SOMERVILLE, NJ — Noah Granigan’s dramatic win in the 74th annual Tour of Somerville Kugler-Anderson Memorial Men’s Race was the defining moment in what race announcer Ron Czajkowski described as “a story book day with a fairytale finish.”
Granigan, the reigning USA Collegiate Cycling Champion, barely made it to the race on time, having flown in from Dublin Sunday morning after eight days of grueling racing through the countryside of Ireland. His parents picked him up with his bicycle and gear at Newark Liberty International Airport and drove here for the race.
“I was kind of debating about not even racing; the next thing you know I’m on the podium,” he said afterwards during a celebratory picnic and barbecue at his grandparents’ home with family and friends. “My grandpa was in tears.”
The 21-year-old is about to begin his junior year at the University of Colorado at Boulder, lives in Cape May Courthouse in southern New Jersey when he’s not at school or racing; he’s been racing in Somerville since he was 9 years old, following a family tradition, several of whom were on hand to witness his unlikely victory..
None could be more proud than his grandfather, Joe Saling, who peered down the straightaway on Somerville’s Main Street and could see that his grandson was one of four racers that had broken away from the pack.
“He was wearing that big white helmet and I could see the pink sleeves, so I knew it was him,” Saling said after an emotional post-race interview with his grandson.
Saling, a competitive racer and the “Voice” of the Tour of Somerville the past 35 years, shared broadcasting duties with Czajkowski, a local race historian who has been involved with the Tour of Somerville for decades.
“I cry watching “Road Runner” cartoons, so, yeah, I was a mess. It was something special,” Saling said after popping the cork on a bottle of celebratory champagne.
Saling is one of the most decorated cyclists in the United States, having won more than 20 national titles; his wife, Dottie, also competed, winning state and national titles. She also served as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Their two daughters also competed in bike racing, along with a son-in-law and other grandsons.
The Kugler-Anderson Tour of Somerville, often referred to as the Kentucky Derby of Competitive Cycling, is the oldest cycling event in the USA, which each year honors the first two winners, Furman Kugler and Carl Anderson, both of whom were killed in World War II.
Furman’s father, “Pop” Kugler, owned a bicycle shop in Somerville for many years, eventually selling the business to Saling who kept the shop going for many years.
This year’s Tour of Somerville Cycling Series, sponsored by Unity Bank, expanded to include three days of racing, the Bound Brook Criterium on May 27 and the Raritan Criterium on May 28.
The Mildred Kugler Memorial Race for Women was won by crowd favorite Laura Van Gilder, the fourth time the 53-year-old from Pennsylvania has won the race.
“I had commented before the women’s race that there was nothing I would like nothing better than to interview Laura Van Gilder as winner; well maybe there was one thing better than that,” Saling said, hoping that his grandson would come out on top.
“Laura came over after Noah won and said to me, ‘You got us both,’ “ Saling added.
Prior to the women’s race, Saling and Czajkowski presided over a small ceremony and Moment of Silence to to honor the memory of 2016 winner Ellen Watters, a Canadian cyclist who died two days after Christmas last year following a collision with a car in the province of New Brunswick where she grew up.
Four members of her team dedicated themselves to winning this year’s race, but came up short. However, they did win several of the “preems,” $20 and $50 sponsored awards for winning single laps, with Saling joking that the “preems” paid in US dollars, had even greater value against Canadian currency.
Both the men’s and women’s professional races featured a purse of $10,000, with Granigan and Van Gilder each winning $3,000; the remainder of the purse is split with the top 19 finishers in each category, according to Czajkowski..
Granigan was concerned about his legs, and whether he had the stamina to complete the 42 laps in the 50-mile course. He was content to stay in the middle of the pack, which numbered 74 racers, until there were 7 laps to go. That’s when he started to make his move.
“You kind of start every bike race telling yourself ‘yeah I can win this.’ but today I wasn’t sure how the legs were going to feel.”
He pedaled between 70 and 80 miles daily during the eight-day race in Ireland.
“I stayed at the back and with 7 laps to go; I attacked with Barry Miller and two other guys. Barry and I bridged up, we work together real well.
“Then we started playing cat-and-mouse and I attacked going into the third turn; I barely hung on,” Granigan added.
Granigan wore the white, pink and blue colors of his sponsor, the CCB Velo Tour team.
The next several minutes were a swirl of emotions for Granigan and Saling.
“After I finished, I turned right back around and rode backwards on the course. I mean, I was in shock over what had just happened,” he said. “Strangers were giving me high-fives, a bunch of racers were congratulating me and then I climbed up over the barriers to get on the podium with my grandpa, I mean, he almost couldn’t get the interview done, he was so happy and crying, then my grandma came up on stage, and my parents were there, I had my sister, my cousins, aunts and uncles, everyone lives in the area.”
There were several preliminary races that began after the Somerville Memorial Day Parade; the first was at 10:30 a.m. The sun broke through for a while at 10:40 a.m. but the clouds returned in a matter of minutes.
However, the rain was over, but it remained chilly, with temperatures around 60 degrees for the remainder of the race day.
Other races included: the Women 4/5/JR; Men 4/5; the Harry Naismith Juniors Race; the Masters Race Sponsored by RWJ University Hospital Somerset and the Bell/Chiselko Men Cat 2/3 Race Sponsored by FERASCO.
Granigan said he will return to defend his title in the 75th annual Tour of Somerville Kugler-Anderson Memorial.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “Racing in Somerville is a family tradition.”