Last year, the Tour de Frederick almost killed its founder. Literally.
Ten days before 2018’s event, Neil Sandler was backpacking in Europe with his son and he noticed he was a little short of breath. Upon returning to Frederick, he spoke with a doctor — a doctor who doubled as his best friend — to try to figure out why he might be having trouble breathing.
His friend, Dr. Mark Artusio, told him that his fatigue might be more serious than he previously thought, because Sandler is known for working out religiously. He consulted another doctor that Friday, the day before the ride, and that doctor advised him not to run the Tour de Frederick because the plan was to give him a stress test Monday morning.
“So what did I do?” Sandler asked rhetorically during an interview in his downtown office Thursday afternoon. “Saturday morning, I rode 30 miles. Then I raced home, took a shower and rode the high-wheel race.”
Without a beat, he then offered the next sentence like the statement should be an afterthought.
“I didn’t feel very good, though.”
Turned out, there was a pretty good reason for that. After the scheduled stress test Monday morning, he was rushed into open-heart surgery that Friday. Sandler had blockage in four major arteries in his heart, which included a 99 percent blockage of the widow maker artery, and was in need of a quadruple bypass.
“The doctor told me he had no idea how I didn’t have a massive heart attack during the Tour de Frederick and dropped dead,” the cyclist explained with a healthy dose of pragmatism. “I should have died that day.”
This year, Sandler hopes his ride feels smoother as the Tour de Frederick kicks off Saturday at 6:30 a.m. with the Wegmans Century Ride, which will take cyclists on a 102-mile trek. The Will Group Foundation Metric Century Ride, which runs 62 miles, will then commence at 7 a.m. before the 31-mile Thermo Fisher Scientific Club Ride begins at 8:30 a.m. A family ride, which offers a 10-mile voyage, is scheduled for 10 a.m.
Each journey will orginate from the Walkersville Volunteer Fire Hall in Walkersville, and a finish line party will get underway at about 11 a.m. The party is new this year, according to the event’s executive director, Kelly Jarvis, who also added that the bash will feature Flying Dog beer, a cookout, live music, a bounce house and mini golf. A Frederick Keys game, for which you can purchase $10 tickets at Dublin Roasters, will round out the Saturday festivities at 6 p.m.
“We are trying to make it a weekend event,” Jarvis said Thursday. “If you’re coming from out of town, you could stay the whole weekend and have entertainment and tour Frederick in a unique way. Coming to the Keys game is a great way for anyone who doesn’t ride bikes to support the event.”
Proceeds from the weekend will go to the Boys & Girls Club of Frederick County and the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek. Jarvis said her goal for this year is to be able to cut a $75,000 check to both organizations and she’s optimistic that by the time it’s all said and done, she’ll be able to do just that. Currently, more than 600 riders are registered, and she expects at least 100 more to join the journey the day of the ride.
This year’s Tour will mark the first time in its history that Sandler won’t be listed as the owner of the event. At the beginning of the year, the Rotary and Boys & Girls clubs bought the Tour de Frederick from the cyclist for an amount of money he wasn’t comfortable disclosing.
What he did shed some light on, however, was the future of the high-wheel race, which this year will not commence downtown after being one of Frederick’s hallmark summer events in years past. According to Sandler, though, fans of the spectacle need not worry about its future.
“They have small kids and I understand, because when I started Tour de Frederick, I had small kids,” Sandler said, referring to high-wheel organizer Eric Rhodes and his family. “They haven’t had a summer off in six years. They have kids that would like to go to the beach for the summer and have family vacations and they haven’t had a summer vacation with kids in six years. So they wanted a break. They said they’re coming back next year. They just wanted one summer off. As someone who has ridden in every high-wheel bike race every year — I’ve not missed one — even I’m sort of going enjoy having a break this year.”
And after last year, a break might be wise for Sandler, who, despite doctors’ orders, insists he has no desire to slow down when it comes to the Tour. He might not own it anymore, but like every other year, he plans on riding in it this weekend. In addition to that, he’ll also lead the history ride, which will begin at 8 a.m. Sunday and will stop at various historical sites throughout town.
As for what he’s looking forward to the most over the next three days? Well, he wasted no time providing an exasperated answer to that inquiry.
“Yeah,” he said in a half-scream, not wasting a breath. “Not dying!”