June 07, 2012 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) – This morning I woke up in a quiet and well-shaded room in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, a welcome change from the erratic and storming events of this past weekend. Although feeling rested on Monday, my long sleep-in today is unusual and shows just how hard the event was despite changes in 2012.
The 28th annual Philadelphia International Championship is the most prestigious 1-day race in North America and is the site of our team leader’s three National Championship titles. This year a thunderstorm, a shortened course, and peloton without ProTour teams shook up the usual tactics of an early breakaway with a long lease. However it didn’t disappoint as aggressive racing and an exciting finish satisfied the high standards of the local audience.
Reunited after two months of split squads, the stage racers and the criterium riders mixed into one unit in preparation for Philadelphia’s varied terrain. Although the 17% gradient of Manayunk favours the team’s slighter climbers, our starting lineup featured riders who’ve been focussing on fast finishes all year.
Three-time US National Champion Rodriguez, who has rediscovered great form after a strong ride at the 2012 ATOC, came over from the stage racing squad with young sprinter Logan Loader, the ProTour Swiss rider Noe Gianetti, and Columbian strong man Andres Diaz (who found himself in a 3-man break late in 2011 only to be caught at 2km). From the criterium squad Team Exergy started 2011-early-breakaway-man, Quinn Keogh, criterium-leadout-man and 2nd place finisher at Speedweek’s Roswell GP, Kevin Mullervy, 2012 US Crits Speekweek overall champion and 2008 Olympian Carlos Alzate, and myself.
It was great to have the full support of the team this weekend on and off the bike. My favourite part was the race caravan… getting fresh bottles is nice. In contrast, last week we raced a 2 -hour, 90km criterium in Somerville, NJ under 36 degrees temps and 100% humidity, without a feed zone…ouch, salt anyone??
The forecast for Sunday was essentially perfect, except for a chance of rain late in the day. But under sunny skies at 10am there was much more to focus on other things, like winning a bike race, than worrying about getting wet during the five-hour race. Due to the decreased distance and lack of ProTour teams, (this year the field included all the D3 Professional teams and four D2 squads including Team Type 1 Pro, Champion System Pro, United Healthcare and SpiderTech p/C10) a breakaway would not get the unusual 6-10 minute lease as seen in previous editions and it would most likely go only after a hard fight for the first half of the race.
Despite the different field, the leadout for the Manayunk Wall was just a furious as ever – a wall of riders charging up the four-lane promenade into the quiet, coffee-shop lined stroll of Manayunk, diving into small gaps along the right-hand side of the group at the last moment to gain a top-ten position before the three tight corners leading into the 2-minute 450+ watt climb.
Logan, Quinn and I focused on Freddie’s position during this section of the lap, making sure that he was well-placed in the leadout chaos. After the first lap up Manayunk, the became apparent how the race would play out: split of 30-40 riders would move away on the climb each lap and eventually that group would go clear so make sure you are at the front and climb well to guarantee a place IN THE BIKE RACE!
Despite Kevin, Carlos, Quinn’s best attempts of covering small 4-6 man moves in the opening 90 minutes of the race, no breakaway earned a gap. Kevin and Quinn started to shuttle bottles on the second lap, making sure that they had the ‘order’ correct: one mix for Freddie, one water for Diaz, a gel for….etc. Those guys did a great job, it was like they were reading our mind’s all day.
On the third climb up Manayunk a group of 45 riders went clear with strong representation from every team. My legs were feeling great today and even after helping in the leadout into Manayunk, I could climb well and accelerate over the shallow top to guarantee a good position in the bunch for the 70-80kph descent back down to the river. And so it came as a bit of a surprise to me when three Optum Health riders surged to the front to set a good pace….there must be a gap?
As it turns out six of Optum Health’s eight starters had made the split so Mike Creed, Tom Zirbel and Scott Zwizanski worked hard to secure this potentially race winning move. Shortly thereafter they were joined by one Competitive Cyclist rider and myself as Diaz provided the all-clear. So with five riders rotating on the front the gap flirted with the magical 60-second time gap at which all the team cars would be allowed to service and the race could essentially be over for the peloton. I felt good when working and it was a great privilege to be helping my team leaders so directly with Freddie, Diaz and Gianetti in the split.
With the gap hovering at 55 seconds, we tackled Manayunk for the fourth time and uninterested in pulling the 45-man rider gap around for the next three hours, Optum, Competitive and Team Type 1 sent a 3-man breakaway up the road. With a 20+ second lead heading down the descent, Diaz motioned me back to the front and shut it down so for the next 10km I “punched in”.
