It's ironic that 39 years after rolling to the line at the very first Harlem Skyscraper Cycling Classic, American cycling legend John Eustice is now in charge of the very same event.
"I rode the first one." Eustice said recently during preparations for next week's event where he is now the Race Director. The race, which is set to take place on Father's Day, June 17, is the seventh stop on the 2012 USA CRITS Championship calendar.
Established in 1973 by David Walker, a NYPD Community Affairs Officer who wanted to create an event to draw children to his cycling safety program, Walker's vision for the event remains true to this day. Following the opening kids' races, winners get to go home with a new bike, just like they've done for nearly four decades.
Eustice himself began racing in 1970. His first big races were the National Intermediate (12 - 14) Championships in Central Park, and track events out at the Kissena Velodrome in Queens. He actually used to race against Gene Dixon of USA CRITS as juniors. And here they are, 40 years later, still at it.
"I just always loved riding bicycles, and for some strange reason, always wanted to be a racer from the time I was about eight years old," Eustice recalls.
It's hard for Eustice to pinpoint a single moment in his racing career that stands out as his favorite. Coming in second at a big Italian race at the tender age of 19, becoming a national road champion in 1982, and going on the first training ride with his Gianni Motta squad (the first-ever US professional team to race a Grand Tour) are all equally special.
But eventually Eustice made the jump to promoter, not only as a means of staying involved with the sport, but also as a way to ensure cycling remains viable.
"I believe in cycling as a community benefit and in racing as a way of establishing the sport and the activity of cycling, of giving it credence and acceptance in society. Race promotion (is) a way of forging a path for general cycling in a community. And now, from places like the Brookings Institute, data is coming out that backs up the fact that cycling absolutely improves a community, that ones that create cycling acceptance see their property values go up and the health problems go down. Plus, I just love a great race."
Eustice considers high-speed, short circuit cycling a quintessential American sport, and has high hopes for its future in the United States.
"USA CRITS is on the right track. I'm a big fan and proud to be a key event in their circuit. Cycling, properly presented, taps every button that works for American sports. We need to keep going with it. Maybe fewer long stage races...and more speed and spectacle."
For more information on the Harlem Skyscraper Classic, visit usacrits.com/site/usa-crits-events/harlem-skyscraper-cycling-classic/.
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