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First Lady of bike
Hall of Fame biker Kugler takes bows as 200-plus run Spring Century


While more than 200 bikers from Farragut, Knox County, East Tennessee and across the nation gathered for the fourth annual Spring Century bike tour, a special guest on the sideline stood tallest with her medals and plaques on hand as proof.

Mildred Kugler, a national champion biker in the 1930s and 1940s who was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2002, was center-stage — or “center-Cadillac” — for the tour that began in Village Green Shopping Center Saturday, April 29, as part of Festival on the Green.


“The longer the race the better I was,” said Kugler, 81, before boarding a 1973 four-door Cadillac owned and driven by Gene Wessel as “pace car” to lead the bikers out. “We couldn’t specialize like they do today. We had to do everything, long distance [82.5 miles], short distance [one-mile], road, track.”

During a span from 1939 to 1942 when she was only a teenager, “I won the national championship, and I got third-place in the nationals,” said Kugler, adding that she came out of retirement in 1952 “and took the New Jersey state title.”

A native of New Jersey, Kugler said she moved to Lenoir City in November 2005 to be close to her grandson, Farragut resident and pilot Eric Millhouse, a Spring Century participant.

“He didn’t want his mother and I to live too far away from him,” Kugler said. “We needed to live close so he could help take care of us.”

As for living in East Tennessee, “I like it — it’s a little hilly, but I like it,” she said. “It’s great that I have a grandson that thinks so much of us.”

While Kugler said she comes from a family of biking enthusiasts, New Jersey certainly hasn’t forgotten the Kugler name.

“There’s a bicycle race every weekend up there every Memorial Day weekend, one’s named after my brother and one’s named after me,” she said.

Kugler’s Hall of Fame plaque is featured behind the checkout counter at West Bicycles.

SPRING CENTURY

Beginning and ending in front of West Bicycles, the event’s chief sponsor, the Spring Century tour was broken down into three lengths: approximately 62 miles, covering Knox, Loudon and Roane counties; 40 miles, covering Knox and Loudon, and 18 miles throughout West Knox County.

“What we have here in the town of Farragut, we have the finest bike riding area, I promise you, in the country,” said Fares Schlank, owner of West Bicycles. “People come here from all over the country.

“I have riders here from California, Michigan, Florida, that are here visiting people. … They talk about what great roads we have. Here in Tennessee, we tend not to appreciate what we have.”

Marie Minner of West Knoxville, who said she found out about Spring Century just one week before the event, chose the long course. “It’s kinda tough, but it’s nice, beautiful out on the roads,” she said. “And the course was good. The scenery was gorgeous. I would recommend this to anybody.”

Bob Lexvold of Cedar Bluff, who said he has biked the Spring Century course before, said the 40-mile option included “a couple of hills that I hadn’t been on before, it was stepper than I like.” Nonetheless, “It was good,” adding he would also recommend the course to other bikers.

Kris Jones of Sequoyah Hills said this was her first Spring Century, choosing the 40-mile course. “It was a great ride to get back into shape after the winter,” she said. “And it was clearly marked and it was so much fun. … They did a great, great job.”

Schlank added, “The whole Festival on the Green started out from this bike ride. And it has grown from just a bike ride to what you see here.”

 

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