At the gun, a few of the 65 who started decided to make that early, suicidal break.
Race directors Dave Chauner and Jack Simes had chosen a course that made three loops on a circuit approximately three quarters of a mile long that passed through the start-finish line twice on each lap for the spectators’ benefit. It then traveled away from the downtown area and into the blue collar neighborhood of Manayunk then back toward the center of the city through the area’s historical district. That 14.4-mile circuit was to be lapped 10 times.
By the time the initial three laps of the circuit were completed, a five-man break had formed: Alan McCormack, Matt Eaton, Rainier Valkenberg of Holland’s Fangio team. Nigel Dean of Great Britain who was riding for Texas-based Spenco, and Hans
Ledermann, one of the many labeled Free Agent but listed with the team from Sweden.
McCormack of lreland has been a colorful animator in U.S. racing, making bold moves and surprising recoveries. His fitness is at a higher level than ever before in his career and he was out to prove he is taking his riding considerably more seriously. But would he be able to pull it off for 156 miles?
“If Matt hadn’t gone when I did, I would have sat up,” said McCormack. “We’ve been up front a lot this year.”
Though Valkenberg was dropped on the first c1imb up the Manayunk Wall, the four were able to pull away from the main field without a chase attempt and they quickly opened up a six-minute-plus gap. “I wanted to get 10 minutes,” explained McCormack, who spent several months rehabilitating from a painful and damaging encounter with a fire hydrant in Toronto one year ago. “I figured if we got that much we might be able to bold it.”
McCormack was the aggressor up the Manayunk Wall, a half-mile long climb that was the first and most significant of the three on the course. For the first five laps McCormack easily outstroked the others in the break and eventually earned the $1,000 prime for the climb.
And it was there that the thickest throng of spectators collected aside from the start-finish area. With each successive lap the crowd grew from two to three to five to eight deep. Most had never seen a bicycle race before, but a door-to-door campaign had obviously convinced the residents of these row houses that the event was worth watching, even if they had no idea how this climb factored into the race as a whole.
“I was thinking this is what the Olympics must have been like,” Heiden said later of Manayunk. “It gave you the chills.”
With Olympic gold medalist Connie Carpenter-Phinney working as a radio commentator in a booth at the crest of the hill, the spectators had plenty to do in the 55-minute intervals between laps: seek autographs.
By the fifth lap, though, a chase group had formed and was closing the gap on McCormack et al. Dean and Ledermann were struggling on the Manayunk climb and Eaton was showing signs of cramping.
With four to go it was just McCormack and Eaton and there was only 2:15 to a chase group which contained Heiden, Tom Schuler, Tom Broznowski, Australia’s Shane Sutton, Paul Sherwen of Great Britain (LaRedoute), Greg Gilmore of G.S. Mengoni and two Danes: Jens Veggerby and Jesper Worre who ride for Fanini-Wuhrer and Sammontana-Bianchi respectively. Phinney and Kiefel were at the front of the main field, which was only 20 seconds behind the chase group.
McCormack and Eaton were caught on the approach to Manayunk and were blown out the back by the group of eight. “Now we’ve got a race,” one spectator was overheard to say when the group of eight climbed up Manayunk. He was right.