This weekend is all about The Wall.
You know, the 17-percent incline that starts on Levering Street and rises sharply as it staggers up Lyceum Avenue. The uphill trudge that gets cyclists from around the globe to quiver at the mere mention of the word “Manayunk.” The one where towers of crowds will stack themselves as they ring cowbells and urge the faint of heart to pedal just a bit harder.
Yes, it’s bike race time again.
The 29th running of Philadelphia’s international cycling race will be held this Sunday, and major course changes have centered the focus of the race on the famed Manayunk Wall.
But despite this famed course obstacle, it’s a race that, due to lack of funding, almost didn’t happen.
“There was the potential that the bike race may go away, and we wanted to see how we could keep that impetus going,” said race co-founder Richard Adler.
Adler says the race has been able to continue because of Parx Casino’s sponsorship. They’ve promised to kick in $500,000 for the next two years and will reassess thier sponsorship from there.
The loop that the race follows has been shortened by about three miles and will no longer include the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The race will now begin and end at the top of The Wall on the border of Manayunk and Roxborough. The women’s teams will begin racing at 8:30 a.m. and do 5 laps for a total of 60 miles. The men’s teams will start at noon and do 10 laps for a total of 120 miles.
Twenty-year-old Manayunk-native Robin Carpenter grew up selling lemonade to spectators on race day. He’s won biking competitions in countries as far away as Belgium, but this will be the first time he rides his hometown race.
“It’s even more amazing now that the finish is actually on top of The Wall,” said Carpenter, “literally a block from my parents’ house, a block from like everything I’ve ever known.”
This will be the eighth time West Chester native Scott Zwizanski bikes the race. He says cyclists far and wide love the Philly race for one reason: the fans.
“Riding up the wall 10 times gets pretty draining,” said Zwizanski, “but when you can’t even hear yourself breathing, it’s gets pretty motivating having that many people yelling and having a good time.”
Race organizers expect 100,000 spectators to line the race sidelines.
The city says security will be much like the Broad Street Run–with both uniformed and plain-clothed police officers monitoring the route.
For the first time in race history, the $60,000 prize purse will be split equally between the male and female winners.