By Amber Pierce
In the sport of cycling, there’s a saying: no one else in the picture. It’s the sweetest way to win a bike race—solo, so far off the front that you cross the line with no one else in the picture. The only way it could be sweeter? To do it in your hometown.
The Tour de Nez is Nevada’s longest-running stage race, 2011 being the 20th year of this spectacle of unabashed enthusiasm for bicycles. The party features world class hand-cycling, clunkers, kids, professionals, couriers, and showgirls (this is Reno, baby). Not only is this race ridiculously fun and cool in its own right, but it also happens to be held in my hometown.
This year, the race integrated nicely with another staple of the Truckee Meadows—Artown. For one month every summer, the community pulls out all the stops for a celebration of art and culture, in the same all-inclusive style as the Tour de Nez. The Artown festival runs the gamut of creativity and culture with visual, performance, and historical arts featuring local and visiting artists. Part of the mission of Artown is to make this festival as accessible as possible to everyone, so museums and galleries open their doors for free exhibits, public parks echo with the music of free concerts, sculptures abound in public spaces, and local businesses subsidize events to keep entry fees as low as possible.
Allow me to paint the scene of Artown in Reno. A couple nights before the race, my parents and I headed downtown for dinner (that’s yet another thing to love about this town – a smorgasbord of excellent dining experiences). As we strolled along the river (downtown has too much cool stuff to see to just go straight to the restaurant) past some impressive sculpture installations, crowds on picnic blankets and folding chairs took in a live open-air concert at Wingfield Park—the island in the Truckee River downtown. The concert provided a nice soundtrack while folks gathered on the river banks to swim, wade, tube, kayak, fish and sunbathe (for real, I saw at least one person partaking in each of these activities, all within three city blocks). Just imagine—floating on the river in the afternoon sun, enjoying live music only a few feet away from a litany of fine restaurants, microbreweries, cafés, galleries, museums, wine bars, old west saloons and casinos. Later that evening, the same open-air amphitheater would be screening the weekly free-movie-in-the-park with a public showing of Breaking Away. Seriously, how cool is this town?!
Well, it gets cooler. Sunday morning got things rolling with the annual Tour de Nez in all its unconventionally fabulous glory. The Nez is much more than a bike race. It is—and always has been—about celebrating bicycles with a big, fat party.
This year, the festivities kicked off with some of the top hand cyclists in the nation throwing down in an inspiring show of strength, followed by both Juniors and Masters categories on the same course. Couriers lined up for the N’Alley Cat race, a crazy full-speed scavenger hunt through the streets of downtown Reno, followed by the Annual Clunker Race, in which folks bring out some crazy looking bikes including everything from big old commuters to antiques and hand-made or super-modified machines. The kids’ race was led by local police on motos that blared full sirens and lights, much to the delight of all the little tykes.
Then came the women’s race: my favorite race, in my favorite town, in front of the home crowd. There was so much to be happy and grinning about that I felt more excited than nervous. I got to reconnect with a bunch of people I’d known growing up, not to mention catch up with some of my favorite bike racers I hadn’t seen since racing most of the season in Europe. It was a banner day before the race even started!
Whatever nerves I did have went away the moment the starting gun blasted. As we rounded the first few corners, I felt right at home – calm, focused and happy to be racing my bike. I think I heard at least one “Go Amber!” in every corner of the technical course, which made it hard not to grin from ear-to-ear in the middle of the race!
Without getting into the nitty-gritty of a race report, I went for a late-race prime and kept going. With a monster effort out in the wind (and some disorganization in the field behind me), I stayed away to cross the line first, with no one else in the picture. Best of all: I got huge hugs from my parents at the finish. And two Reno showgirls presented the awards on the podium, which is what happens when you win in the Biggest Little City in the World!
Amber Pierce - An American expat living in Austria, Amber has made the leap across the Atlantic in pursuit of her dreams on the road. After making a name for herself as one of the top road cyclists in the US, she now faces new challenges in her life on the road in Europe.
Amber's path to full-time racing in Europe has been anything but linear. From high school valedictorian holding national swimming records, to scholarship athlete at Stanford University and researcher on the open ocean, she has found herself in countless adventures all over the globe. With 53 career victories under her belt, however, Amber appears to have found her calling on the bicycle.
Photos & Video: Amber Pierce (first, second); Gary Douglas (third - fifth & video)