Sunday, June 5, 2011
Posted: 10:47 p.m.
By Brian Kotloff
To the naked eye, a blitz of 11 bikers had zipped across the finish line at 22nd street and Ben Franklin Parkway, legs churning and wheels motoring, all in one blur.
The crowd on each side of the road had roared then quieted, their cowbells silenced as judges of the TD Bank International Cycling Championship turned to video to confirm the victor.
I think I won, Dane Alex Rasmussen, 26, said between breaths, mere minutes after he had raised his arms while crossing the finish line. I know I won.
By a helmets length, he was right.
Rasmussen emerged from a field of 180 riders to capture the 27th installment of the Philadelphia race for the HTC-Highroad cycling team, completing the 156 mile course in five hours, 59 minutes and four seconds.
Eleven of his competitors recorded the same time, with Slovakian Peter Sagan, 21, of team Liquigas-Cannondale repeating as the runner-up and 33-year-old German Robert Forster of team UnitedHealthCare taking third.
HTC-Highroad, the two-time defending champion, bided its time all afternoon, preparing for the final sprint even as other riders attempted to surge ahead of the main pack on several occasions. Over the final 30 minutes, three leaders -- Andres Diaz of Team Exergy, Bruno Langlois of Team Spidertech and Francisco Mancebo of Realcyclist.com -- tried to hold off the pack, with their lead gradually shrinking from minutes to seconds.
With a few miles to go, HTC-Highroad positioned itself to lead one sprinter to the finish line -- not Rasmussen but Australias Leigh Howard. When Howard experienced gear problems, Rasmussen stepped up, avoiding a 10-man crash on the final turn, drafting to the head of the pack.
It was a big mess at the end, said Rasmussen, a four-time track world champion. It was not exactly what we planned, but it turned out good.
No, the team had certainly not planned on losing three of its eight members in an accident at last months Tour of Italy. Undermanned with five riders, they still prevailed for the third straight year.
We knew it was going to be a difficult task but we had five motivated guys and we got the race under controlgot some help from some other teams and actually came together for the final, HTC-Highroad director Allan Peiper said. So actually, it was the perfect scenario.
The photo finish highlighted another brilliant day that brought locals in droves from the Parkway to the famous Manayunk Wall. While the Parkway showcased some of the worlds top riders at their peak -- Italian Giorgia Bronzini won the Liberty Classic, the 57-mile womens race -- the fans once again ruled in Manayunk.
The festivities extended up the Wall on Lyceum Avenue and down the descent that begins on Pechin Street. Locals lined the course, cheering and chanting, ringing cowbells and sounding vuvuzelas.
People look forward to this race, Mayor Michael Nutter said afterward. Actually, its kind of funny, people start asking about the bike race in the winter when its cold and snowy.
Its an incredible experience.
In Manayunk, many gathered in the surrounding houses and backyards for parties. Others, like Flourtown resident Scott Schmidt, 51, and Lou Gilmore, 70, of Blue Bell, who have attended each of the past five years, took in the whole experience.
We start down at where Ridge Ave. and Main St. come together, ride downtown to the finish line, get a hamburger and then ride all the way down here, Gilmore said.
Here, at the Wall, the world is turned on its side -- a 17 percent grade incline, to be exact -- as the race slows to a cruel, shaky climb. If the Parkway displays the remarkable technique and fitness of the riders, the Wall displays their fortitude.
On this day, it most notably claimed Frank Pipp on the final lap, about 5 hours and 20 minutes after Nutter fired the opening shot. Pipp had kept pace with Diaz, Langlois and Mancebo, the trio of breakaway racers, but feebly wobbled to a halt on his tenth ascent.
Rasmussen, in contrast, embraced the grind of the races signature obstacle.
I like the wall. Its not too hard for me, he said. I can get over it so its a good course for me.