Next time through Lemon Hill the 45 riders were together once again but Jelly Belly had cut the gap to the peloton to 40 seconds with a 5-man team time trial at the front. Only one Champion System, one Optum Health (Zwizanski) and I were working at this point so leading into Manayunk for the 5th of seven laps, the race reformed as one peloton…damn. Oh well…time for some fresh drinks!
Immediately, Diaz made his move and went clear with four other riders on the wall, amassing a 3-minute gap the next time through the start finish straight. Clinton Avery (Champion System Pro, Winner of June 31st Base Camp criterium), Thomas Rabou (Competitve Cyclist) joined him but Bobbly Lea (Cyclesport), Scott Zwizanski (Optum Health) fell off the pace the next time up Manayunk. Back in the peloton, Logan, Carlos and I stayed close to Freddie as Quinn and Kevin continued to deliver large quantities of drinks, food and even rain jackets as ominous storm clouds rolled in overhead.
Our team car went up to Diaz at this point as he was looking strong and needed support so when Freddie flatted 2km from the base of the 6th climb up Manayunk, it was all hands on deck. Logan stopped to give him his wheel (Mavic serviced Logan seconds later), while I pulled out to pace Freddie through the cars. Rejoining me with 1.5km to the climb, it was a fast sprint through the cars and fortunately we hit a hole on the right hand side leading into the climb and Freddie zoomed in the top ten…catastrophe averted. Logan dished out serious watts and also made it back onto the peloton shortly thereafter. A beastly team effort!
United Healthcare and Team Type 1 Pro rode the front of the group and maintained the gap at 2-3 minutes, essentially something bad would have to happen in the peloton for the break to stay away….and guess what…tropical rain storm! The first rainstorm in the history of the race, and man did it pour! Approaching Manayunk for the final of seven laps, the rain was so hard that you couldn’t see the front of the peloton and our brakes worked slowly against our carbon wheel rims.
The pace slowed and the gap increased to the break…maybe there was hope afterall. Fortunately though for the safety of the peloton, the sky cleared as the sprint for the bottom of the wall started, yet the rain slicked and heavily painted roads thwarted the nervous peloton and a large crash occurred with 100 meters before the climb on the right hand side.
I went sideways three separate times in trying to slow down but eventually a wall of bodies in front forced me to drop the bike and go for a slide. I don’t want to point fingers but the team of the rider who fell had been causing problems all day and finally slipped up, so to speak.
Here is a video. Unfortunately, two SpiderTech riders, two United Health care riders (including one of the race favourites Jake Keogh) and myself all went down; although a few of these riders were motor-paced back into the race on the backside of the climb, they only made it up to the gruppetto and were pro-rated with one Lemon Hill lap remaining.
Up the road, Rabou stopped working in the break so Diaz and Avery faced a heavy challenge with a 2:10-minute lead and five closing circuits of Lemon Hill remaining, United HealthCare riding with Team Type 1 chasing at the front. In the peloton, Team Exergy still had Carlos, Logan and Freddie, as the services of the day had sapped Quinn and Kevin’s legs. I attempted to chase over the final Manayunk climb but it was no use with the caravan gone and the peloton in hot pursuit; I pulled out the next time through the feedzone to clean my wounds but happy with my work earlier in the race and the sensations on the climb.
In the finale, Diaz attacked solo with one Lemon Hill lap remaining, now only twenty seconds clear of the peloton. But Rabou came back to him and sat on him as Competitive Cyclist had its entire team on the front of the peloton targeting a field sprint. So once again, Diaz was caught at a heart-breaking 2km to go and the glory went to the sprinters.
Navigating their way through Logan Circle for the final time with 500 metres to go, the last of Team Type 1’s chase effort drove it at the front with Logan and two United (including race favourite Robert Forster) in toe. Unfortunately the 400-metre head wind sprint was long and Carlos was left to battle with Team Type 1’s sprinters for Forster’s wheel.
When Team Type 1’s three man train did hit it, it was an impressive show of power and Carlos sprinted hard to get Freddie up to speed. The TT1 riders swept past the remaining top five riders on the right side and Freddie surged into their draft with sprinters from Optum, United, Bissell and Competitive in panic mode behind. Heading into the final meters it looked good for a TT1 podium sweep but Freddie was able to stick his wheel in and claim 3rd place.
Although we were close to the win and I rue the crash that took me out of the leadout, we’ll have to take our 3rd place finish knowing that we did a good team ride and were still able to shut out our usual rivals in United HealthCare and the North American D3 squads. Keep riding like we did today and more success is on the way.
Thanks for reading!