Story By Max Almenas Photos by John Ford
If the significant increase in registrations is a sign of what is to come, the Tour de Fort Lee could become one of the must-do criterium races for area cyclists every summer.
A sea of cycling jerseys, bikes, and spectators converged on Abbott Boulevard in Fort Lee, New Jersey Sep 8 as the 2013 Tour de Fort Lee got underway. Over 200 cyclists pre-registered for the USA Cycling sanctioned multi-criterium event, compared to 160 in 2012, featuring some of the fastest juniors, women, and men in the tri-state area.
At least 100 cyclists registered on site on race day as the weather provided ideal conditions for fast turns on dry asphalt. With registrants coming from as far away as Florida and Arizona, the Tour de Fort Lee, organized by Bergen Velodrome and Cycling Center, L.L.C., demonstrated it could attract elite cyclists from across the country.
The strongest pro cyclists in the Men Cat 1/2 race wasted no time breaking away from the pack on the fast, mostly flat course with one hill on Forrest Avenue that slowly ate away at the weakest riders.
“It was a good course because it had some wind and that little hill,” said first place finisher, 27-year old Calixto Bello, a Cuban-American who competed in a 100-mile race with 8,500 feet of climbing the day before. “It [Tour de Fort Lee course] was suited for me. Instead of being a flat, fast race, it was a strength course. You have to be strong to ride there. A lot of fast guys quit because they sprint.”
Bello, who started as a mountain biker at 16, and transitioned into road racing by 18, has traveled around the world to race, from Trinidad to Austria, his favorite country to ride in due to the pristine air, water, and roads.
Euris Vidal, the professional cyclist who took second place in the Cat 1/2 race, started as a BMX racer in the Dominican Republic at the age of 13 and by 15 decided to train and eventually go pro.
“This is a beautiful sport,” said Vidal, who at 27 has already raced in the Caribbean, Mexico, South America via the Pan American Games, and venues in the United States such as Madison Square Garden. “The easiest thing you can give a kid is a bike.”
Vidal was originally trained by members of his family including his mother and several uncles, and was picked up Geico Columbia, his first professional team. After arriving in the United States, he raced with Champion System for a year before joining Foundation.
Vidal is now training for the Tour de Tobago and was recently asked by the Dominican Republic Cycling Federation to represent the country in the Campeonato Centroamericano y del Caribe.
But while the racing and winning has transformed his life, Vidal misses out on the everyday experiences many take for granted.
“The hardest thing about this sport is not being able to enjoy time with family and friends,” Vidal said. “But cycling has been very good to me.”
Nelson Gutierrez, co-owner of Strictly Bicycles, raced in the cat 5, a first in 15 years, while his wife and business partner, Joanna Gutierrez, raised over $2,000 for the Fort Lee Education Foundation (FLEF), the benefiting foundation of the event, which awards scholarships and grants to students and teachers.
“I felt great. I broke up the pack in the first lap to give my buddy Marcos [Franco] a shot at first place,” said Gutierrez. “He got second, but he still did great. I’m definitely doing more races.”
Strictly Bicycles donated three Cannondale frames and one child Specialized bike in addition to other cycling equipment and apparel. Sponsor Benzel Busch provided a $10,000 sponsorship to the FLEF.
The top prize money increased significantly over last year, coming in at $1,999, which was split between the first 20 places in the men 1& 2 categories. The other categories also featured prizes for top riders. Vendor prizes included (2) sets of ZIPP 30 wheels, (3) CADD 10 Cannondale frames, Giro helmet, (1) pair of Shimano road shoes, various pairs of Tifosi sunglasses, and cycling gloves. Other prizes included the 50/50 raffle payout of $5,000 as well as dinner for two from various local restaurants, New York Yankees tickets, and certificates from local businesses.
Gutierrez was extremely pleased with the turnout by local residents and cyclists from both sides of the Hudson River as he prepared for a trip to Las Vegas to attend Interbike, North America’s largest gathering of bicycle industry professionals gathering at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to discover the latest innovations and trends affecting the business of cycling.
Gutierrez will be a special guest speaker at Interbike along with local cycling legend George Hincapie on behalf of American Express Open.
Winners of all the races are listed below in order:
Men cat 1/2: Calixto Bello, Euris Rafael Vidal Paulino, Scott Savory.
Men cat 3, Rene Herrera, Sammy Moseley, and Raymond Reisen.
Men cat 4: David Leibowitz, Leon Lyakovetsky, Chares Patton.
Men cat 5: Matthew Moocarme, Marcos Franco, Lazaro Delgado.
Masters 35+: Louis Schimmel, Oscar Pineda, Juan Pineda.
Masters 45+: Eugene Boronow, Gary Steinberg, Thomas Cipolla.
Women 1/2/3: Amy Cutler, Emily Spence, Caryl Gale.
Women 4: Sara Yancovitz, Christiane Tibbs, Anna Janas.
Junior men 10-14: Abe Latorre, Matan Sopher, Christian Pineda.
Junior men 15 - 16: Justin Strauss, Kaan Sarci.
Junior Men 17 - 18: Sammy Moseley, Andreas Katehis.
Junior women 10 - 15: Peye Wong.
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