By Dan Friedell, VeloNews Correspondent
The Tour of Somerville is famous for the names that dot its deep winners list. Olympians, national champions, and trendsetters have all won this race that has taken place on Memorial Day for nearly 60 years. But the 2001 edition of the race paid tribute to a rider who will never have the chance to put her name in the event’s record books: Nicole Reinhart.
Reinhart, a star sprinter for the Saturn women’s team, died from injuries sustained in a crash in a race last fall.
But now, thanks to the committee that organizes this quintessential American race, the spirit of Reinhart – a rider who most believe would have had a good shot at winning this short, fast race – will live on for years to come. Before Monday’s Mildred Kugler women’s open race, the bib number 01 was retired in Reinhart’s memory. Both Michael and Pam Reinhart, Nicole’s parents, were on hand to witness the event, and cheer on their son, Tim, who was racing in the men’s event.
Adding their names to this race’s rich legacy along with Reinhart would be Saturn time-trial star Eric Wohlberg and Christina Underwood, an underdog from the Southeast-based Fuji women’s team.
The 20-mile, 17-lap women’s event was notable due to its relentless pace. While most of the big North American women’s teams were underrepresented, smaller teams sensed the opportunity and upped the speed. The Somerville race came just after the American women’s national championships – held during the last week in California – and France’s Tour l’Aude stage race, which just ended on Sunday.
One major element that animated the race was the introduction of a $500 prime midway through an event where the champion only took home $400. 1999 winner, Laura Van Gilder, who has been adopted by a local cheering section on the race’s backstretch, took that prize with the same sprint that earned her the 2000 American criterium championship. She’s donating a percentage of her 2001 prize money to a charity which funds breast cancer research.
The next big bonus, the race title, was taken by a rider who had yet to break through with a win in a major race.
Underwood is a 35-year-old who from Charlotte, NC who works full-time and is sponsored by Fuji, a squad managed by well-known cycling promoter Tracey Lea, who runs the Fuller Nissan AMBC race each year in Maryland. Underwood has had some close finishes this season – she placed sixth in the hotly contested Xcelerate Twlight Criterium in Athens, Georgia.
“I’ve never really been good at sprinting, but I’ve been doing a lot of uphill sprint training this year and it’s made a difference” Underwood said, “and in Athens, when it came time to sprint, I was already too far from the front to make a difference, so I decided to work my way up to the front earlier today.”
And this time, Underwood timed her final effort correctly, and moved past Mayolo-Pic along the right side of West Main Street to take the win by a length. “This is definitely the biggest win of my career, and it’s great for it to come at a race like this,” she said.
The men’s race had its share of talent – the event’s only three-time winner, Jonas Carney (Prime Alliance), a slew of strong riders from the New Jersey-based Navigator’s squad and 2000 Olympic Match Sprint Gold Medalist Marty Nothstein (riding alone under the Mercury-Viatel banner) – which led to high speeds, multi-rider prime sprints, and a surprise breakaway.
An extra turn added to the course last year lengthened the race to 100 kilometers over 50-laps, making it difficult for the riders to maintain a high tempo for the entire race.
With about 20-laps to go, Wohlberg established a small gap, and was later joined by 8 other riders. The lead group contained one rider from each of the race’s strong teams, Navigators, Prime Alliance, the Argentine national team, Zaxby’s and Snow Valley, but it also included Wohlberg’s teammate, Tim Johnson.
The group of nine worked well together until about seven laps remained in the race. It was then that the Navigators sent Vassili Davidenko up the road to try to join teammate Mark Walters in the lead group.
For about a lap, Davidenko separated himself from the field and pared down the distance between him and the leaders to about 10 seconds. But Johnson and Wohlberg picked up the speed just enough so that the Russian never did catch on.
After that rush, in the words of Johnson, “everyone was looking a little cross eyed,” so Walters, who had been waiting for help to arrive from the peloton and stalling a little each time he pulled through the paceline, took off on his own along the backstretch with three-and-half-laps to go.
As Walters made his break up the right side of the road, the lead group, now eight, slowed down and looked a little disorganized.
So over the next two laps, Walters stayed in front and gained about 10 seconds on the chase group. “I had been riding quite easy all day and I felt very strong, very comfortable, and decided to take a go with three laps to go, and it almost worked,” Walters said.
But by the final run down the backstretch, the chase had re-mounted and closed in on Walters with two turns to go. “And of course they’re sharing the work back there, and I’m fighting the headwind by myself…and it’s not like I was too far off. I was just a bike length or so off. So, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Coming down the final straightaway, Wohlberg and Jonathan Wirsing (Snow Valley) who had been in the break all day, shadowed Walters, and it was Wohlberg who came through off of Wirsing’s wheel to take the win.
“It feels great to do this with Saturn colors on, especially on a day that was dedicated to Nicole,” Wohlberg said.