U.S. Rep. Bob Brady has joined Manayunk leaders effort to keep the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship from being cancelled for 2013.
Race sponsors announced late Sunday the event that made the “Manayunk Wall” a legend in cycling circles would not be held in 2013 for lack of corporate sponsors.
That left the Manayunk business community reeling, but some other residents quietly cheering.
Upon hearing the news, Brady stepped in and set up a meeting Friday with race organizers and the Manayunk Development Corporation to see if the race could be salvaged.
“We at MDC greatly appreciate Congressman Brady’s offer of help,” said Jane Lipton, head of the business group.
The race had been held for the last 28 years, making it the longest-running professional road race in America. It had been scheduled for June 2.
Last year’s race, with events for both male and female cyclists, attracted a crowd of nearly 100,000, as competitors did multiple loops on a course running from Logan Circle in Center City to Manayunk and back.
Race day in Manayunk long ago became one of chief civic events in the hilly, riverside section of the city. It was a day-long street party that attracted thousands and occasionally got out of control, much to the concern of long-time residents. People line The Wall – a steep incline up toward Roxborough – to shout and ring cowbells encouraging the riders.
In a statement released last night, race organizers said they intended to revive the race in 2014.
“We are disappointed that we must remove the race from the calendar in 2013, but we feel that we will be able to reorganize with new partners and make this the preeminent event the region deserves in 2014 and beyond,” said David Chauner, a former Olympic cyclist and an event founder. “The race is more than just about cycling; it reflects the spirit and passion of our region.’
According to Cycling News, a different group of organizers is planning another race, the Keystone Open, for July 7, 2013.
Shock on Main Street
Cancellation of the 2013 Philadelphia International Cycling Championship “caught us completely by surprise,” Lipton said. “We were given no inkling … and we’re understandably stunned and saddened by their unilateral decision. I’m sorry we were not brought into the conversation earlier.”
Lipton says race organizers told her that they couldn’t find a sponsor to replace TD Bank, but will try again in 2014.
The lack of sponsors could be related to the recent scandal around Lance Armstrong and performance enhancing drugs. Kenneth Shropshire teaches sports business at the Wharton School at Penn. He says sponsors have many options – and may be steering clear of a sport troubled by doping allegations:
“It’s logical that corporate bodies that are thinking about marketing their product are saying, ‘Hey, this is a negative space right now, we probably should not look toward an association there at this moment,'” Shropshire said.
He added that sponsors come back once a bad situation is resolved, or some time has passed.
Not everyone in Manayunk loved race day. Many residents were tired of the drunken, rowdy behavior it attracted.
Lipton’s group had worked with race organizers and neighborhood groups to improve police presence for race day in Manayunk, and keep the day “family friendly.”
The 2012 race day in Manayunk was both much calmer, and less crowded, than in previous years.
“We believe we succeeded in that goal,” Lipton said. “We are reaching out today to race officials to determine if there may be a way of salvaging the 2013 event. Only this community has the iconic ‘Manayunk Wall’ and it’s not going anywhere.”
She said if the race really is off for 2013, the MDC will try to come up with a “family friendly event” to plug the hole in Manayunk’s June event calendar “so that we don’t lose momenum.”
She said the race helped put Manayunk “back on the map.”
“It was a key component to the ’80s revitalization that happened here and we would not have moved as quickly without the bike race. It helped spark the redevelopment. … It’s absolutely an important event to us.”
Don Simon of Roxborough was chair of the Manayunk-Bike Race Committee, a group that worked on calming down race day. His reaction to today’s news was ambivalent.
“I always found the race exciting,” he said. “I worked as a volunteer on the finish line for over 20 years. So part of me is sorry to see the race go, but part of me is relieved. The race has been a real nuisance recently and part of me says, you know, maybe it’s time to cool it. Even if we don’t have the race for two or three years, then it’s kind of like, OK, let’s start from scratch.”
He said the race day committee did manage to cut down on the drunken misbehavior.
“I don’t care who runs the race as long as they help the community make it an asset and not something detrimental,” Simon said.
Patricia Westerfer manages Sorrentino’s, a deli at the foot of the wall, that does a brisk business on race day.
“We’re disappointed,” she said. “It brings us a lot of business not only on the day of the race but the whole week prior.”