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

folklore:

– 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

husband.

– 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

teller."

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

Somerville.

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

pack."

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

that’s contagious."

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

crowds.

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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