Magazine article Sunset

If You Can't Beat'em, Watch'em

Magazine article Sunset

If You Can't Beat'em, Watch'em

Article excerpt

From Nevada City to Watsonville, criteriums are a thrilling spectacle

* Music blares a frenetic beat as a phalanx of bicyclists rounds a corner, leaning in so tightly the bikes look as if they might scrape the ground. I can feel the wind on my face as the last of the peloton (pack) whizzes by. No wonder: These cyclists are averaging 30 miles per hour, uphill. Downhill, double that.

In a country where bicycle racing remains an underdog sport, the Nevada City Bicycle Classic, the second-oldest road race in the United States, attracts the kinds of crowds you'd expect to find in the final stage of the Tour de France. In the '70s, according to Greg LeMond--who won Nevada City three times before becoming the first American three-time champion of the Tour de France--this was the classic American race, drawing up to 30,000 spectators at a time.

Though crowds have dwindled, Nevada City is still among the most popular criteriums (closed-circuit bicycle races) in the country--thanks to its long history and impressive roster of past participants, including LeMond, Tyler Hamilton, and Lance Armstrong. But an even greater draw is the setting: The hilly, 1. …

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