Mark Pfeiffer participates in about 15 races each year, practicing almost year-round on his bike. But when he’s in the basement of his Philadelphia home pedaling away on his stationary bike, he has one race in mind — the Tour of Somerville.
“I’ve been racing over 20 years, and this race is by far my favorite,” the 52-year-old said while leaning on his bike, admiring the pro bikers speeding down Main Street. “It’s my Christmas.”
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For the 76th year, thousands of people lined up along Main Street in Somerville to catch a glimpse of the oldest major bike race in the country and one of the most highly anticipated in the world. Nearly 600 racers from across the globe come to Somerset County for the prestigious race, dubbed the “Kentucky Derby of Cycling” for its massive turnout and high competition.
The tour runs for five days each Memorial Day Weekend, with thousands of people turning out for the local festivities every year, including live bands, vendors lining the streets and dozens of races throughout the day. The top prizes include $10,000 for Mildred Kugler Women’s Pro and the Kugler-Anderson Memorial Pro races, said Mike Malekoff, executive director of the Tour of Somerville.
The Tour got its start in Somerville in 1940, when the son of borough bike shop owner Fred “Pop” Kugler begged to have a competitive race closer to home. Kugler’s son, Furman, and his friend Carl Anderson won the race for the first three years. Locals complained about them winning the race, and it was subsequently suspended during World War II.
Anderson and the younger Kugler were killed in action during the war, and Pop Kugler continued the race in their name in 1947. It’s been held every Memorial Day since, drawing huge crowds in the ’50s when a car was offered as the top prize, Malekoff said.
“I grew up here and as a little kid, this is what you would do on Memorial Day,” he said, explaining it inspired him to dedicate his life to professional cycling and racing management. “This puts Somerville on the map.”
While many years ago, the day centered solely around the race, Malekoff has been trying to draw younger crowds and have the day be family-centric, he said.
It’s also the first sunny Memorial Day in three years, Malekoff pointed out. The historic race accompanied with the beautiful, 80-degree weather was expected to lure a crowd of nearly 20,000.
Pfeiffer, who drove two hours for the race, said the high turnout and easy course is what makes the Tour of Somerville his absolute favorite.
“It’s a blast. The course is easy, which means everyone who’s medium at this – like me – can hang in. Everyone thinks they can win, which makes it difficult,” he said, adding that the spectators cheering for them heightens the energy of the race.
He also noted that many pro-racers he grew up reading about in magazines come to the tour.
“I mean, it’s fantastic. I get to line up shoulder to shoulder with the pros and ride with them,” he said. “It’s living out my cycling fantasy.”
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