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A Short History

by George Liolios, March 10, 2010

Well, maybe because I'm old and feeling a bit nostalgic, I thought it was time to share a little bit of this and a little bit of that on the club history while I can still remember when it happened.

I was a member and past President of the old Cleveland Wheelman when I decided to form a new racing club in 1987. Tom Denholm, owner of Marty's Bike Shop, agreed to be the first sponsor of the club. Ed Nestor, who was a wrench at Marty's, and who was very interested in taking up racing helped me as the two of us brainstormed for a club name. Ultimately, we settled on Summit Freewheelers, the Summit was to symbolize the crest of all the climbs out of valley and not the County, as many assume, and we just thought that having freewheel in the name would be unique. We never dreamed that a freewheel would someday become obsolete and be replaced by cassette's.

Our philosophy was simple: we would be structured as a developmental club teaching the fundamentals of racing and provide riders an opportunity to race. When a rider became highly competitive and progressed upwardly through the USCF system then the expectation was for them to move upward to high-level team.

I wrote a set of bylaws, and we had monthly meetings in our family room from October through March and elected officers every November. Along with the necessary club business, our meetings always had a race topic for the month such as weight training, goal setting, techniques of sprinting, etc.

We were lean and mean in our first year. Ed Nestor, Ed Viola, my son Adam, Joanne, and myself were the only team members. Tom Denholm provided the much-needed cash for seed money and secured Panasonic, a manufacture of tires and bicycles, as a product sponsor. Our first kit had Summit Freewheelers and Marty's on the jersey and Panasonic on the shorts. We purchased the kits from a local vendor that was not familiar with bike racing. Unfortunately, they printed Panasonic on the shorts so when viewed from the side the wording was upside down. Ouch! Undaunted I had the side panels pulled out flipped around and re-sewn correctly.

As a USCF sponsored club we were required to have a sanctioned race prior to advertising sponsors on our kit. So I borrowed the old Cleveland Wheelman set of race rollers for our first ever Summit Freewheelers sanctioned race. The rollers were built by the late Jim Beres, a founding father of the Cleveland Wheelman and owner of Jim's Bike Shop in Akron. The two sets of rollers were custom built by Jim with hand cut spokes in the drums. One roller unit was painted red and the other blue to match the arms on the large 6'x6' dial indictor. Jim connected the rollers to the dial indicator with motorcycle cables that measured the distance raced, which was one revolution of arm equaling 1/10th of a mile. Unlike modern rollers, which place a premium on quiet operation these bad boys were just the opposite and were the loudest things I ever heard. Riding rollers takes some skill and getting used to and riding fast in a race takes even more skill so it wasn't unusual to see someone fly off the side in an all out effort to win a race!

I had to hire an official for our sanctioned race who in turn required the riders to wear helmets, which seemed somewhat comical at the time. The next year we promoted "The Race At The Lake" as a one-day event. Joanne was in charge of registration and has been "The Boss" ever since. In my wisdom, I located the start/finish at the top of the climb (the present location). Logistics were a challenge so we had our son Adam shuttle the start list and results back and forth on his BMX bike.

We had our usual Tuesday, Thursday training rides during the week and if you weren't racing, we met at my house in Munroe Falls on Saturday and Sunday for a group ride. As the club grew and as Joanne grew weary of our home being taken over by lycra clad riders, we moved the start location of training rides to the traditional valley meeting place.

We worked in conjunction with the Stark County Bike Club to promote Wednesday night bike races. On alternate weeks, we raced at the Kent State University Dix stadium, and a Criterium course near the Akron-Canton airport. The Dix stadium race was unique since we raced on a paved road that completely circled the stadium. I used an omnium style track event for the Dix Stadium races. We had match sprints, a one-lap pursuit, miss and out and finished with a scratch event with both an "A" and "B" group. All the events were short and fast! Eventually the head football coach at Kent had us shutdown because he was worried for the safety of his players. Apparently, he had concerns that a player would get run over by one of us as they walked across the road into the stadium. OK, so let's get this straight: 20 lb. bike, 150 lb. rider crashing into a 350 lb. lineman. "Priceless".

We had the good fortune to have Brad Hansen join our club. He was a top-flight Category II rider who went on to win the Sate Road Race Championship wearing our colors. Not only was Brad an excellent rider, but a great recruiter as well. Because of his recruiting, the club a saw growth spurt with many good riders joining up. By then "The Races at the Lake", which was intended as an early season training series, had grown into a four weekend series during the month of April. Little did I know that our spring classic series would become so popular, which is now simply known as RATL. Our team really worked well together and used RATL as a means for our Cat 3 riders to earn points for their upgrade to Cat. 2. The entire Cat. 2 squad would work their butts off to help the riders gain their valued upgrade.

In addition to our typical men's team, we had a very strong 3-rider women's team of Sandy Donaldson, Vickie Tapp and Kim Dubois. They were a regular force in the men's "B" race on Wednesdays and it wasn't unusual for one of them to take home the win. The three jokingly referred to themselves "George's Angels". Back in the day junior racing was alive and well. It wasn't unusual to have 30 juniors in a USCF race. We had a strong contingent of approximately six juniors on our team. The highlight was taking three of our riders to a one week Junior Development Camp held at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center. As expected, the facility was first class, treating all of us like Olympians. Skittles candy was a sponsor of the Junior National team and the boys had unlimited access to the candy. Well, since boys will be boys and unknown to me they walked out of lunch and dinner each day with their pockets full of goodies. I'm guessing we had several hundred pounds of candy in the car for the trip home, which turned into one huge sugar rush for the 12 hour drive.

