The history of the National Capital Open comprises four eras:
- 1935-1960 Prehistory
- 1960-1965 The French Embassy Era
- 1969-1987 The NCVC Era
- 1988 The Proserv Era
From 1935 until the mid-1950s various entities promoted races on the Ellipse. From 1935-1938 the event was called the National Capital Bicycle Sweepstakes. Until 1935, most racing in Washington, DC took place around an oval on the polo grounds in West Potomac Park. Neil Sandler, the editor of Spokes Magazine, in an article that was included with the 1988 NCO program states that the race restarted in the 1940s, after WWII, but no evidence for this exists in the Washington Post. Of course, the event may not have warranted coverage. For three years in the mid-1950s (1954-1956) the event returned under the name National Capital Open. Francois Mertens, who was still actively racing in 2008, won in 1955. Multi-time National Women's champion Nancy Neiman won the Women's event in 1954.
The French Embassy Era
In the early 1960s, the event is listed has having been promoted jointly by the French Embassy and the "Federation of Washington DC Cycle Clubs." Sandler's essay in the 1988 NCO program indicates that Mel Pinto collaborated with Marcel Galopin, the commercial attache of the French Embassy to promote the event. Press coverage of the event from 1963-1965 always reports the involvement of the French Embassy, and often includes pictures of the ambassador presenting the award. The sponsorship is usually given as jointly between the French Embassy and the "Federation of DC Area Cycle Clubs." Sandler's 1988 NCO program essay asserts that this organization became NCVC.
The NCVC era
The event disappeared from the press in 1966 and 1967, but returned in 1968 as part of "Bicycledelic" promoted by the National Park Service as part of its "Summer in the Parks" program. For the '68 and '69 editions a congressional race was included in the program. The Washington Post press coverage does not identify the promoter.
In 1969 or 1971, depending on the source of the information, NCVC began to promote the event. The Washington Post coverage of the 1969 only identifies the promoter as the National Park Service and that it was an ABLA-sanctioned event. NCVC documents (Velo Voice 10-91) indicate that the event was not held in 1970, although the Washington Post reported a race on 3/15 on the Ellipse, promoted by the "Washington Velo Club"
The NCO grew in prize list and importance through the 1970s and into the 1980s. In the early years, the event was driven by the energy of its promoter, Peter Stevens, who took over from Hank Whitney in 1972, and ran the event either as promoter of record, or as advisor until 1982. Under Stevens' leadership, the event went from a local-to-regional event to a perennial national racing calendar event.
For three years (83-85) Don Carrick promoted the NCO. In 1986, the club experimented with turning the promotion over to "The Bicycle Federation," a small DC-based cycling advocacy group, which later became The National Center for Bicycling and Walking. Deputy Director and NCVC member, Bill Wilkinson coordinated the event. According to the agreement (ArchiveOliverFiles The Bicycle Federation was responsible for publicity, sponsorship, and permitting. NCVC agreed to provide the necessary volunteers. The Bicycle Federation was entitled to the bulk of the profit, after accounting for its staff time. In 1987, the final year, the Bicycle Federation, after deciding that promoting bicycle races was not in line with its mission, returned the responsibility for the event back to NCVC. Bruce Oliver the NCVC Vice President took over and promoted the event. (source VeloVoice June, 1987)
The Proserv era
The difficulties in promoting the event, and especially the 1987 edition, led NCVC to seek another promoter. In late 1987, vice-president Bruce Oliver negotiated a contract to sell the rights, for $21000, to promote the NCO to the sports management company Proserv the 1988 and beyond, sponsored by Gore-Tex. Unfortunately, despite the high-profile of the event, ProServ only promoted it that year.
National Classic Status
Beginning in 1976 and continuing until 1988, except 1979, the NCO held National Prestige Classic or National Classic status. The ABLA, and its successor the USCF, awarded this status to fifteen to twenty races a year. Achieving the designation required meeting the minimum prize lists, and in some years, less tangible qualities. In 1974 the NCO was awarded Sectional B.A.R. status, which was one step below the National status, but it was also part of a six-race Miller High-Life series, which brought corporate cash sponsorship from Philip Morris, Inc. The events listed in the National Prestige Classic are the great races of the 1970s and 80s, many of which still are running: Somerville, Nutley, Fitchburg, Nevada City, Manhattan Beach Grand Prix.
The National Prestige Classic status brought many great riders, though they were primarily based on the east coast. One notable exception was the 1978 edition, which used the Rock Creek course as a try-out for the Junior World Championships. That event, won by Wayne Stetina, (Indy USA/Cool Gear/Exxon), included John Eustice, Chris Carmichael, Alan Kingsberry, Tom Schuler, Jim Ochowicz, and Doug Shapiro, most of whom went on to European professional careers.
The NCO was legendary for its crashes; many riders still refer to it as the National Crash Open. The most tragic year was 1974, when John Wallace died after hitting the curb in a crash in the combined Sr III/Masters event.
In the 1970s "record attempts" for 50 km and intermediate distances were popular. In 1976, promoter Peter Stevens contracted for a a professional survey of the course to establish the distance. Several national 50km records were set on the course:
- 1976 1:11:07.14 Ian Jackson
- 1977 1:08:05.37 Jocelyn Lovell
- 1980 1:06:52.2 Bruce Donaghy
The interest in record attempts seems to have died out in the 1980s.
- In the NCVC era, the NCO was run on the Ellipse in front of the white house in every year except 1978. Link to Map
- In 1978 NCVC used the Rock Creek course that would be used later for the 1978 Junior World Championships
- In 1986, the race appears to have been run on a course on Pennsylvania Avenue (source, 1986-04 Velo Voice)
Races took place on the Ellipse from 1935-1938, 1954-1956, 1963-1965, and 1968-1988, and perhaps in other years for which information remains undiscovered. Sometimes they were named the National Capital Open, and other times they were unnamed or unidentified. A more complete chronology of dates, event names, race summaries, and sources can be found at National Capital Open-chronology
Determining the promoter or organizer of the NCO in the 1970s is difficult. Many newsletters are missing, and the event programs usually only list the officiating crew.Complete list: National Capital Open-Promoters
Press Clippings News and Sources
The NCO was a high-profile event, and was featured in Velo-news because it was often on the National Calendar. The club generally tried to get coverage in the Washington Post and Star as well, often successfully.This page summarizes the press coverage of the NCO: National Capital Open-Press
Event announcements and posters
Links to National Capital Open Programs
- 1964 Start lists (Intermediates, Juniors, Seniors)
- 1971 "In memory of Captain Donald McBride"
- 1981 Pinto, Mel photograph, team photograph, start list
- 1982 Prize list, team photo in front of Jefferson Memorial, schedule, Eric Heiden bio
- 1983 Prize list, Pam Black NCO History with Pinto, Mel photos
- 1984 Prize list, schedule, 1983 Jr race finish photo, Bruce Donaghy photo
- 1985 Schedule,
- 1986 schedule, 7-11 cup information, Greenbelt Park advertisement,
- 1987 Schedule, DC area cycling resources, Greenbelt race ad,
- 1988 (Excerpts)
Photographs of NCO posters: link