Bicyclists came from throughout the tri-state area and beyond in multicolored lycra jerseys bearing exotic racing team and sponsor names, while the crowd gathered in festive anticipation. The weather and atmosphere could not have been more perfect as the 3rd Great Neck Bicycle Challenge got under way on Sunday morning, July 15 in the Village of Great Neck Plaza. The start/finish banner was strewn across a freshly painted finish line that bisected Grace Avenue at Barstow Road just outside Grace Avenue Park. It announced the presenter, Chase Manhattan of Great Neck, and co-sponsors The Inn at Great Neck, North Bay Cadillac of Great Neck and the Bicycle Planet of Syosset. Signature sponsors included Turn Key Real Estate of Great Neck and United Capital Corporation.
Catherine Powers, women's winner, and Plaza Mayor Jean Celender. Photo by Trudy Grinblat
The race meet was held in memory of Mayor Allan Gussack, who brought the Challenge to the Village in 1986. One hundred fifty riders participated. Mayor Jean Celender had made meticulous preparations with David "Speedy" Emanuel, the race organizer, and Bill Bauer, race director and president of the host club GBSC/Festo/Carl Hart Bicycles/ Bialostok Chiropratic Cycling Team.
The first race, Category 3 and 4, was 25 laps (15 miles) on the .6 mile course that ran from Grace Avenue to Canterbury Road to Stoner Avenue to Park Place and back to Grace Avenue for the finish. This was a mid-level race, with Category 1 being for elite riders and Category 5 for novices. It was won by John Caruso of Massapequa for GBSC/Festo.
The Women's and Junior Races were held jointly next with junior riders being under 18 years old. The Women's race was won by Catherine Powers, riding for Century Road Club Association of Manhattan, who lapped the field. Interviewed after her 25-lap win, Catherine declared, "It was a beautiful course. The roads were flawless and nice and wide." She added, "Cycling is a great sport for women. I'm in my prime at 30. There are lots of older women riding. It's safe and good for you, compared to most other sports and it also has a mental component and is a team sport, though most people don't think of it in these ways." Ron Czajowski, who did a fine job announcing the race, referred to Ms. Powers as a "solo machine" who ran a "huge race," never seeming to get off her seat. Catherine began riding only two years ago while working for a grass roots women's organization in Costa Rica. She says she enjoys encouraging girls to start riding and in fact spent some time in Great Neck doing just that. Karen Bauer, who finished fifth, also declared it was a "great course, nice and safe." "It's also a nice community. I'll come back," she said, referring to the 4th Great Neck Bicycle Challenge, to take place next year.
The Juniors winner was Owen Nielson of Roanoke, VA, who is in the New York area this summer to train. He called the pace at the beginning of the race slow, and said his strategy was to "sit in and sprint at the end, because that's what I do best." He noted he kept pace until the last corner, when, he calmly stated, he "got out of there first and over the line."
The Masters Race for riders of 35 years or older was won by Anthony Taylor of the Kissena Cycling Team, winning the field sprint. Third place went to James Joseph, a former member of the Trinidad Cycling Team.
Owen Nielsen, riding for Taloy Racing Team, also won the Category 4,5, 25-lap race. (Juniors are permitted to ride in adult categories.) Owen's win of this adult event was an outstanding achievement by itself, but winning it after his own junior event, made the win even sweeter and more impressive.
The emotional highlight of the day was the ceremonial lap in memory of Mayor Allan Gussack at the start of the Pro 1, 2, 3 Race. It was led by Race Director Bill Bauer, who was the director of the first Challenge and worked closely with Mayor Gussack. Bill, a Bayville resident, has been racing for 43 years and is the 1993 Bronze medalist at the World Criterium Championship. After ceremonial photos with Mayor Celender, Deputy Mayor Ted Rosen, Village Trustees Jay Ferkin, Joel Liebowitz and Gerald Schneiderman and race officials, Mayor Gussack's daughters, Betsy and Stephanie Gussack, watched as the entire field circled the course. Prior to the lap, citations were presented to Mayor Celender and the Village, and to the Gussack family, by Civil Court Judge Howard Birnback on behalf of County Executive Thomas Gulotta.
The main event was 50 laps or 30 miles. First place went to Charles Issendorf of Richmond Hill, NY, who was also the leader of most of the laps by breaking away from other riders. Charlie has represented the United States in the Tours of Chile and Greece. He is also a multi-time New York State Road and Track Champion. Starting cycling at age 8, he also won a silver medal in the National Junior Championships. For his Number 1 finish, Charlie received a check and an Iron Horse Bicycle frame valued at over $500. He rides for the G.S. Mengoni team. The finishing time was 56 minutes, 22 seconds, for an average speed of 31.9 miles per hour on a course with an uphill climb that had to be mastered 50 times.
Inside the lap car donated by North Bay Cadillac was Daniel Holzberg, 12 years old of Thomaston. In response to a question as to whether it was boring in the car, Daniel said it was "Cool. You had to be sure enough room was left between the front of the pack and the car. It was fun."
The crowd had a fine time. Jamie Swan of Northport thanked "Speedy" Emanuel for organizing the race and keeping bike racing alive on Long Island. In the crowd with his children was Hewitt Thayer of Smithtown, who won the Category 1, 2, 3 race in the Challenge in 1986. He said he stills rides 50 miles a couple of times a week, but isn't riding competitively just now. He remarked that the course had lots of turns and a big field of racers, some of whom had ridden with him 15 years ago. One observer proclaimed it was his "first ever" bicycle race and it was really exciting. Another said it was a "great day in the park."
Credit is due to the Departments of Public Works of the Village and Nassau County for pothole repair, curb painting, street sweeping, and clearing the course. Special thanks also to the Great Neck Park District. Village Code Enforcement Officers, Nassau County Police 6th Precinct and County Police Vigilant Fire Company's Emergency Medical Technicians who were on the scene with an ambulance. The County's Parks and Recreation Department supplied a mobile show vehicle for Chief Referee Don Winston and Race Announcer Czajkowski.
All of the riders interviewed by this reporter seemed challenged by the course and felt the event was very professionally run. The spectators, for their part, enjoyed exposure to this fast-paced and colorful sport. Many participants and observers said they eagerly await next year's return event.