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New Jersey: A State of Cycling Passion

30 Jun, 2010

By: Andrea Johnson
Somerset County Celebrates Nearly 70 Years of Cycling Excellence

 

Tour of Somerville race begins. Photo courtesy of the Courier News and MyCentralJersey.com.
Tour of Somerville race begins. Photo courtesy of the Courier News and MyCentralJersey.com.

Anyone who knows competitive cycling knows that no one crosses the finish line first without a supportive, cohesive team behind them. That's why you need to look to Somerset County, New Jersey, if you want to create a winning race. Here, you'll find that teamwork reigns; virtually everyone is passionate about cycling and will work together to help you create a stellar event. This is evidenced by the Somerset County Business Partnership; they'll pull out all the stops to help you pull off an amazing race by personally connecting you to the gamut of government, cycling and civic organizations that are all eager to help.

Just ask Mike Spilker, President of the Watchung Wheelmen, a local cycling organization that hosts the Horseshoe Scramble, a cyclocross race which was held for the first time last November.

"One of New Jersey's cyclocross cup series races was cancelled at the last minute; the series organizers wanted a replacement. We jumped at the chance," says Spilker. "One of our club members worked on a former horse farm in Somerset County that he thought would have the perfect terrain for it; it turns out the county owns it now, so we contacted them to see if they could help.

"Honestly, we weren't hopeful that we could host the event because we only had 30 calendar days to make everything come together. The land was very overgrown," he recalls. "It was going to take a lot of work to make it race ready."

"But, fortunately, the county's response was phenomenal. They bent over backwards to get the permits, the insurance, everything I needed to host the event. They even helped clear the undergrowth for a bike path and brought in volunteers to assist during the event itself. Thanks to their incredible support, the event went very smoothly, even though we had very little time to make it happen. The event itself attracted 500 racers. We're looking forward to hosting it again this year."

Going above and beyond the call of duty to create a great bike race is typical for Somerset County, says Ray Brown, Park Commission Director. "We eagerly support and promote cycling in Somerset County, it's part of our long, proud history of competitive cycling that began almost 70 years ago with the Tour of Somerville."

As the nation's oldest bicycling race, the Tour of Somerville Cycling Series, a four-day amateur and professional competitive cycling event, is held on Memorial Day weekend in the county seat. It culminates with the 50-mile Kugler-Anderson Memorial Tour de Somerville - one of the nation's most prestigious bike races - so much so that it's known as the Kentucky Derby of cycling.

The race was founded by professional bike racer and bike shop owner, Fred "Pop" Kugler, who wanted a bike race in his hometown. Problem was that New Jersey state law prohibited racing on highways for prizes, and Somerville's main street is State Highway 28, so Kugler bypassed this legislation by creating the nation's first-ever "tour."

This tradition of cycling helped inspire Somerset County to institute an "open space" tax, which provides funding for the county to purchase tracts of land to expand county parks. Because of this, the region remains a scenic wonder with everything from stunning vistas from mountain ridges to crystal-clear streams trickling past winding paths to lush rolling countryside.

"The outgrowth of all of the attention brought to our county over the years by the Tour of Somerville is a passion for cycling; this has motivated the development of an impressive trail and park system county-wide," says Kimberly Charne, Somerset County Business Partnership's Executive Director.

The partnership will work hand-in-hand with you to help make your event a success. From connecting you with civic organizations to permitting to insurance, Charne and her team will ensure you navigate quickly and easily through any red tape. And if that weren't already enough, they can even help direct you to sponsors.

 

Tour of Somerville. Winer of the men's race Ben Kersten. Photo provided by Ed Pagliarini/MyCentralJersey courtesy of the Courier News and MyCentralJersey.com.
Tour of Somerville. Winer of the men's race Ben Kersten. Photo provided by Ed Pagliarini/MyCentralJersey courtesy of the Courier News and MyCentralJersey.com.

"Because of its proximity to metropolitan areas like Philadelphia and New York, Somerset has an impressive number of corporations with branches or headquarters there," explains Charne. "They want to promote a healthy lifestyle, so they are eager for events in the area to support, whether that's monetary support or items for a swag bag."

Another benefit that comes from decades of hosting the nation's leading cycling event is unparalleled experience and enthusiasm. For instance, the New Jersey Bicycling Association (NJBA) is one of the nation's most active divisions within United States Cycling; it boasts more than 1,200 registered racers, among the largest amount of registrations in the country. The NJBA helps make sure that if you host an event, you are exposed to as little risk as possible; they can supply the insurance to cover costs in case an act of God, like a hurricane, cancels a race.

Not only is Somerset perfectly positioned for sponsorship, situated within the nation's largest metropolitan area, it's ideally located to attract riders from near and far. Within a reasonably short drive are the international airports of New York, Newark and Philadelphia. Somerset County is just 45 minutes from both Philadelphia and New York via Interstate 78, and Somerville is a stop for commuter trains running from New York City.

Somerset County's location also means there's an abundance of hotel accommodations in all price ranges – more than 4,000 rooms ranging from major chain hotels to quaint bed and breakfasts. But don't feel overwhelmed by all of the choices. The Somerset County Business Partnership will help you identify the perfect accommodations. Not only that,they can help you identify routes for your event, connect you with key people and organizations to make your event a success, and work out the small details, like parking, that are so easy to overlook. And, of course, they can also work out deals with local businesses for value-priced dining and accommodations.

Finally, you have a built-in audience that adores cyclists and their sport.

"Cycling is a very popular community event here in Somerset County," says Dan Puntillo, Tour of Somerville promoter and Executive Director of Middle Earth, a nonprofit which supports youth and connects them to opportunities to become involved in the community, the Tour of Somerville being one of them. "The Tour of Somerville attracts tens of thousands of spectators. People make a day of it, whether that's enjoying the many quaint restaurants and shops in downtown Somerville or picnicking with family. People love cycling here; it's a tradition. That's probably why we work so well together to support the sport."

Puntillo has been involved in the Tour of Somerville since 1978, when he was a volunteer sweeping streets; he befriended race announcer Joe Sailings who grew up under the wing of Pop Kugler himself and fell in love with the sport.

"We have a genuine passion for cycling and can provide solid input to help your event be successful. We're not bashful about sharing our secrets with others. We've got great relationships with our state cycling organizations, the county and municipalities; they're all eager to help. Collaboration is our culture."

"New Jersey is just a great state to hold a cycling event. You can easily create a vacation experience between the beaches and the mountains," says Tom Mains, NJBA President. "But even though there is so much natural beauty, you literally have millions upon millions of people to draw from close by. It's a tremendous opportunity to capture their attention and position your event as a leader. Finally, we receive great cooperation from so many communities, and Somerset County is just a great place to visit. It's just a cool place to race."

For more information about hosting events in Somerset County, go to www.VisitSomersetNJ.org.

Supported in part by a grant from New Jersey Department of State, Division of Travel and Tourism. VisitNJ.org

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