derby of cycling," it is the oldest, continuously run bicycle race in
the country. When the starter’s pistol sends off the pack at around 2
p.m., 200 of the best professional and amateur racing cyclists will
pedal 43 laps of a 1.14 mile downtown circuit at speeds of up to 40
miles per hour. World-class and Olympic cyclists from as far away as
California, Canada, and Europe are expected to compete, as well as the
six men on the U.S. Armed Forces Team, who are jockeying to compete at
the Military World Championships in the Netherlands in July.
Furman Kugler won the first Tour of Somerville in 1940 and then went
on to win the national championships in Detroit that year. He repeated
his dominance by winning his hometown race again in 1941. Furman sat
out the 1942 event and that opened the door for one of his closest
friends, Carl Anderson of Clifton, to take top honors.
The race was suspended during World War II, which ironically saw
Furman killed in Okinawa and Anderson lose his life in Belgium.
Renewed in 1947, the Tour was appropriately renamed "The
Kugler-Anderson Memorial" and has been held every Memorial Day since.
Riders from California to Germany and Australia to Russia have claimed
victory in the race in which the American record for a 50-mile event
has been broken no less that a dozen times.
Furman’s first 1940 win clocked in at two hours and eight minutes
astride a one-speed steel bicycle with wooden rims, which is now
encased in a Plexiglass monument in front of Somerville Borough Hall.
For Furman’s efforts he won a new bicycle valued at $75 (today’s
racing bikes can cost up to $3,000), a trophy, an oil painting, and
a badminton set. This year, the racers will compete for more than
$20,000 in cash prizes with a winning time likely to be less than one
hour and 40 minutes. Today, up to $3,000.
Over the decades, the race has developed its own brand of cycling
– Like it does today, the first race attracted 20,000 spectators, many
who leaned out second-story store windows or fire escapes or set up
lawn parties to watch. Then, all were dressed in their Sunday finery.
– The perpetual trophy, still awarded, is known as "the Cromwell Cup,"
donated in 1940 by the Canadian government and presented by James
Cromwell, the U.S. Minister to Canada and nearby resident Doris Duke’s
– Just years after losing his son to war, Pop Kugler invited four
members of the Japanese national cycling team as his guests to compete
in the 1953 Tour.
– In 1955, Patrick Murphy, a 21-year-old bridegroom from Ontario,
Canada, took time off from a honeymoon in the States to win the race
and set a new record of two hours, two minutes.
– Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France (a
three-time winner, actually), competed at age 16 in the Tour of
Somerville in 1978, and came in fourth.
– In its infancy, the race was run on a budget of $6,000, with funds
raised mostly from local merchants, Today it costs more than $70,000
to orchestrate what has become a combination of a sporting event and
town-long block party.
It’s likely that no one among the 20,000 people who will gather to
watch the race along the start-finish line on High Street this
Memorial Day knows more about its legacy than Joe Saling.
Saling, the 65-year-old Bridgewater resident and former competitor and
long-time race announcer, has raced in 19 Tours, finished in the
top-10 three times, won the master’s event once, and has an uncanny
ability to keep the riders informed about what’s going on and
spectators apprised of the finer points of bike racing strategy.
"The event is a spectacle of color, action, speed, and that unique
sound of 200 cyclists racing by lap after lap at 30 miles per hour,"
says Saling. "On one hand it’s my job to keep the riders informed
about how much racing remains and upcoming lap prizes, and on the
other hand there’s so much history and tradition that the average
spectator doesn’t know about. So in that respect I become a story
Saling saw his first Tour of Somerville as a kid in 1953 when he
talked his dad into taking him downtown to watch. "I remember it was
pouring rain. We stood there and watched for two laps and then my dad
said, `Do you want to grab a sandwich.’ I said sure, and that was it
for the bike race. I thought they were all crazy."
But the cycling bug bit and the next year he visited Pop Kugler’s bike
shop, got an application for a racing license, and eventually eyed a
bike on the wall that Pop let him "work off" by helping out in the
shop. More than 50 state and 17 national championships later, Saling,
a Trenton State College graduate and former teacher and sports
marketing consultant, now holds court as the voice of the Tour of
This is his advice to first-time spectators or those new to cycling:
"Watch the start near the High Street start line. Then once the race
begins, walk the one-mile circuit course in the opposite direction the
riders are going; that way, you see them coming. Be sure to pause at
the corners and appreciate the bike handling skills as the cyclists
jockey for position and look for an opportunity to break away from the
As in past years, the town of Somerville itself on May 29 is a giant
party. As the race careens through the borough, besides the cookouts,
lawn parties, and impromptu reunions of friends not seen for years,
there will be a kids pavilion with rides and animals, an extreme
sports demonstration, live music, and of course, food.
"Cycling is a tremendous spectator sport," says Saling. "It’s a great
happening to watch, since nearly everyone can ride a bike and identify
with what they’re seeing. There’s the color and excitement to it all
Tour of Somerville, Monday, May 29, 11:30 a.m., High Street,
Somerville. The 63nd running of America’s oldest continuously run
bicycle race with a full schedule of activities through the day. The
tour’s five races attract over 500 participants and a crowd 20,000 to
cheer them on. Free. 908-725-7223.
The race starts at 11:30 a.m. with a series of preliminary races for
cyclists licensed by the United States Cycling Federation. The elite
amateurs and pros pedal off at 2:30 p.m. for the 50-mile
Kugler-Anderson Memorial, rain or shine. Directions: Take Route 206
north for 16 miles to the North Bridge Street exit into Somerville.
Parking in and around the Post Office plaza is best. Then follow the
Ron Czajkowski is vice president of communications and members
services for the New Jersey Hospital Association at 760 Alexander
Road, a position he has held for 21 years. Now a resident of Franklin
Township, Czajkowski watched his first Tour of Somerville race in
1957, got caught up in the spectacle, and has attended every year
since. He participated just once, when he was 17, when he lasted about
eight laps and then pulled out of the race under a shade tree, making
sure he was as far away as possible from his high school friends who
had come to watch him.
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