Over the first 23 years of the Nevada City Classic, fans have been treated to many spectacular, thrilling and amazing occurrences. The history of the Classic reads like a movie script, a bad movie script, if it were made up out of someone’s imagination. But it wasn’t, it all happened, and that makes the Classic’s history one of the richest in all of sports. Please join us as we look back on the first 23 Nevada City Classics.
The Early Years:
Tetz Takes the First Two
It all started in 1961 when Bob Tetzlaff, a rider who forged a sterling cycling career spanning 3 decades, won the inaugural affair, which was witnessed by 1,500 locals and contested by 50 competitors. The prizes weren’t too shabby-ranging from an outboard motor to transistor radios- and race director Charlie Allert awarded all the winners a gold nugget. Tetzlaff’s winning time of 2:05 for 45 miles would, ironically, compare favorably to future times. Tetz was trailed by Dave Sharp and Wes Chowan in that order. In 1962, a nineteen year old Canadian, Bill Wild, appeared to be the sure winner as he led 64 other competitors for 20 laps. But, he crashed on The Turn and, according to The Union, was treated for “badly skinned elbows and a broken wrist.” Following the exit of Wild, a Seesaw battle between Tetzlaff, Sharp, Bob Parsons, Bill Harrison, Ed Renger, and Ronnie Thorn-”a sensational cyclist from Australia”-developed. Parsons crashed on the uphill part of all places and Tetz blasted through The Turn and “…flashed over the line only a handlebar length ahead of Bill Harrison, a 17 year old Sunnyvale lad.” Sharp placed 3rd.
1963-67: 5 for 5 for Parsons
In 1963 Bob Parsons, a quiet 18 year old from Pasadena, CA began an incredible string of five straight victories at Nevada City. Keep in mind that in the 19 year history of the event only two riders, besides Parsons, have won the race twice; though it is possible that someone may eventually accumulate 5 wins, to do so in consecutive fashion may been an unmatchable feat. Going into the race Tetzlaff was the crowd favorite to notch his 3rd consecutive win. But, plagued by a combination of mechanical problems-a puncture, gear and chain problems – and a crash, Tetz strugged in at 8th place, nearly a full lap down. With Tetzlaff out of the picture Parsons attacked on lap 35 (of 45), and held a slight lead for the next 10 laps. Placing 2nd was the California sprint champion (’61) and road champion (’62) Dave Capron, and 3rd was Canadian Ian Mahon-a member of their 1960 Olympic team. 1964 witnessed the largest field ever to enter Nevada City. 135 cyclists started in what race director Allert now called the “toughest bike race in the country.” Parsons didn’t venture any solo heroics, but waited to the final lap wherein he went through The Turn first to win. Placing 2nd was Tim Kelly – currently U.S.A. road coach-and 3rd was Sharp. 1965 marked an easy victory for Parsons, but the following year (1966) he had to dig deep. In the late going a young honor student from UC Berkeley by the name of Dave Brink attacked and took a commanding lead. Parsons chased and eventually caught and dropped Brink to bag #4. This year the crowds were smaller because of the 90 ° heat and the televising of the Giant-Dodger game on TV. Placing behind Parsons and Brink was Ward Thompson of Lind say, CA. As the race entered its 7th year the town was unabashedly getting behind it. The local paper now gave it pre-race hype, and full page coverage the day after the event. Local merchants were using the race as an advertising hook. A few days after the ’67 race, Alpha Hardware – a sponsor of this year’s race-ran a 1/3 page ad in The Union proclaiming, “We can’t all be bike racing champions, but you’ll feel like that on a Schwinn.” 1967 marked Parsons 5th and hardest victory, as well as his last. Brink and Dan Butler, an incredibly pugnacious and aggressive rider whose idea of racing tactics solely involved “…blowing ‘em off my wheel,” forged a break and put unrelenting patented fashion as he zipped through the Pine Street corner first, followed by Brink and Butler.
1968: Brink Breaks Parsons’ String
Parsons was not much of a factor in the 1968 event as David Brink, Butler, and Army Lt. John Allis, broke clear and left the rest of the 80 man field in arrears. Parsons was nearly lapped as he finished a distant 5th. On bell lap Brink opened a gap going up Court House Hill to gain his first and only win at Nevada City. Allis was second, followed by Butler. Allis also made the Olympic team that year, but unlike Parsons-Brink Butler went on to enjoy a full racing career. In ’74 he had his best year as he won the national road championship and represented the U.S. in the World Championships at Montreal. Allis now races as a veteran and works as the marketing director for Raleigh Bicycles.
