The worlds best bike riders will race race through Philadelphia this weekend. It’s now 25 years old, but it could be the last time professional riders will climb the Manayunk Wall.
The worlds best bike riders will race race through Philadelphia this weekend. The 156-mile Pro Cycle Tour loops past the Art Museum and along the Schuylkill River. It’s now 25 years old, but it could be the last time professional riders will climb the Manayunk Wall.
The signature stretch of America’s longest single-day bike race is the Wall, a grueling 17% grade up the ridge in Manayunk. But for the owner of a grocery store along the route, it’s like Christmas. Rick Batel says sales of sodas, hoagies, and cigarettes to spectators on race day alone put him in the black for the entire month.
Batel: That’s the busiest day of the year. We wait for that day. That’s money day!
At a restaurant at the bottom of the Wall, manager Mike Quisito says even though he is asking his servers to come in at 6:30 in the morning they all fight for shifts.
Quisito: I bartend that day, every year, and financially it’s a big day for me. It’s hectic, but it’s a fun day.
Hanging from the rafters above Quisito’s head is the bicycle that won a silver medal at the 1996 Olympics. The guy who rode it works across the street at a bike shop. His name is Brian Walton and he says the bike race isn’t just good for selling drinks. Since the race was started 25 years ago Philadelphia has become a cycle city.
Walton: This race really brought cycling to Philadelphia and North America with this downtown showcase – closing Kelly Drive, West River Drive. It built this area into a cycling mecca. It’s no stretch to say losing this race would have a significant negative impact on cycling in this area.
The race almost didn’t happen this year. Because the city has pulled its support of all street events, race founder David Chauner announced in May that it would be canceled if a major sponsor didn’t come through. A sponsor did come through, but Chauner says there is still a 100,000 dollar gap.
Chauner: At this point without a lead title sponsor we will not be able to produce a race next year, but we are working closely with Gov. Rendell and Congressman Bob Brady and a number of corporations in the area to get a long-term title sponsor for the race.
Fans will notice the budget constraints. Two pre-races in Lancaster and Allentown have been cut, as well as the annual Friday night amateur climb up the Wall. The time trial sprints along the Schuylkill River will still happen.
The guy organizing those trials is Ron Ruggiero, who operates a local bike club. He says the Pro Cycle Tour made Philadelphia a cycling mecca, and it could break it.
Ruggiero: Ultimately the damage for regional teams is that having a professional race in Philadelphia every year helps local clubs when they go to their sponsors. Sponsors can see there is a reason for cycling in Philadelphia. It helps to have that kind of big marquee event when you’re asking sponsors to support your organization.
If the race’s future is uncertain, in the short run it’s a champ. Tickets have nearly sold out. And Ruggiero says bicycling is on everybody’s mind – at least for now.
Ruggiero: We get two weeks of good will – two weeks before and two weeks after when people try not to run you off the road. People like us for a month then they proceed to run us off the road.