Monday, June 17, 2013

Cycling in the 60s: Tour de Graceada

Northern California bicycle racing was in the 1960's was a strictly amateur activity which was heavily dependent on volunteerism. The national organization that regulated bicycle racing was the Amateur Bicycle League of America (ABL of A), and a year after the Modesto Roadmen was sanctioned as a bicycle racing club by the ABL of A and began racing, we were asked to put on a race for the cycling community. The style of race we decided to promote was a criterium, a race of many laps conducted on a short course on city streets. We chose that format to make this race maximally viewable to the people of Modesto. The course we picked circled Graceada Park, a park named after the two sisters who were responsible for its creation, Grace and Ada. Besides organizing the event, the Modesto Roadmen competed in it. I competed in its first three years, 1966, 1967 and 1968, and thus have pictures from those years. (As per my previous characterization of myself as a bad bicycle racer, I got dropped by the field all three years.)

Wally Gimber, from a newspaper
article about the race.
Bob Tetzlaff, competing in the 1966 race.
I say the Modesto Roadmen organized the race, but that characterization is extremely unfair to the many adults we thought we didn't need when we founded the Roadmen. On the one hand, I think it was tremendously valuable that our cycling was truly boy-run. On the other hand, without the help from our parents and many other adults, we never could have accomplished much of what we did. Before we even got to the Tour de Graceada, Bob Tetzlaff and Wally Gimber of the Northern California ABL of A spent huge amounts of time, all out of the goodness of their hearts, to help the Modesto Roadmen become sanctioned as an ABL of A club, culminating on their driving to Modesto to go on a ride with us. As I have previously mentioned, our parents spent a lot of time driving us all over Northern California to races. When it came to organizing the race, this was something entirely beyond our competence. Among many other things, we needed to raise prizes for the race. Because bicycle racing in the 60s was an amateur sport, cash prizes were forbidden, but product prizes, usually a mixture of bicycle gear and household items, were expected. In the best races (which was what we were determined to run), the first place prize for Senior riders was expected to have a value of about $200; a professional quality racing bike was typical, and prizes were usually given to the top 10 finishers.

Bob Parsons, winner in 1966. 
In my previous post I introduced "HL", a neighbor who became involved with the Modesto Roadmen. He did not have a son or daughter in the club, he just wanted to help. Given the kind of guy he was, it is not surprising he was an active member of the Lion's club, a public service organization. I don't see the Lion's Club listed as a sponsor on the program for 1968, but my memory (which is not to be trusted) of the 1966 event is that they were central in helping us organize it. In any case, "HL" taught us how to approach merchants to solicit the prizes we needed to put on the race, how to approach city officials, etc. Again, if memory serves, we were not always the most gracious recipients of said training, a sin that I only partially did penance for during my years as an assistant scoutmaster with the local boy scout troop. Many of the parents, mine included, prepared side dishes in advance and charcoal grilled chicken during the race to provide a lunch for the racers after the event. Even after mentioning all the donors of prizes and printing and other services, I am sure I have not come close to thanking everyone I should.

Bob Parsons, winner in 1967 as well.
It was impossible for me to judge at the time, but in retrospect, the race was a smashing success. I certainly don't know all the subsequent history of this race. There currently is a professional bicycle race in Modesto named the "Harvest Moon Criterium" and in its description is the following:
1983, the "Tour de Graceada" raced into downtown and now it is still going strong, attracting top class racers beginning Saturday at 8 am as the Harvest Moon Criterium.
This suggests that the Tour de Graceada may have been run through 1982. In any case, the Tour de Graceada had sufficient impact that many years later, when the Tour of California went through Modesto, it went by Graceada Park in homage.


As noted on the program at the top of the post, the Tour de Graceada was a B.A.R. race (I can't remember what that acronym stands for) which meant it was possible to set a new national record for 30 miles in this race. The national record, set in 1935, was 1 hour 10 minutes and 48 seconds. The 1966 race was definitely slower than that. It appears that the 1967 race was faster than this time, but it seems that it did not set the record, I don't know why not.

In 1968 at least, there were three races run, a 15 mile race for Juniors (riders less than 18 years old), a 30 mile race for Seniors (riders between 18 and 40 years old) and a 3 mile race for Veterans (riders over 40), Ladies, and Intermediates (I can't remember what an Intermediate was.) Only the winners of the Junior and Senior events were recorded. The winners in 1966 and 1967 were as follows:

1966 Seniors (Winning time 1 hour 13 minutes 17.3 seconds)
  Bob Parsons - Pasadena Athletic Association
  Dan Butler - San Francisco Wheelmen
  Eric Neff - San Francisco Wheelmen

1966 Juniors
  John Gallagher - Berkeley Wheelmen
  Steve Lubin - Pedali Alpini
  Howard Hickingbotham - Belmont Bike Club

1967 Seniors (Winning time 1 hours 9 minutes 30 seconds)
  Bob Parsons - Pasadena Athletic Association
  Jackie Simes II - National Sprint Champion, Pan American and Olympic Teams
  Bob Tetzlaff - Olympic Team 1964, National Road Champion 1966

1967 Juniors
  Ed Kinney - Santa Rosa
  Joe Radialli - Southern California
  Mark Gates - Santa Rosa

Additional Pictures

The Modesto Roadmen debriefing after the 1966 Tour de Graceada. From left to right are "Terry", Zombie, "Peter", "HL", "The Coach", and another member of the Roadmen hereafter known as "ER".  "Terry", "Peter" and "HL" are wearing the original, home-silk-screened Modesto Roadmen T-shirts. The Zombie (me) and "ER" opted to race in cycling jerseys. "The Coach" (in the grey suit) was another adult who, on their own, just to be helpful, adopted the Roadmen. He was a retired bicycle racer from Holland who one day saw us riding down the road and noticed that we needed all the help we could get, and thereafter took it upon himself to coach us.

This and the next picture are to show that the Tour of California included part of the route of the Tour de Graceada. Notice the fence around the tennis courts in the background. You can see the same fence in the next picture of the Tour of California.

This and the previous picture are to show that the Tour de Graceada and the Tour of California passed along the same route as identified by the fence in the background. The Tour of California had more riders, but it looks to me like the Tour de Graceada had more spectators. To be fair, this spot was the finish line for the Tour de Graceada, whereas the finish line for the Tour of California was about a kilometer down the road.


  1. I attempted to compete as a junior in 1968. Much to my chagrin the race was cancelled because of rain! Having just moved from the east coast where we didn't let a chance of rain stop a race, I was somewhat put out. I did win a raffle prize, a transistor radio!

    BAR races were a National Series with a minimum prize list, that garnered a National Championship Jersey at the end of the year.

    Prosper Bijl

    1. Thanks for the comment, I had no memory of the 1968 race being cancelled. I guess that explains why I have no pictures of it. The program I scanned for the post was presumably never used.