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PEZ Previews: The Harlem Skyscraper Classic
In the race results bible ‘Velo Plus’ there’s a section ‘Epreuve Du Passй’ or ‘Races from the Past.’ The Harlem criterium was in danger of becoming one of those; a race from the past – until John Eustice got hold of it, that is. This year’s race rolls on Sunday, so we talked to John about what makes it so cool.

Eustice was a pro from 1981 with Sem-France Loire-Campagnolo, where that year he was team mates with Portuguese Tour legend Joaquim Agostinho and 1980 Olympic pursuit champion Robert Dill-Bundi of Switzerland; and in 1982 he had one of the most famous riders of all time as a team mate at Sem – Sean Kelly.

His pro career ended with Subaru-Montgomery in 1992 and along the way he won the US PRO Champs twice.

After his riding days were over, he turned to team management and race promotion.

John Eustice.

And that’s where the Harlem criterium comes in; Eustice could see that the race had all the ingredients to be a real ‘classic’ but was in danger of fading away.

The first thing a classic needs is a recognisable and regular parcours – Het Volk and Flanders with their cobbles and bergs; the Primavera with the Capi and the Poggio; Liege with La Redoute – and Philly with the Manayunk Wall.

The re-marketed Harlem Skyscraper Cycling Classic has an instantly recognisable backdrop; Marcus Garvey Park – named after the famous Jamaican journalist and champion of equal rights for black people, not just in the US but worldwide.

However, most locals still refer to the park by the original name; Mount Morris Park.

The park is surrounded by historic ‘brownstone’ apartment blocks.

Organiser Eustice explains; ‘the parcours are situated in one of the most beautiful residential neighbourhoods in New York City; surrounded by Brownstones that were built by people such as Rogers (of Rogers and Hammerstein), the founder of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda and other luminaries of the late 19th and early 20th century.

The park was designed by Frederik Law Olmsted – designer of Central Park – and is a jewel.

Today, basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar, poet Maya Angelou and famed documentary filmmaker (Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter) Albert Maysles all live on or near the course.’

No problems with a setting, then – what about history, by definition a ‘classic’ doesn’t happen instantly because you call it one (or because the UCi says so.)

This will be the 38th edition; that ticks the longevity box.

But what about the quality of the winners, that plays a big part?

Trawling the usually faithful websites yields little except that Argentinean rapid finisher JJ Haedo won in 2003 – not too bad a start.

Eustice agrees that the past winners list needs work – a classic has to it know it’s own history – but we do know that Danny Clark, the ‘record man’ for the number of six day starts and third in the all time list of six day wins has won the race.

So too has big finishing, big haired Italian, Roberto Gaggioli.

And the race has been graced by the likes of former world pursuit champions Mike McCarthy and Gregor Braun; three times US PRO Champion, George Hincapie; LA Olympics sprint silver medallist Nelson Vails and Irish US criterium specialist, Alan McCormack.

Last year it was classy six day man, Christian Grasmann who won; he returns this year along with fellow German six day man and criterium flyer, Leif Lampater.

Leif Lampater.

Austrian Andreas Muller is another who is as happy on a tight criterium circuit as he is on the six day boards.

Coming back for more after last year is Swiss ‘king of the sixes’ Franco Marvulli, who should be suited to the new ‘omnium’ format.

Which Eustice explains like this; ‘We’ve created a new format for this year, focusing on track-style racing formats, in order to bring back the aura of the old Madison Square Garden 6-day races and to take advantage of the collection of top racers who spend the summer at the Trexlertown Velodrome; and the Jamis Sutter Home team is sending four riders including Anibal Borrajo.

The Argentinean has already won stages in the San Dimas and Joe Martin stage races this year.

Multiple US track champion, Beijing Olympian and Tour of the Battenkill top four finisher Bobby Lea (Pure Energy) is also on the start sheet.

As is Kiwi out of Flanders, Doug Repacholi [who featured on the pages of PEZ in 2010] schooled in those Belgian kermises he should feel right at home around those 90 degree corners.

Trackman Kit Karzen [another man who has graced the pages of PEZ] rides – if he can find time in between making those Oakley commercials, that is.

And Wonderful Pistachios Iggy Silva will also be trying to scrape his pedal dust caps.

The idea is to create a spectator event; one that is exciting, colourful and giving constant action.

With that in mind, the pros will race a Points Race, a Devil and then have a Keirin final.’

The kids’ races kick off at noon on Fathers’ Day, Sunday June 19th, with the heavy artillery firing their first salvo in the points race at 16:00 hours and the keirin roaring into life at 18:00 hours – there’s also ladies’ racing and a fixed gear race along the way.

It sounds like madness to us; no, no – we mean a great day out.

Thanks to John Eustice for his cooperation with preparing this preview; fingers crossed for sunshine.

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