A good friend and fellow racer had moved to Woodsfield, Ohio, and started promoting a weekend stage race in the Switzerland of Ohio. Our club was large enough and eager enough that we would send 3 teams of 5 riders to the annual Woodsfield stage race. To say there was a climb or two would be an understatement. I was told by the locals that deer hunting season and the stage race were considered the highlight of the year for the area. With only one motel in town I would reserve three rooms one year in advance; otherwise you were stuck across the Ohio River in West Virginia an hour away. Picture if you will 15 riders, 3 support people, 15 bikes, repair stands and tools jammed into three rooms! The manager just didn't know what to make of us, sitting outside after day one, shaved legs, farmer tans, eating watermelon and spitting seeds on each other. Now that's the High Life! The race was strictly a team competition consisting of 20 -- 5 rider teams and was traditional in the sense that it was scored on time and not points with the final crit playing a major role in the final standings. Two days with four stages, a morning team TT, followed by an afternoon RR. Day two was a brutal RR in the morning, ascending the Col deFly followed by the final crit in downtown that afternoon. My best memory of the Col deFly would be when I received a hand up of an ice-cold beer! An official spotted the illegal transgression threatening me with a time penalty. What ever, dude! Now those were the good old days. The final crit was spectacular. Each team was required to drop one rider for the crit so we had a field of 80 to contest a blistering hot pace. The promoter handed out 30-second bonus times for the leader on each lap! Did I say this race was fast?

With growth comes change and Brad spun off a new group of riders into Team Akron. In 1994, Phil Whitworth took over the reigns of the club. Phil was no stranger to competition; he competed on the USA Pistol team in the Pan American games while serving our country as an officer in the United States Army. His son Matt was an up and coming junior, attended many USCF training camps, and competed in several National Championships while a member of our club. My first memory of Matt was the very first day he trained with us. I was conducting sprint workouts on Georgetown Rd. in Hudson. The sprints were in small groups of 5-6 and flat out for 300 meters. Matt was young and eager to show his mettle so he didn't hold back in his efforts. After several sprints Matt rolled over to me, face flushed, dripping of sweat and hurled. Being the sympatric coach that I am I deadpanned, "Next time don't eat so much prior to riding".

The club then went through a re-building phase under the leadership of Mark Lile and Emil Stahli. Emil developed the very popular TOP series, which has changed dramatically from those early years. Emil tried to have an equal balance of races for climbers, sprinters and power riders; hence, the challenge was to be the winner for Total Overall Performance.

TOP was an awards program based on points earned through consistent attendance and performance. Emil designed the program to:

  1. Promote participation & fellowship

  2. Reward dedication regardless of ability

  3. Nurture the new and younger riders

  4. Discourage sand bagging

  5. Foster sportsmanship

  6. Recognize special achievement

Based on ability, Emil classified the riders as Allegro, USCF, Citizen, or Crescendo. We raced in one field, but were scored separately by category and number of riders in their category. Aero equipment was not permitted since the emphasis was on ability and not the best equipment.

Tris Hopkins, Brian Batke and Tom Freuh were all team members and raced often in TOP events. Eventually they spun off a new team named Cuyahoga Valley Velo.

Rick Schwartz stepped up to the plate in 1998 as president and with his endless energy and great organizational skills garnered new sponsors and raised the bar as a promoter of the RATL series. Without Rick's dedication, the club's future would have been destined for failure.

The reins of the club were eventually handed off to the very capable hands of Ted Ingraham. Once again, the club was blessed with an individual with a great deal of energy and desire to ensure the success of the club. Ted was the glue that held things together; he drummed up sponsors, ordered and sorted our team kits, promoted RATL and was the straw boss that kept the rest of us goobers in line. Along the way, he ushered in the 20th century by spearheading the development of a Club website, which was first set up by Mike Smith and now in the very capable hands of Bob Iden. Very different from the first newsletters I cranked out in our kitchen on a used hand cranked print press. Ted also pulled together the State Criterium Championship held in downtown Akron for two consecutive years, which was no small task. The race was well promoted and successful. During Ted's reign of leadership, Shawn Adams joined the team and raced very successfully and ultimately moved on to compete as a Category 1 rider for the Abercrombie & Fitch Team Inferno. Jimmy Mac, a raw junior, arrived on the racing scene as well and with a bit of mentoring moved up to A&F as well for the 2007 racing season.

We moved on to a new and exciting Excellent Adventure, which was lead by my friend Denis Osowski. Denis skillfully re-organized the team structure, promoted RATL and become the conduit to the Metro Park officials as we continued to race in the park system. D jump started things in 2008 as the club offered a power evaluation by Fetty Intensive Training followed by a weekend camp in October. Jacob and Shawn have held several training camps for our team and you can expect more as we move forward.

Though we are primarily focused as a racing club, we have through all these years promoted and helped out with bike rodeos, helped local Boy Scouts troops earn merit badges and have contributed to many charitable organizations and worthy causes such as the 9/11 Fire Truck Fund, Hurricane Katrina relief, and Bret Nylon fund to name a few.

We have come a long way from our humble beginnings when we promoted a roller race to our annual RATL, TOP, the Fall Challenge races, and along the way found the time and energy to promote the Ohio Games, several State Road Race Championships, State Criterium Championships, and most recently the State Time Trial Championship.

The leadership is now in the capable hands of Ron Fogle, God Bless You!

If you haven't already, I hope you grow to love our sport as I do, so in closing, keep the rubber side down, ride hard, rest often, and have fun!