Bike race weekend kicks off in Philadelphia

300,000 spectators are expected to witness the 28th annual Philadelphia International Championship, which will take to the streets – and the Manayunk Wall – on Sunday with over 300 of the world’s hardest-charging male and female professional cyclists.

Event organizers held a press conference on Friday morning to draw attention to the race’s new aspects and to some of the participating athletes.

Male cyclists will endure PIC’s 124-mile course which is said to be the largest single day all-pro cycling event in the United States. Right behind them will be the female participants of the Liberty Classic, which includes 100 women cyclists competing on a 60-mile course.

What’s new this year?

Of the several new components to this year’s race, the one causing the most buzz is an amateur cycling event sponsored by Bicycling Magazine. Approximately 1,000 have signed up for the three-lap amateur event, which is scheduled prior to the professional event.

“People can experience the race course,” said Peter Flax, Bicycling Magazine’s editor-in-chief, likening the opportunity to getting behind the wheel of the Indy 500.

“It gives more people a chance to have perspective,” he continued, and “appreciate how extraordinary the pro athletes are and what they do.”

Flax indicated that time remains to sign up at procyclingtour.com to participate in the amateur event.

Also new for this year is a charitable initiative devised by PIC sponsor TD Bank.

Michael Carbone, regional president of TD Bank, said on Friday that 1,000 backpacks filled with school supplies will be donated to the United Way of Philadelphia.

Lastly, people will be able to follow the race in real-time by using a free race day phone app, found at event-hub.net

Maintaining the Sunday tradition

While new features dominate, other aspects of the race have been examined in recent months.

Earlier this year, race organizers floated a proposition to move the race to Saturday. Civic associations across the Northwest voiced opposition to this proposal.

Asked to comment on an initiative earlier this year to move the race to Sunday, David Chauner, Pro cycling Tour president and co-founder of PIC, said that it was to explore the possibility of trimming costs associated with the race, particularly in regard to police overtime expenditures.

“We stuck our toe in the water,” he explained, but indicated that custom, as well as community response, reinforced maintaining a Sunday race.

“It’s a Sunday tradition,” said Chauner.

Chauner was less desirous of maintaining other race day traditions.

Asked about efforts to curb a pervasive party culture surrounding the race, he said that that PIC, while not as active as local civic groups, was “totally in support” of efforts to curtail excessive drinking.

Chauner expressed concern of this behavior on neighborhoods, noting that it detracts from the race experience for fans, as well as posing threats to rider safety.

However, he’s intent on keeping the spirit of the race.

“We don’t want to lose the excitement of Manayunk,” said Chauner. “The riders always talk about ‘The Wall’ – it’s a stimulus for riders.”

The iconic Wall 

Indeed, many of the athletes at Friday’s conference commented on the challenge that the Wall presents a cyclist.

Michael Chauner, 25, son of the race’s president, will be competing this weekend for the second consecutive year.

Relating cycling strategy, Michael Chauner predicted that the reduced length of the course will result in a faster race, with riders being more aggressive and “less afraid of The Wall.”

Luis Davila, 20, of Mexico, is vying for a position on Mexico’s Olympic cycling team, and hopes to make a good showing on Sunday.

It’s his first time in Philadelphia, but he already knows about The Wall.

“It’s not really a long climb,” he said, “but it’s hard enough to take the best out of you, so you want take it hard because it is tough.”

Robert Forster of Germany finished third in last year’s race. He commented on The Wall – and the fans who crowd it.

“The Wall is one of the biggest in the world,” he said. “The people are crazy there – but they have fun and come out to watch the race and support pro cycling.”

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