1969: Seven Year Itch Wild Wins It
This year the intense rivalry between Parsons-Brink-Butler came to an abrupt end as all three dropped out of the sport. Parsons, however, “with a flashing beard,” according to The Union, did attend the race in street clothes. With the competition somewhat on the downswing, Canadian Bill Wild lPort Moody, B.C.! avenged his’62 heart-breaker when he broke clear with 20 miles to go and proceeded to lap all but two riders #2. Harry Morton and #3. Fred Fisk! Still sporting the scars from the ’62 crash, Wild said to the press, “I was out to win this year. I flew down, whereas in other years I’ve driven all night to get here.”
1970: National Champ Socks it to ‘em
The outcome of the 1970, 10th annual event was considered a toss-up until John Howard of Springfield, MO, former national road champion 1968 showed up. With a super-effort Howie won the most decisive victory in the history of Nevada City as he nearly lapped the field twice! Howard broke away in the first few laps, and lapped everyone by the midway point. Unfettered by the 90° temps, he proceeded to do it “one mo’ time” as he lapped the remaining, demoralized group of 20, 162 had started~ . Howard’s aggressive victory reflected his riding style during the ’70s as he became one of the premier American cyclists of all time. He was a member of three Olympic teams: ’68, ’72, and’76!, became the only American to win a gold medal in the Pan-American road race ’71 in Sao Paulo, Brazil~, won three national road titles, and was voted by Competitive Cycling magazine as The Rider of the Decade in January of 1980.
1971: Fisk Wins a Close One
The Nevada City circuit is so demanding that over the years victories have either come in solo fashion or a sprint involving no more than a few riders. Indeed, in the 19 year history of the event less than 25% of the competitors have completed the tortuous event. But, in 1971 the crowd was treated to a heart-stopper as no less than 7 riders-including local favorite Don Davis-contested the final sprint. 53 riders started, and a high number would eventually finish 130~. A group of 15 established an early lead, and as the punishing laps took their toll, the lead group dwindled to a Magnificent Seven. On bell lap Fisk flew up Court House Hill; said Davis later: “He went like crazy.” Don was the only rider to answer Fisk’s challenge, but at the top of the hill his legs locked in a paralyzing cramp, and he wasn’t able to peddle down Broad Street. Fisk finished 5 meters ahead of Geoffrey Conley, and placing 3rd was Richard Baronna, a deaf-mute from San Francisco who participated in several Special Olympics during his cycling career. The 30 year old Fisk’s elation was briefly turned to dismay as spectators, crowding to see the finish, moved onto the road. Fisk crossed the line, slammed into spectators and lay on the ground for over a minute. Fisk regained his senses and told the relieved crowd, “I have never been happier in my life. This has got to be the most wonderful race in the U.S.”
1972: The Jinx Begins Davis Just Misses
Nevada City resident Don Davis turned on to bike racing when he saw the inaugural event in 1961. Since then the former California Junior road champion (’68~ has wanted to win this premier cycling event…especially in front of the hometown folks. The largest crowd yet…5,000 fans now a mix of local residents and out of-towners- crowded the streets to see 72 riders do battle in 90° temps. Harry Morton, an old pro from Bakerfield, CA, was the early race aggressor, and soon Davis, Dave Walters, and he had forged a 3-up break. The latter’s entry into the race was most curious: the previous week he had been competing in the weeklong Olympic Trials held at Lake Luzerne, NY. Riding well, he had a shot at making the team-the final berths being decided on the final day, a Saturday. A 7th Day Adventist, Walters decided to forgo the concluding day of the Trials, and flew to Nevada City instead. The trip proved to be a rewarding one as Dave Walters would win a classic event. On the final lap Davis led Morton and Walters up the hill, and blasted down Broad Street to be the first through The Turn. He did so, and appeared to have the long-sought victory assured, but “I took it too fast and lost control.” While he fought to keep from crashing, Walters shot by and took the lead. Davis made a spectacular recovery, and nearly got Walters at the line, but he lost by the length of a bike.
