It was a test of endurance. Ten laps. One hundred and twenty miles. The infamous “Wall.”
As the cyclists competing in this year’s Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic crossed the finish line in sweat-soaked racing gear in Manayunk on Sunday, it was clear the redesigned race path had proven a challenge to even the top competitors.
“It’s definitely a race of attrition,” second place men’s finalist, Jesse Anthony, said. “You have to pay attention the whole time, keep your head up and keep that mental energy.”
The men’s victory pedestals were mounted by three Americans, as Anthony placed second to Kiel Reijnen and ahead of third-place finisher Joey Rosskopf.
The course was redesigned this year to feature Manayunk’s storied hill, “The Wall,” as the location of the start/finish line, offering cyclists new strategies while racing. As many racers noted, “climbers,” those who could power through steep inclines, were rewarded with the new finish line location, while flat-earth loving “sprinters” had a harder time reaping the benefits.
“One time up the hill is just a little under two minutes, so it’s not this huge effort,” Reijnen said. “But you do it ten times and then you do it the last time as hard as you can go and it’s just a different feeling when you’ve got four and a half hours of racing in your legs.”
As first place finisher in the women’s 60-mile race, Evelyn Stevens, noted, the “wall” proved to be a “pitchy climb.”
“I knew that I had one firework to throw,” Stevens said, alluding to her burst of energy as she narrowly sealed victor in the last 300 meters of the race. “I had to time it perfectly. If you went too early you’d blow it.”
Stevens, an American, narrowly beat out Canadian racer, Joelle Numainville, and third-place finalist Claudia Hausler, a German cyclist.
Threat of cancellation
This year’s race was nearly cancelled due to a lack of sponsorship, but was saved by the efforts of local activists, Congressman Bob Brady and a few Philadelphia-area businesses. In particular, Parx Casino and New Penn Financial stepped up to fill in the financial shortfalls facing race organizers.
Brady, who attended the race on Sunday, noted that there was a significant public outcry when it was announced the race might be cancelled.
“We heard this one wasn’t going to happen, so a lot of people called me,” Brady said, adding that he quickly attempted to gather corporate sponsors for the event.
Race organizer Richard Adler said that Brady’s organizing led various organizations to donate close to $700,000 so that the event could take place.
“When Congressman Brady vocalized his desire to have the race again, it prompted a lot of organizations in the community [to help with the effort],” Adler said.
Numerous sponsors, ranging from local radio stations to healthcare companies were on hand with promotional items and tents for the spectators lining Main Street.
“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” Adler said of the revamped event. “We were really trying to create a new race by moving the finish line.”
Spectators of the races enjoyed a slightly more relaxed test of endurance—one that challenged the liver rather than the hamstrings.
“It’s the best day of the year,” 22-year-old Jamie Glasheen said. He and several other young Manayunk and Roxborough residents coined the term “Bikeracemas 2013” to commemorate the annual event.
Glasheen said that he and his friends, who live in a house on Main Street which overlooks the relocated finish line, were ecstatic when they heard the course was redesigned. They quickly planned an all-day spectator-party.
“This is my third year coming to the race and this is by far the best celebration of cycling that I’ve seen,” Drew Anderson, a companion of Glasheen’s, said. “It’s great being right where the action is.”
Harvey Stein, a Philadelphia resident who has been attending the bike race for about 10 years, echoed Anderson’s sentiments, noting that he particularly enjoyed the fact that the finish line was located on the border of Manayunk and Roxborough.
“It’s more centered in the neighborhood,” Stein said. “The old one was exciting but this is better. You can see the bikers collapse at the end.”
Roselee Carney, who has attended the race over 20 times said that she thought “The Wall” was a fitting location for the finish line.
“I think it’s very cool because “The Wall” has always been the most famous part of the race,” Carney said. The Denver, Co. resident began attending the race when her son, Jonas, raced. He currently coaches the Optum/Kelly Benefit Strategies team.
“You can watch the racers come up the hill. They’re not just whizzing by.”
Carney watched the race from the VIP tent, which was placed near the finish line. Many area residents cheered with Solo cups in hand, from the side of Main Street.
Curbing race day rowdiness
In the past, the race has been been marked by rowdiness. However, the crowd remained relatively calm this year. Organizers said that few disturbances were reported throughout the day.
“Over the years we’ve done a much better job of dealing with that,” Mayor Michael Nutter said. “We want people to have a good time but, you know, just don’t get in trouble.”
He noted that the threatened cancellation had little to do with “city costs,” such as the on-hand police presence at the race, and was, instead, the result of a lack of sponsorship.
Many of the racers felt that the crowd of spectators at the race were incredibly supportive and energized.
“The crowds here are second to none,” first place men’s finalist, Reijnen said. “If they’re energized, we’re energized.”
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