For the second straight year, there will be no professional cycling race in Philadelphia. The news is prompting fears from cycling advocates and businesses along the famous route through Manayunk that the race is gone for good.
The race — which has gone by several names including the Core States Race, the First Union Race, the Wachovia Race, The Commerce Classic, and the TD Bank Classic, to name a few — has been one of the major U.S. races in the sport since 1985. The 12.3-mile course features an iconic climb up the infamous “Manayunk Wall” with its challenging 17 percent incline.
The news was disappointing to Winnie Clowry, owner of Winnie’s Le Bus on Main Street in Manayunk, but it wasn’t a surprise.
“It’s such a shame that it costs so darn much money to put on an event of this magnitude,” she said. “I mean, I don’t think anybody’s at fault. I don’t think it’s the city, I just think it’s the whole circumstances.”
The race has been on thin ice since 2013 when lack of funding threatened to cancel it for the first time, but local business leaders rallied to save it for a few years.
Despite concerns about the rowdiness of the crowds, the event was largely supported by the surrounding community, including the restaurants and bike shops that catered to the cyclists, as well as the throngs of cheering fans and volunteers.
“Bike race day is the coolest thing,” Clowry told WHYY in 2014. “Our doors are wide open and there’s all these people outside cheering on the cyclists and there are people in here eating brunch and then all of a sudden, the street marshals blow their whistles indicating that the pack is coming and everyone in the restaurant just gets up and leaves their breakfast and runs outside to cheer on the bikes flying by. It’s a riot.”
“The chemistry just happened… and when the race came back each year, it gave the world a chance to rediscover Manayunk once more,” said Kay Sykora, Director of Destination Schuylkill River, recalling her time as a race volunteer.
The race was cancelled for the first time in 2017, when organizers announced they could not find enough sponsors to cover the $1 million it took to put on the event.
Hope was renewed last fall when St. Louis-based Foundry Sports Group took over the race, and it was placed on professional cycling calendars. But city officials confirm no group has sought a permit for the race, which was set for June. Foundry did not respond to calls for comment.
“It’s a huge disappointment for the cycling community as a whole,” said Greg Camia, a service technician at Human Zoom Bicycles on Main Street in Manayunk, and a bike racer himself. “I mean, everybody knows the cycling community in Philly’s pretty large. There’s always a really good turnout for the race, whether it’s on Lemon Hill or whether you have people linking up on the Wall.”
Sarah Clark Stuart, Executive Director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, says this could be the death knell for the race.
“Without support from the private sector or the bicycling industry, this race can’t go on,” she said.