1973: A Jr. Whips the Seniors
In the early ’70s senior racing in NorCal was at a nadir; but, at the same time the area was producing a bumper crop of super-hot junior riders. In ’73 NorCal fielded 5 of 6 riders for the Jr. Worlds Cycling team, which competed in Denmark that year. The action heated when that enigmatic rider from Monterey, CA – John Tevis – attacked half-way through the 30 lap race; he was joined by another senior, “Wildman” Gary Fisher and two juniors; “Kamikaze” Keith Vierra and Steve “The Birdman” Lundgren. This quartet gradually worked a 60 second advantage over the peloton. The contrast between the young riders in the lead group and their senior counterparts in the bunch was startling: lap after lap Lundgren twiddled his bird-thin body up the Court House Hill in what appeared to be effortless ease, while a minute later the senior pack would struggle and slug their way in an inebriated-like stupor. Lundgren attacked on the hill the last time up, but was contained. Fisher made his move in the same time-honored spot by going to the front at the crest with hopes he could get through the Pine Street corner first. But, it was Kamikaze Vierra, flying by in an amazing burst of speed and working his brakes so that he just made the corner. And that was that: Vierra became the first junior to win the Nevada City Bicycle Classic with Fisher and Lundgren close behind and Tevis slightly detached.
1974: Wild Gets the Bird
This was the weirdest race yet- one that Canadian Bill Wild will never forget. Wild Bill- shooting for his second win- made the key move 2/3 way through the race when legs were beginning to feel heavy and the majority of the riders (12 of 50 starters) only had ambitions of hanging on. Wild displayed his great experience and preparation by launching a devastating attack. Only Ed Parrot, a top New York cyclist now living in Salt Lake City, could answer, and the race for 1-2 was decided. Each lap Wild dragged Parrot around the course as they gained 5 seconds per lap. Though Wild was doing all the pulling, in fairness to Parrot the course is one that minimizes the need for trading pace. Wild Bill beat the “wheelsucker” through The Turn on the last lap, and stormed up the hill for the apparent win. But, to the astonishment of everyone, Wild’s legs locked in a muscle-wrenching cramp just 30 meters from the finish line, and he uncontrollably thrashed to the ground. A stunned, but obviously elated, Parrot slinked by to win.
1975: Davis Loses in Heart-Breaker
Does the Nevada City bicycle Classic have a jinx of its very own? After ’75 Don Davis could be excused in thinking so. With only 8 laps to go the local hero bolted from the field to the thunderous cheers of 6, 000 spectators. Four laps to go he had a hefty 17 second lead, but with the ten man chase group applying relentless pressure, his lead began to shrink. Nonetheless, at the bell Davis still had a 7 second bulge – a tough margin to make up on the narrow streets. Sensing that a local was finally going to win, the fans went crazy. Then Bill Wild uncorked an effort that is unparalleled in the history of the race. The Canadian knew he had to make up the deficit on the uphill section, so he rocketed up Court House Hill in an all-out, kilometer type effort. When he reached a startled Davis at the top, Wild- who was wearing dark sunglasses- looked at Don with nonchalant disdain. Don Davis was so shocked and devastated, he put his hands on the top of the handlebars, and watched “Wild Bill” motor down Broad Street. Unbeknownst to Davis was the fact the Canadian was totally gassed from his effort. Years later Wild admitted, “If Don had counter-attacked, I couldn’t have responded because I was in oxygen debt. I was totally wiped out, so I tried to psyche him out by looking like I was fresh as a daisy.”
1976: Pringle Wins a Ho-Hummer
After five consecutive breath taking finishes, a Seattle youth by the name of Mark Pringle entered the race for the first time and won in a cake-walk. Pringle, just back from Lake Saranac, NY, where he barely missed making the Olympic team (he was first alternate!, broke away half way through the 40 lap, 65km race. Only 34 year old Tim Kelly-himself an Olympic team member (1968~ and who placed 2nd at Nevada City way back in ’64- was able to stay with the 19 year old Washingtonian. But, Kelly didn’t have it in his legs, and so Pringle was left on his own to enjoy the day along with 7,000 enthusiastic fans. Pringle finished a minute up, and Larry Malone passed Kelly to take second place.
1977: Miller is oh so Close
’77 gave the imprimatur to The Nevada City Jinx, wherein a local is fated not to win. Don Davis near misses (’71, ’71, and’75~ were oh-so close, but nothing compared to the ’77 finish in which Ron Miller literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The tone of this year’s race was set early as Miller, a comparatively unknown rider, scooped up every prime and participated in no less than six breaks. His task was made a bit easier when last year’s winner Mark Pringle, didn’t have the chance to rest the upstart as an errant bug lodged in his eye on lap 4, forcing him to drop out. The decisive move was made by a teammate of Miller’s, Rick Baldwin, who jammed the hill on lap 30 lof 40~. Miller was quick to respond as was Colorado ace Bob Cook. The field did not acquiesce and immediately applied pressure, but a 4-man crash in the middle of the 18-man group broke their rhythm, as well as their spirit. During this time Miller and Baldwin alternatively began to work over Cook, but to no avail as the latter did not bend, let alone crack. In fact the incessant attacks got more to Baldwin, who came off twice. On bell lap the throng roared for Miller to capture the victory that was deservedly his. Miller reacted to the thunderous cheer from the 8,00 spectators as if he had been zapped by 1000 volts – he attacked and even Cook could not meet the pressure. Miller managed a slight 10m. lead and on the undulating back stretch he increased the tempo still further. When he hit the descent, Miller was clear by 25m. When the crowd saw him screaming down the hill with visions of the first hometown boy to win the Classic of American classics, they went bezerko. Miller didn’t ease up: he shot through The Turn with the same speed and flair as he had the previous 39 times. But, this time he lost it. In the apex of the corner he hit, what he thought was a grease spot. He skidded out of his line, slammed into the haybales with such force that his toe straps seared open wounds on his in steps, and he ricocheted to the asphalt. His bike careened crazily into the middle of the street. Baldwin, who an instant before, had reconciled himself to fighting for second place, now had the door unexpectedly opened: he finished first several meters ahead of Cook. Larry Shields, at 1 minute, finished 3rd. The storybook ending didn’t happen. But, don’t feel sorry for Ron Miller: he put on one helluva show and loved every minute of it.
1978: Nevada City Gets Cook-ed
The ’78 edition was a straight forward affair. When Bob Cook, the Colorado ace who the day before had won his state’s road title, made his bid at the l/4-mark, the outcome of the race was never questioned. Cook’s attack quickly earned him a 15 second lead, and on the ensuing laps the Pride of the Rockies snatched an additional 25 seconds from the flagging field. Cook lapped the field with 12 laps remaining for an easy victory. Placing 2nd was Kent Bostick followed by Ron Miller.
1979-81: The “Reno Rocket” Soars to Three Wins
The 19th Annual “Classic” saw the emergence of the dominant force in American Cycling through the change of the decades. Greg LeMond, of Reno, Nevada was winning everything in sight, including a gold and bronze medal at the World Championships. He dominated the Nevada City field, becoming only the second junior ever to win the senior race. Greg did it with a mid-race tear that quickly dropped the field. Army Lieutenant Bill Watkins was 2nd, nearly a minute behind the winner. Cindy Olivarri began her own string of victories in the Women’s division. In 1980, the record entry of 111 seniors had two things on their minds at the start of the race; the new longer, tougher 1.13 mile course, and Greg LeMond. Both took their toll early. The longer course and the 96 degree heat wilted the racers; all but the “Reno Rocket” that is. Greg reeled in the field with military-like efficiency, lapping all but the top three places by mid-race. Out of the pack, though, came unknown Toby Power, who raced a nearly solo effort, finally passing a gassed Keith Vierra in the final laps to take second. The 12,000 fans cheered Toby..Toby at each passing…a star was rising. Cindy Olivarri took her 2nd consecutive Women’s Race, and another name of the future, Gavin Chilcot, was the class of the underclassmen. Now sporting the colors of his new employers, the team of World Champion Bernard Hinalt-Renault-Gitane, Greg returned for his final visit to Nevada City. He saved his best for last. Now racing professionally in Europe, trips to the U.S. were rare, so Greg used this one to decimate the classiest field ever assembled on the West Coast in front of 17,500 fans. Greg took off on a test break on the second lap, “and nobody followed me…” And that was that. He passed Olympic hero Eric Heiden on the 15th lap. Asked if Greg said anything as he applied the lap, Heiden later commented, “I don’t know, he went by too fast.” But the race didn’t lack for excitement. A searing last lap spring saw Greg Demgen eek out his 2nd place over Wayne Stetina. However, most of those who attended the race went home thinking 2nd place went to Tom Schuler, another member of the 7-Eleven Cycling Team. Seems Schuler stayed home to nurse a sore leg and teammate Demgen appeared at registration and claimed his number. Nobody told either the radio broadcast team or the public address announcer.
Throughout the first 21 years of the “Classic,” rarely had there been a racer who so thoroughly captured the crowd as Toby Power did in 1980. An unknown, he KO’d all but the young Jedi, Greg LeMond. Now back for a second shot, and with Greg absent, we should not have been surprised; yet still we were when Toby ignited the 20,000+ gathered around the course. He appeared out of the pack on the third lap and never looked back. Despite the heroic efforts of Jeff Pierce and a relative unknown, Glen Sanders, Toby pedaled relentlessly on to a 2:03 second victory. For those who had been here in 1980, there was the feeling that things had somehow been made right, but for the 103 seniors in the race, there was the feeling of, “Who was that guy?” You see, most remember him only as a briefly cooling breeze as he went by.